Wales’ battlegrounds: Ceredigion

Ben Lake has appeal in the rural south of the county where Plaid have struggled in the past

Could an upset be on the cards for young Plaid Cymru candidate Ben Lake? Huw Williams senses that the Liberal Democrats will lose votes to both the Conservatives and Labour…

If there is any certainty that can be expressed about politics in Ceredigion, it is that you never quite know where you are.

With this much of a disclaimer in hand, any attempt at reading the signs of this upcoming election should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

The only comfort in taking on the task is that there is less of an expectation for one to be wise before, rather than after the event.

The dominant narrative, of course, is whether or not Plaid Cymru can succeed in reclaiming this seat.

It was theirs for well over a decade until the current incumbent, Mark Williams, stole a surprise victory in 2005 from Simon Thomas – the MP who succeeded Cynog Dafis with a by-election victory in 2000 after the latter chose to serve in the Assembly.

However, whilst recent elections have been held with the rival parties framing the fight as a two horse race, things may be a little different this time.

Indeed, after that first YouGov poll (which seems a long time ago by now) Vaughan Roderick dedicated an entire blog to speculating about whether the Tories might steal a surprise victory.

Brexit buddies

The subsidence of their early lead, in addition to the seemingly common practice of parachuting candidates into Welsh seats appears to have rendered this scenario rather less likely.

That being said, Ruth Davis is a credible enough candidate (with a surname that is just as Welsh as the current MP!) and given that Brexit is still likely an issue in the minds of many, there could be a meaningful swing in the direction of the Tories.

Their Brexit buddies, UKIP, seem skeptical enough about a Tory victory that they have decided not to pull their candidate – in keeping with the regressive alliance elsewhere – but it is highly likely that they will shed many of the votes garnered previously by Gethin James.

A local Welsh speaker and previously independent councillor, he claimed 4000 or so votes to push Labour candidate and current Cardiff Council leader Huw Thomas into fifth place in 2015.

Corbyn candidate

Whilst the rumour mill has been grinding out stories of a strong Conservative vote, which could see many returning to the fold after years of tactical voting (more from the Libs than Plaid, one suspects), comparatively little attention has been given to the potential Labour vote.

They will be looking to improve substantially on recent performances, especially now that the numbers in the ranks have swelled significantly to the high hundreds.

In Dinah Mulholland, they also have a genuine Corbyn candidate for their membership to rally round and boost their vote.

It is difficult to gauge how many ‘sleeping’ Labour voters there are in the county, but it is worth remembering the popular Hag Harries won almost 10,000 votes in coming second back in 1997 (he may even have emerged as a genuine challenger in later elections had he not been later bumped by party HQ).

It would not be a surprise if there are many who just this once would like to vote with their hearts, given the chance to vote for a genuinely left-wing manifesto, and if the nature of the membership is anything to go by, it’s quite possible this would mean more losses for the Libs than Plaid.

A fo Ben…

Which brings us to the young man at the centre of the story, 23-year-old Ben Lake – although perhaps we should make less of his tender years given the reception he is apparently receiving.

A Welsh speaking Oxford graduate from the Lampeter area, his relative inexperience might even be appealing if the voters of Ceredigion are feeling their nonconformist selves; their equivalent of an anti-establishment figure.

Not that he is such an outsider.  Having worked for Elin Jones it is a big advantage that he should be supported so readily by the popular AM and Llywydd, and one reason he seems to have made an impression with the agricultural vote is the expertise he has picked up as a policy researcher on rural affairs for Plaid.

He also, it has to be said, looks at home in a Barbour jacket – which as anyone who went to school in Ceredigion knows is a clear form of self-identification for hambons.

As noted in Jason Morgan’s previous article, he seems an all round good fit, and his energy and likeability seem to have given Plaid activists genuine hope – in what might have otherwise been a wearing and difficult month following the council elections.

Incumbent Mark Williams remains popular

Apology

Watching from afar, this growing confidence seems to dovetail with a slightly less self-assured display from the Liberal Democrats – even though Mark Williams acquitted himself rather well on the TV debates.

This was typified by an apology yesterday for campaign material claiming Plaid were supporting a hard Brexit – a return to some of the more dubious tactics (putting it politely) employed in the last election.

It may be a measure of their concern that they have turned to such a strategy at this late stage, when they would no doubt have preferred not to, given the criticism received.

Such a concern will not only be because of the reception for Plaid’s candidate, but as much because of the unprecedented alignment of factors beyond their control that can so often impact on an unpredictable electorate.

The fight for Ceredigion often seems to exist in its own world, insulated from the rest of the election.

But a fierce and polarized two-way debate at British level might for once have an impact on this seat.

We have not even mentioned the students, with numbers being unpredictable as many will be returning home, and the Labour promise on fees possibly swaying the Liberal vote that remains.

The result may well come down to a certain feeling on the day. The most interesting admission to be heard amongst some activists is that many being canvassed are asking whether a defeat for the popular Mark Williams is a genuine possibility, with voters being swayed by the prospect of choosing the winning candidate.

Such stories only confirm the idiosyncrasies of this seat and the unique approach of Cardis to electoral voting –  and assure us once again that predictions are futile.

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Gareth
Guest
Gareth

“Ruth Davis is a credible enough candidate (with a surname that is just as Welsh as the current MP!)”

I know this is a new site, but I expect better from you than this cheap petty little dig.

Mari
Guest
Mari

It’s an entirely valid and sutbly-made point. One is Hertfordshire-born, the other London-born. Neither is from Ceredigion. Both have surnames originating from Wales. What’s the problem?

I think Huw has offered a thorough and useful analysis here. I certainly learnt a lot from the article – diolch Nation.cymru.

Gareth
Guest
Gareth

If only we didn’t judge people by where they’re from or their family name ?

The mast head of this site asks the question: “How can we become a better nation?” One option would be to stop obsessing about trivialities like this and to live up to the welcoming stereotype that exists of Wales.

Huw Williams
Guest
Huw Williams

Just to clarify (I wouldn’t intervene usually but given the remarks insinuate a certain attitude on my behalf…) – the comment was meant as an aside about the importance of where MPs come from in the minds of Ceredigion voters; this is not a triviality when it comes to elections in places like Ceredigion or Ynys Mon (or for that matter, many other constituency around the UK, I’d imagine) – perceptions like this matter and have always mattered. I wanted to suggest that in Ruth Davies’ case even if she’s perceived as an outsider this might, nevertheless, not be the… Read more »

Leia
Guest

I’d be interested to read more on how Ceredigion has ended up such an odd little non-standard pocket of politics if anyone knows! Is it the student vote? 9000 students out of an electorate of 57,000 a quick Google informs me, does seem that likely to be the root cause but given turnout is around 37000 and student are perhaps more likely to vote maybe. The voting history on Wikipedia is interesting but there’s little why of how those changes have happened.

iantoddu
Guest

Interesting implications from this Blog by a student from at Aberystwyth from England who was involved with the LibDem campaign to re elect Mark Williams. It’s astonishingly ignorant and patronising towards Wales. http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-thinking-too-hard-about-plaid-19299.html However, most interesting when taken in context with his other Blog entry http://www.libdemvoice.org/ceredigion-mark-william-17763.html where he says “Mark Williams won this seat, but only by a whisker – he has a majority over Plaid of 219. As a 1st year student in Aberystwyth, I was quickly recruited to making sure we make that majority bigger. ” A few years ago, but I would agree that students have a… Read more »

Malwoden (@Gwlithod)
Guest

Wow – that truly is a patronising blog piece! Remarkable that it’s still live on their website.

Leia
Guest

Interesting. Personally I like to see students engaged and voting – even when they’re voting against the party I’m voting for! One hopes at least they’re THINKING, the absence of which is such a scourge of our democracy! .

iantoddu
Guest

When I was at university, I seem to remember having to vote in your “home” constituency rather than the one you were temporarily and for part of the year at university in. It didn’t seem to stop political activism or conversation, and makes more sense to me. Thinking is great, and thinking from a basis of knowledge of the area (which the above blog displays a definite lack of) is much better.

Llywelyn ap Gwilym
Guest
Llywelyn ap Gwilym

Call me cynical but the conduct of the Lib Dems is extremely poor. Not just a Facebook advert but printed leaflets posted to constituents (which arrived post-apology). Given the Lib Dems’ refusal to send out factually accurate leaflets to correct their lie, it doesn’t matter that Mark Williams apologised – the damage has been done. The fake news has been spread – how many people still think that Barry Chuckle watched some boxing with Jay-Z? This kind of behaviour brings politics into disrepute and Mark Williams and the whole of the Lib Dems should be ashamed.

Cymru Rydd
Guest

Seeing that this election has seen the re-emergence of the two main UK parties, the Conservatives and Labour parties at the expense of the other smaller parties, if the polls are to be believed, it would seem logical to presume that the aforementioned parties would be making some headway even in Ceredigion. One would imagine that those new potential voters would be in the main drawn from the ranks of the Lib Dems. Am I right in also presuming that the students have now left Aberystwyth? That is certainly the case in Bangor, with the popular MP for the Arfon… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Personally, I thought the article good and not coming from the area informative as I struggle to formulate why our country is in such a state. Please, if you so wish answer that, I can possibly guess most if not all of the responses already, but you never know with Cymru! As some of us have studied or lived abroad we used postal or proxy votes for the area from whence we came. I would never ever dream of voting in an area I was just passing through, like old people, from another country say, moving to the beautiful Cymreig… Read more »

flofflach
Guest
flofflach

When I was younger, the boundaries were different and gogledd Sir Benfro / north Pembrokeshire [preseli area] was with part [or was it all?] of Ceredigion – I don’t know if it included Aber. It was Liberal; the Liberals were strongly supported by the small farming community. Now of course it is LibDem, and we are part of Preseli Pembrokeshire. I know some small farmers in n Pembs who are voting Labour, but Plaid Cymru has a more support in Ceredigion I think [though I now have a Plaid county councillor, quite a shake up and I’m very pleased!]. I… Read more »

Bryn Daf
Guest

Many Tories lend their vote to the Lib Dems plus they used to be loved by students….but lost that soft support in 2015 (15% drop) – but they clung on.

Plaid Cymrus problems is many town living younger people split their vote towards Labour and Greens (especially with Corbyn now) – depriving Plaid Cymru of taking the seat.

It may happen again…the left split