Friday, 6 May 2011

My Ceredigion and Welsh Lib Dem Assembly Election Review

Well, it has been an emotional rollercoaster of a night.

A lack of sleep, nerves torn to shreds and a distinct lack of fingernails have all pointed to what has been a dramatic and indeed, for many of us liberals, a traumatic electoral evening.

Last night, before the polls closed, Daran Hill gave an excellent non-partisan look on the Wales Home blog here at what he knew would be a testing night ahead. He mentioned the essential humanity that is evident on these nights when friends from across the political spectrum witness their political stars rise or indeed, fall to earth with a shattering thump.

As he said: "My stomach is in a knot of both anticipation and worry. I am not looking forward to tonight because there will be losers as well as winners. And they are all real people who may, through just a handful of votes, see their careers end or their dreams begin".

So, it turned out.

As the night went on, it was clear from listening to our radios at the Ceredigion count in Aberaeron that all was not going well throughout Wales. Losing Wyn Williams in Montgomeryshire in the end didn't come as the greatest surprise because the pointers had been moving in that direction for some time but it was still a huge loss to us because Wyn would've been a great asset to the Liberal Democrat group in the Welsh Assembly. Then the news that we lost Cardiff Central by just 38 votes - again, Nigel Howells would've been another great addition to the Cardiff Bay team but by the smallest of margins, his magnificent campaigning team were pipped at the post. Then there was the loss of Veronica German on the South Wales East list. Again, with her expertise and knowledge, she had already in just a year in the Assembly, proven herself to be a formiddable opponent. Her experience will be missed.

Light at the end of the liberal tunnel
But something changed during the night. If Veronica lost out on the regional list, then what of Peter Black on the corresponding list in South Wales West? After 12 years in the Assembly, he admits in his blog post here this morning, that he'd began to mentally prepare himself for defeat when the numbers looked against him. But as that quirk of fate has it, whilst we lost that one battle in Cardiff by a wafer-thin margin, so it was that Peter held on to that 4th and final list seat by just 54 votes out of a regional total of 154,381 ballots cast. Incredible.

Then came the news that because of the Conservatives strong performance across the mid and west Wales region, their Assembly leader Nick Bourne had lost his seat to our very own Bill Powell who becomes the first Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales. This certainly gives us some respite after the loss of Montgomeryshire. Also the news that the flip side of losing Cardiff Central meant that John Dixon was elected on the South Wales Central regional list.

Then finally this afternoon the fantastic news that a stronger than expected North Wales regional vote for the party helped elect Aled Roberts to the Assembly. Aled, as the current leader of Wrexham Council, is a formiddable political operater with much experience in the Welsh and English media. He will stengthen Kirsty Williams' Assembly team immeasurably.

So having for a time looked as if we may sink to as little as just 2 or 3 members, we finally finished up with a total of 5 - only one down and certainly a good case of damage limitation. Certainly when compared to the relative decimation that the party has suffered in English city councils and up in Scotland where 16 MSP's have been whittled down now to little more than 5 or 6, we can say here in Wales that we held our own.

But we have lost ground across the country and a number of deposits (a bank sapping 17 if my tally is correct) and even in a handful of seats, fell behind the BNP. Clearly, the blame-game from the Westminster coalition has played a significant part but we must dust ourselves down, keep calm, move on and re-build.

The Ceredigion Experience
It certainly wasn't doom and gloom where we were in Aberaeron last night at the very least.

After what had been a spirited and enjoyable campaign with our fantastic and energetic candidate Elizabeth Evans, on a 3.5% swing from Plaid Cymru to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, we more than halved the Plaid Cymru majority from the 3,955 figure in 2007, down now to just 1,777. It must be remembered also that Plaid's majority in 1999 was a staggering 10,249 and in 2003 was down to 4,618 so we have continuously eaten into their majority over the past 12 years.

Our share of the vote held steady whilst Plaid's fell by 8% and it was a pshycological boost for us to mainatin a vote count of over 10,000.

It certainly demonstrates that in this old bastion of liberalism, which once shone brightly when the golden candle was reduced to only 5 MPs in Westminster in the late 1950s, that candle is still shining brightly.

Ceredigion does things differently. It's always a much more 'local' campaign here on the ground and the calibre of the individual candidates stands much greater scrutiny. I suppose the only other Welsh constituency that can share our maverick status is Anglesey which curretly returns an MP and an AM from different political parties.

I was happy with the result that we had on its own merit as we've now well and truly made this Assembly seat a 'marginal' for the future. But on witnessing the scale of the losses that the party were suffering across the UK, it struck me that actually, ours was in the circumstances, a herculean effort and Elizabeth, Mark Williams MP and our fantastic, enthusiastic team of volunteers, both young and young at heart, deserve great praise for their efforts.

It's been a challenging night for our party but we must fight on. Here in Ceredigion, we do so in great heart after another excellent performance which stands us in good stead for the future.


  1. An excellent blog article.

    I am sorry the badger murderer was returned, but it does help in politics to have a knock back, now and again and if you look at the national share of the vote and I mean UK as national, we were at about 15% which is 50% better than the recent polls suggest.

    As you say, we must brush ourselves down, keep calm, rebuild and move on.

    There is no room for headless chickens in the Lib Dem Party and calling for Nick to resign. We have to show were are tough old boots as we went into the coalition for the benefit of the country.

    I was in the SDP when we were nowhere in terms of numbers of Councils, councillors and MP's. I never imagined getting as far as we have, so we need to keep our heads and the headless chickens just need to shut up.

    I am with Nick and Kirsty. Well done to our 5 AM's.

  2. I voted Lib Dem in Aberystwyth, but it pains me to say that I heard twice during the campaign, once in Tregaron and once in Aberaeron, that people were voting LD in order to stop 'the Welshies'. I was saddened to hear these remarks.

  3. Catherine Graham8 May 2011 at 11:13

    Your vote did hold up surprisingly well compared to the National picture BUT Elizabeth polled less than John Davies last assembly elections! Your maths is rather inaccurate Mark!! The swing was away from Plaid and your party to the Greens and Labour. Yes the swing narrowed the gap between you and Plaid BUT there was NO swing in your direction. Time to be honest with yourselves?

  4. Well I'm a proud 'Welshie' myself so that is indeed a saddening thing to hear.

    Cathy, considering that Labour in Ceredigion were proclaiming this rogue Aberystwyth University poll that apparently had you on about 20% and breathing down the Lib Dem's necks, reality proved rather different!