Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Chairman Cole

It's been a long month since the election and what has been 4 weeks has felt like an eternity - so much has occurred during that time.

As a result, this blog has been relatively quiet and in the months ahead, I expect that to be a continuing trend so apologies to regular viewers for the lack of blogging, but time is a commodity of which I am growingly running short.

A Historic Change in Ceredigion
Why? Well because last Friday, I was given the great honour of becoming Ceredigion's youngest ever Chairman at the age of 29.

It brought to a close a roller-coaster month as the dynamics within Ceredigion County Council changed dramatically. A weeks long worth of behind-the-scenes discussions between all of the different groups in the Council resulted with the highly unexpected and unlikely sight of a 4-sided coalition between Plaid Cymru's 19 Councillors, their erstwhile opponents for many years the Independents group of 12, the newly formed Independent Voice grouping of 2 and Labour's Hag Harries.

This left the Welsh Liberal Democrat 7 as the official opposition to the ruling executive group of 34 with Independent Aled Davies remaining free from any political groupings.

After 8 years as a member of the ruling group in Ceredigion, it was certainly a novel feeling to be in opposition but a new challenge for our keen and enthusiastic group all the same.

The finer details of that fascinating week of discussions and political manouverings can be left for another time but suffice to say, anything was possible during that extraordinary 7 day period between the elections of May 3rd and the Council's choosing of the first ever Plaid Cymru and female leader in Ellen ap Gwynne on May 11th.

All I will add is that it was a pleasure during that time to see so many colleagues from differing political groupings, show the courage and willingness to reach across tribal boundary lines to work with erstwhile foes. In the final analysis, it demonstrated that politics is indeed 'the art of the possible'.

Ceredigion County Council Chairman
In that same meeting of May 11th, I was voted in as the Chair-Elect having served as Vice-Chair for the previous 12 months.

Alyson and I on the evening of our installation last Friday
Last Friday, in front of colleagues, friends and family, I (must admit!) nervously undertook the chains of office and delivered what was for me I felt, an uncharacteristically sombre opening address as Council Chairman in what are challenging and austere times.

I'm delighted that Alyson was willing to be my consort for the year and we now have ahead of us a busy 12 months as the civic heads of the Council. Having already undertaken the role of Mayor of Cardigan in 2009/2010, it is a role which I am accustomed too and I look forward to meeting many new people and organisations in the year ahead on behalf of the Council.

Indeed, I couldn't have planned for a more incredible start had I have tried with the arrival of the Olympic Flame to Ceredigion on Sunday - but I'll leave that for another post!

Suffice to conclude that it was a very humbling experience to be elected into post as the new Chairman by my County Council peers having been proposed for the role by my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Elizabeth Evans and seconded by Plaid Cymru's Cllr Towyn Evans.

It is my role now to act impartially and fairly as the Council's civic figurehead and I will endeavour to do so to the very best of my abilities.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Bittersweet Victory

The days following an election are like no other. The frenzy, the mania and the sheer energy of the campaign is suddenly exchanged for the exhaustion, the solitude and the quiet contemplation that follows.

I was greatly proud to have been formally re-elected as the County Councillor for Rhyd-Y-Fuwch ward on Ceredigion County Council in the early hours of Friday morning to serve for a 3rd term. Since that declaration, I have spent a quiet weekend looking back at the campaign and looking at the results from across the country.

It has been a bittersweet experience because whilst I have been able to consider the great honour that has once more been bestowed on me, I have also spoken to many good friends who were not so fortunate.

A Local Campaign
Here in Cardigan, it was very much a local campaign. Having served for 8 years, I found it easier to speak to residents on their doorsteps as they naturally knew me better than before and the work that I have done on their behalf in that time spoke loudly through the 75+ posters that were displayed in windows on Aberystwyth Road, Maeshenffordd, Brynhafod, Rhos-Y-Dre, Bro Teifi, Heol Hafod, Maesyrhaf, Napier Gardens, Napier St, North Road, Feidrfair, William St and in Llys Owen.

Out of the 600+ houses that comprises the Rhyd-Y-Fuwch Ward (yes, it is a relatively small ward compared to that of those in more urban areas), I only received one virtual slammed door in the face due to the policies of the Coalition Government in London. Quite incredibly, on election day outside of the count, the same couple approached me and apologised for the manner in which they spoke to me having subsequently spoken to Mark Williams MP about their personal problems and made progress on them with his support. They were now voting for me once more they said. So there was certainly no sense that the bigger picture was having an impact on this local campaign - it was an election based around the calibre of the local candidates and in a local election, that is how it should be.

The campaign was a relatively quiet one in which my Plaid Cymru opponent also knocked on the doors in the ward and had himself a dozen or so posters up in windows. There was from what I can gather, very little negativity in the campaigning methods used and when the result was announced, it gave me 76% of the vote.

Around the county, as I had long suggested would probably be the case, the County Council remained in No Overall Control. Plaid Cymru made the gains necessary to gain an outright majority but then lost seats as well to leave them 1 seat down on 19 seats - 3 short of an outright majority. Our Welsh Liberal Democrat ranks sadly lost 2 of our 9 wards to leaves us with 7 Councillors going into the new Council. The Independents meanwhile saw an increase from 12 to 15 Councillors but this figure however hides the surprise loss of the Leader of the Council Cllr Keith Evans' seat in Llandysul which was certainly the shock of the night.

Not all of the Independents I expect will willingly serve within the formal Independent Group. How many of those will serve as 'Independent Independents', time will soon tell and it will play an important role in the discussions that will go on during the coming days as different groups discuss the possibility of working together to form a new administration.

Welsh Heartache
But whilst the long election night count saw the intrigue of wins and losses, the agony and the ecstasy and the whole array of human emotion, the morning just brought me dismay.

The relief of having finally heard my own result was replaced with the dismay of hearing of news of Council losses across Wales that are more than just figures, they are the personal circumstances of close and good friends of mine in areas such as Cardiff, Swansea and Merthyr.

They were unfortunate to represent wards where the first question asked was not of the quality of the candidate and their response to local issues, but of national concerns to which it wasn't their role to represent. Many of these friends have served in local government for the same 8 year period of time as myself. I have known them and have grown up with them in local government terms during this time and have seen how hard they have worked for their communities.

Such of course is the fickle nature of politics. But please remember reader that behind every headline, there's a human story.

But be it fair or otherwise, the inescapable fact is that the Welsh Liberal Democrats principal Councillor ranks shrank from 166 down to just 72 in the blink of an eye in the early hours of Friday morning. But, we shall dust ourselves down and carry on because that is the liberal way. We have a strong record of diligently serving our communities and that won't change.

Onward and upward for there is of course, no alternative.