Westminster 2015: Bridgend In Focus


With the 2015 House of Commons election campaign drawing to a close (at last!), it’s time to take a closer look at the two constituencies covering Bridgend county.

Electoral History
  • Created in 1983 from Ogmore and Aberavon constituencies.
  • 1983-1987 – Peter Hubbard-Miles (Con)
  • 1987-2005 – Win Griffiths (Lab)
  • 2005-2015 – Madeline Moon (Lab)

Candidates & Profiles
  • Aaron David (TUSC)
  • Cllr. Anita Davies (Lib Dem) – Community councillor (Coity Higher), school governor, voluntary sector worker. Unsuccessful in 2012 local elections in Pendre.
  • David Elston(Pirate) – Self-employed, former software developer. Spokesperson for the Pirate Party in Wales.
  • Meirion Jenkins (Con) – Director of a software company and qualified accountant. Originally from Pen-y-Fai, lives in Sutton Coldfield.
  • Caroline Jones (UKIP) – Stood as Conservative candidate for South Wales Police & Crime Commissioner in 2012; defected to UKIP in 2013. Third on UKIP’s 2014 European election list.
  • Adam Lloyd (NF) – Perrennial far-right candidate.
  • Madeline Moon (Lab) – Former social services manager at both Mid Glamorgan and Swansea Councils. Bridgend’s MP since 2005.
  • James Radcliffe (Plaid) – Researcher for Plaid Cymru’s National Assembly group, specialising in health and social justice.
  • Les Tallon-Morris (Ind) – Vice-President of Porthcawl Chamber of Trade.
  • Anthony White (Green) – Based in Neath. Reportedly chair of Bridgend Green Party branch. Andy Chyba (blog) withdrew his candidacy.

Profile

There are three main population centres : Bridgend itself, Porthcawl and the Pyle/Kenfig Hill/Cornelly area. Between them there’s open countryside and scattered villages like Laleston, Pen-y-Fai, Coity and Coychurch.Bridgend is a mixed town, with pockets of wealth alongside some of the more deprived parts of south Wales, like the Wildmill estate. Its role has changed down the years from a bog standard market town to an industrial centre similar to Bromsgrove or Slough. It’s also a major commuter town for Cardiff, with lots of executive and family housing built as large suburban extensions like Brackla, Broadlands and Parc Derwen. Some of the key issues locally are the future of the town centre after years of decline, care scandals at the Princess of Wales hospital (it shouldn’t be an issue this year because health’s devolved, but it’ll inevitably be brought up) and high levels of youth unemployment.

Porthcawl is a somewhat faded seaside resort, but is comparatively well-off compared to the rest of the county, attracting large numbers of wealthy retirees and settled families. Despite this local wealth, regeneration proposals have faltered or not lived up to promises. Although Porthcawl could once be relied on for Labour votes it’s always had a Conservative bent. Since the town swung towards Independents at the last local elections, it’s now an open playing field, with UKIP having a relatively strong presence in the town due to Tory defections.

The Pyle/Kenfig area is the only former coal-mining area in the south of Bridgend county, with similar characteristics to the Ogmore constituency. North Cornelly also has one of the larger and more deprived parts of the county – the Marlas Estate. The controversial Parc Slip opencast mine site straddles the boundaries of Aberavon, Bridgend and Ogmore constituencies.

Predictions

From my perspective, the campaign in Bridgend has been low-key. At time of posting I’ve only received Labour (x2), Lib Dem, UKIP (x2), Plaid and Conservative (x2) leaflets (no doorstep canvassers AFAIK) and the few placards I’ve seen about are Labour. Though after the recent death of Madeline Moon’s husband and Meirion Jenkins’ broken leg, it’s perfectly understandable that things have been quieter than you would otherwise expect.

Madeline saw her majority fall in 2010. It’s clear she’s in the shadow of the much higher-profile Carwyn Jones (MP Report Card), though her voting record indicates she’s a Labour backbench loyalist, rebelling only 4 times and voting both against an Iraq war inquiry and against welfare reforms. Madeline hasn’t been entirely free from controversy either in her role as a member of Westminster’s Defence Committee.

None of this means Bridgend’s a marginal constituency but it’s certainly one the Tories could win in a 1979-style landslide – a landslide that doesn’t look like happening.

It’s worth remembering that Bridgend first elected a Conservative MP, and based on its demographic make-up, Bridgend could be considered an urban extension of the western Vale of Glamorgan – a Tory heartland. Meirion Jenkins finished second in the contest to stand in Cardiff North, so is clearly highly thought of by the party.

I hate to say this, but I expect UKIP to do reasonably well in Bridgend. They’ve struggled to retain their deposit in previous elections, but there are Kipper farms – especially Porthcawl – and I’d expect them to finish third. If they take enough votes from Labour and Conservatives then the end result could be closer than many expect.

Plaid Cymru’s presence in Bridgend is weak and they’ll probably admit that privately if not publicly – the best they’ve ever done in a Westminster election is 7.2% in 2001. They don’t have a strong activist base and need to build a stronger presence in local government (similarly to Neath Port Talbot and Vale of Glamorgan) to become even a bit player – of the opposition parties they probably stand most to gain from a local authority merger east or west. Anything pushing 7% of the vote should be counted as a good result which underlines how understrength Plaid are here.

The local Lib Dem party has been decimated since 2008. In all honesty, the Lib Dems did a good job to find a candidate, as it seems Cllr. Cheryl Green (Lib Dem, Bryntirion Laleston & Merthyr Mawr) is the Bridgend Lib Dems at the moment. Plaid could well finish ahead of them in Bridgend for the first time.

This is the second time the Greens have stood in Bridgend. The last time they stood, in 2005, Jonathan Spink lost his deposit but outpolled UKIP. Andy Chyba – the previous candidate and vocal critic of Welsh branch leader, Pippa Bartolotti – has done most of the grunt work to resurrect the Bridgend Greens and there are issues through which Greens can pick up votes – plus they’ve been visible in some local campaigns against the bedroom tax etc. I expect them to do better than at any point previously, but nothing spectacular.

TUSC and Pirate Party are retain the deposit jobs too – regardless of the importance of some of their core issues (like cuts and Net Neutrality).

What could be interesting here is the impact of an Independent candidate, Les Tallon-Morris, who might pick up a chunk of the independent-minded vote (Porthcawl Firsters) in Porthcawl and eat into the other parties a little bit.

Nevertheless, I’d expect Madeline Moon to be returned to Westminster comfortably.


Newcastle By-Election

Labour’s Christina Rees is widely-expected to inherit Peter Hain’s seat in Neath. As a result she’s resigned her Newcastle seat on Bridgend Council. A by-election will be held the same day as the House of Commons election (May 7th).

Although you could say that resigning her seat is arrogant – even the very act of running for higher office as her record as a councillor isn’t bad but hardly spectacular – I’m not going to criticise her for doing so as I believe it’s the right thing to do, win or lose.

There are three candidates:

  • Neelo Farr (Lab) – Neath Port Talbot social worker. Lives in Porthcawl. Failed to be selected to stand for Labour in Neath, narrowly missed out on being elected in Morfa in 2012.
  • Cllr. Hazel Kendall (UKIP) – Co-opted to Laleston Community Council in September 2014. Bridgend county’s only UKIP representative at local level.
  • Alex Williams (Con) – Former member of Pencoed Town Council. Bridgend Assembly candidate in 2011, coming second.

I’m surprised veteran Conservative town councillor, David Unwin, hasn’t tried to get his seat back, which he lost in 2012.

You’ve got to say Labour will be favourites, but I doubt I’m the only person getting annoyed that parties (not just Labour) keep parachuting in candidates who don’t live full-time in, or have connections with, the same town, let alone ward, they’re supposed to represent.

Higher up the political food chain you can understand (a little bit) as you look for more from candidates than local connections – though they remain important. At county and community council level it’s counterproductive and potentially damaging.

Owen