Election 2017: Bridgend in Focus

                                                        (Pic: BBC Wales)

 

With the UK general election only days away, my final posts of the campaign look at the two Bridgend county constituencies, starting with Bridgend – which also happens to be one of the key marginal seats in Wales and the UK.


Profile

The Bridgend constituency is made up of the southern half of Bridgend county, including the town of Bridgend itself, Porthcawl and the Pyle/Kenfig Hill/Cornelly area. Bridgend is firmly within the Cardiff commuter belt, being both a western extension of the wealthy Vale of Glamorgan and an important regional industrial and service centre.

With the constituency having a seaside town, an industrial-market town, relatively high local average earnings and lots of large family-friendly suburbs, Bridgend would probably be a safe Conservative seat if it were located in England.

Electoral History

Created in 1983 from Ogmore and Aberavon constituencies.

  • 1983-1987 – Peter Hubbard-Miles (Con)
  • 1987-2005 – Win Griffiths (Lab)
  • 2005-2017 – Madeline Moon (Lab)

2015 Result

The Candidates

In alphabetical order by party.

  • Karen Robson (Con) – Disability education and veterans’ mental health campaigner. Won “Welsh Woman of the Year” award in 2005.
  • Madeline Moon (Lab) – Former social services manager at both Mid Glamorgan and Swansea Councils. Bridgend’s MP since 2005.
  • Jonathan Pratt (Lib Dem) – Former Naval auxiliary officer; gift ware merchant.
  • Cllr. Isabel Robson (Ind) – Elected to Bridgend town council in May 2017; runs own business analysis and project management company.
  • Rhys Watkins (Plaid) – Site manager in the rail and construction industry.
  • Alun Williams (UKIP)

Rundown

I’ve been surprised at how quiet the campaign’s been. It was quiet in 2015 too but there were good reasons for that. Bridgend has had far more focus from the UK and international media than ever before in an election, but I wouldn’t say election fever’s hit Bridgend; if anything people are fed up with it and I don’t blame them.The Tories are winning the targeted online ad and leaflet campaign, while Labour have done more social media work/meme spreading or joined roving bands of party stormtroopers – who’ve been out in greater numbers than usual.

It’s all been a bit “meh”. I thought living in a marginal seat was supposed to be exciting with everyone fighting for your vote – but I’d imagine the closest most people have got to seeing or hearing about the campaign are die hard supporters winding each other up on Facebook.

In terms of who’s actually going to win Bridgend, under a first-past-the-post system it’s a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have, on paper, picked an excellent candidate. Karen Robson’s CV is positively glowing. The “small problems” are that she lives in Cardiff and has been parachuted in, which has angered the rank and file membership.

You get the sense the confidence we saw when Theresa May launched her Welsh campaign in Brackla just a few weeks ago has evaporated. What was once a nailed on Tory gain has gone back to 50:50.

It’s a bit of a Morton’s fork facing Bridgend’s voters, like voters across the UK. Taken altogether this has got to be weakest incoming set of MPs in living memory, and just as the UK is about to start the most important set of international negotiations since the Yalta Conference.

We have a – you’ve got to say – underwhelming sitting Labour MP in Madeline Moon who’ll get support for the rosette (or proxy votes for Carwyn Jones) but not necessarily for herself. The policies may be there but the people to deliver those policies most certainly aren’t; the thought of some Labour frontbenchers (Diane Abbott, John McDonnell etc.) wielding real power is, quite frankly, terrifying.

On the other hand we have a Conservative candidate who ticks all the boxes, but perhaps won’t have the complete support of the local branch. Plus, the campaign has been one of the worst ever run by a ruling party – an uncosted manifesto, strictly choreographed campaign events, policies that hurt the party’s core vote and a robotic Prime Minister who refuses to defend her record.

The Tories will need to take a long, hard look at themselves if they let this slip because if they can’t retake Bridgend now you’ll have to ask if they ever will?

We can, of course, vote for someone else.

Someone I haven’t mentioned yet is Cllr. Isabel Robson, who wants to prove that “anyone can run as an MP” and it shouldn’t be the sole domain of those with a party machine or big donors backing them. Her policy platform includes:

  • Respecting the Brexit referendum result; ensure the Brexit process includes Wales and results in the “best possible outcome” for Bridgend’s businesses and residents.
  • Better support for small businesses, including business rate reforms and addressing the negative impact of changes to taxes and VAT for the self-employed.
  • Oppose reductions to disability support (one of her children is disabled).
  • Work with councillors and AMs to improve infrastructure in and around Bridgend, including links to Cardiff Airport and the road network in and around new housing developments.
  • Use part of her MP’s salary to set up a charitable fund for young people to start their own businesses or become active in politics as an Independent candidate.
  • Create a National Care Service with the aim of reducing bed blocking.

Some of that would be better dealt with from the Senedd than London because they cross into devolved policies (i.e. social care, many aspects of infrastructure).
Independent candidates may not have a party machine, but they can be effective horse traders and draw concessions for their constituents from governments in tight votes, with all polls indicating (I’d take them with a pinch of salt) that a hung parliament may be back on the cards.As for the others, obviously there are fewer candidates than 2015 but you would expect the Lib Dems to struggle to retain their deposit, while Plaid Cymru are unlikely to do much better than the 7-10% they usually get.

The expected drop in the UKIP vote, and where that vote goes, will decide whether Labour hold the seat or not; if it goes to the Tories, the Tories win, if UKIP keep a lot of their vote or even if some of the working class vote goes back to Labour then Madeline Moon (who voted against triggering Article 50) should hang on.

Owen