I'm not involved in Westminster circles- i'm exclusively a local anorak- and don't know when a General Election will be called, but I do know that when it happens the battle in the Vale will be shaped by a number of major issues that have crept up over the past year or two. I will discuss these issues in my next blog post, after first considering the political terrain in the Vale.
It has long been expected that the Tories will take back the Vale of Glamorgan from Labour. At the last Assembly election Labour held on by the skin of their teeth. Commentators said that the announcement of the investment at St. Athan 'was what won it', although I am on the ground in the Vale and I know that the real reason was that the Tories chose an unknown candidate with no profile (Gordon Kemp, who now leads the Vale Council), and that the Tories did not campaign much in Barry, sticking instead to their rural heartlands. Fast forward to 2008, and the Tories had established South Wales West AM Alun Cairns as their Parliamentary spokesperson and future candidate. The Conservatives made some limited inroads in Barry in the latest local elections during May 2008. In the Dyfan ward they took 2 seats off Labour. Together with Alun Cairns' regular press work in the Vale papers, it seemed to me to be inevitable that the Vale would be turning blue by the time the next General Election came around, particularly considering the plummeting of the Labour government in the polls later in 2008.
However, Cairns' credibility has taken a battering since then. He spent a significant part of 2008 suspended from his position as Vale Parliamentary candidate after the 'greasy wops' incident. Later, he was damaged in an expenses row. The Conservatives are still in a strong position for the GE if they campaign in Barry, but Labour now have some ammunition to fire at Cairns, which they didn't have before. I would guess that Cairns is biding his time and waiting for the negative publicity around him to die down.
And what of the Labour party? They were set back by losing control of the council in May, but had a consolation prize in regaining some ground in Barry that they had lost to Plaid Cymru, who were seen to be on the rise in the town at the time. Since then Labour have tried to get back on their feet in Barry, and John Smith has focused all of his Parliamentary work (no exaggeration) on the St. Athan training academy, which is one of the issues I will discuss in my next post. He has taken a huge gamble on this, and has essentially become the Metrix MP. Smith has a long association with the aerospace and military industries based at St. Athan and is staking not only his reputation but his political future on a £12billion PFI. If the Academy and its attendant link road can be delivered, then Smith might rake in political capital based on the thousands of jobs that could be created. The Metrix Man has also come out in favour of the Severn Barrage (not tidal power in the estuary in general, or his own government's feasibility study, but specifically and exclusively the proposed Barrage) and a link road to the St. Athan Academy/Cardiff International Airport, attempting to outflank Plaid by holding Ieuan Wyn Jones responsible for any delayed decision on such a road. Smith knows that as a Labour candidate in an economic downturn he has to play the jobs card at all cost.
Plaid remain a threat to Labour and although they were defeated in the Castleland ward they took a town council seat in the Buttrills ward, solid Labour territory in the past. This seems to be enough of a lifeline for Plaid not to give up on Barry, where they are more or less the second party. They won't win but could be in a position to decide who does win. At General Elections in the past Plaid have finished behind the Lib Dems in the Vale (in Assembly elections it is reversed), but the Lib Dems have collapsed and disappeared locally, although they will still get their national coverage come election time. They will have a candidate parachuted in. Plaid will be aiming to dislodge the Lib Dems and to use the election to claim back ground in Barry that they lost during 2008. The crafty Dr. Ian Johnson appears to be standing for Plaid, an academic who has a profile in the local footballing community and the campaigns to try and save Barry Cinema. The nationalists will surely be an unwelcome distraction to Labour who will need every Barry vote they can get their hands on if they are to keep the seat.