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Ynys Mon by election – what can Greens learn?

August 5, 2013

Last Thursday saw the people of Ynys Mon (Anglesey in English), in North West Wales vote for a new Welsh Assembly Member, caused by the resignation of former Plaid Deputy First Minister and party leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones. The island has a history of strong support for Plaid but has voted Labour in most recent General Elections, and is seen as a place that can swing quite regularly. At the last Assembly election in 2011, Jones delivered a stable but non-unassailable majority.

This time round, Plaid selected a former BBC TV presenter, and pulled off an astonishing landside with nearly 60% of the vote, Labour struggled to pip UKIP with just 16%. With Welsh Labour one seat short of a majority in the Assembly, its believed they threw the kitchen sink at this election to set the stage to win this seat at the next election. So why did Plaid pull off such a result and why did Labour fall back despite their efforts?

There are a few factors that I’ll put to one side for now; Rhun ap Iowerth was a very high profile candidate from his previous career and also grew up on the island. It’s also worth noting that Plaid have been fairly stagnant in recent years so there was probably some interest in pulling off a big win to energise the grassroots.

But there must be something else behind a win of this scale. Most readers may not be aware that Welsh Labour keeps significantly to the left of their UK counterpart and this is largely why they have performed so strongly since 2010, in contrast to Scottish Labour. When the 2011 Assembly campaign was ill full swing, the Welsh media was focussing on Welsh Labour and its agenda, and people could be expected to vote on that basis. During this by-election, there was no such coverage and so voters are more likely to be getting their cues about where each party stands from the London-based media. This is more relevant because of course, Plaid gets no mention there.

So rather than being seen as part of the big political landscape, right now Plaid may seem like the underdog, offering something different to the Westminster-austerity consensus. The campaign seemed to focus strongly on job-creation, supporting local business and providing opportunities for young people. Add to this that Plaid are an unmistakably anti-austerity party and you have the stage set for a reaction to the political establishment that’s also happened in Scotland with the SNP, Bradford West with George Galloway, Bristol with the election of an independent mayor and Brighton with a Green Council.

This result from Ynys Mon seems to be further evidence that right now, whenever a credible left wing alternative to Labour is presented to voters, they are willing to elect them. With a few exceptions this is a trend that has largely passed us Greens by.

Now, I’m not suggesting we can suddenly wish into existence a by-elections machine comparable to what the Lib Dems used to have. What is clear is that people feel badly let down by politics as usual and are open to radical and credible alternatives. If we are more willing to embrace this, like I did this year, getting elected to Council in Oxford on a platform of defending immigrants and protecting social care services, then I certainly see us speeding up the pace of local gains.

But the real test for us will be next year’s European Elections. With the media inevitably obsessed with and therefore fuelling UKIP’s continued rise, it falls to us to challenge their agenda for what it is, offering false solutions for the economic failure of our Government and pushing politics to the right. We are far more likely to make an impact and be on course for the gains we’re seeking (6 MEPs in Natalie Bennett’s opinion) if we enthuse those who believe passionately in a diverse society and call out the main parties for blaming immigrants for the mistakes of bankers, rather than trying to be the ‘nice’ party who everyone can buy into.

If we can pull off those impressive gains next year with an appeal in the opposite direction to where UKIP are trying to take people, we will be noticed, and we will be well on our way to start shifting the current narrative to where we want the country to be. 


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