Tuesday 28 April 2015

The Ghost of Election Past

Many years ago, in 1987, I stood for Parliament. My first general election. I was representing Plaid Cymru in Cardiff Central. I had been a member of Plaid for 10 years, was resident and active in the constituency and most importantly, looking back, could afford to pay for one leaflet.

Things were different then. There was no free postal delivery, a much higher bar to win your deposit back, little guidance and/or interference from the central party and, as Plaid were no hopers then in the area, little interest in our campaign.

We didn't quite get all our modest black and white leaflets delivered, with many of the members being elderly and quite frail and myself working long hours as a junior doctor and commuting to the old East Glamorgan Hospital in Church Village to do so.

There was a bitter 3 way battle for the seat between Ian Grist for the Conservatives, John Owen Jones for Labour and Mike German, Liberal. In the end Mr Grist narrowly won with Labour second, Liberals third and me a distance 4th with 550 votes.

It was clear from the start that I was going to come 4th and the main objectives for the campaign would be recruiting a few more members and flying the flag. However, since I was there I decided to try something a bit different: To use the election to launch a new campaign.
Then,as now, all the candidates had a chance to say something after the result was announced. It traditionally starts with thanks to the staff at the count, sometimes the police, the public for their votes and their party for its support. A poor man's Oscar acceptance speech, more or less, but very dramatic if you happen to be the one giving it. The count was in the grand and opulent venue of Cardiff's old City Hall.

I had kept many of the links I had made as a student with friends in the SNP, some of which have survived to this day. I was quite inspired by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the cross party and completely open campaign to revive the devolution question in Scotland. I felt we needed something similar in Wales. The executive of Plaid Cymru at that time, of which I was a member, was resistant to devolution and had the game plan of winning a majority of parliamentary seats in a future general election and declaring independence unilaterally in a blaze of glory. At 29, I knew I wouldn't live that long.

I believed that in every political party of the time there was enough civic nationalism, with the possible exception of the Conservatives, to get a devolution settlement on the move.

So, I did my little speech, pointing out that the Conservative had triumphed on a relatively small proportion of the vote and that this did not fairly reflect the wishes of the Welsh people, and announced that I was inviting the other disappointed candidates to form a campaign for a Welsh Senedd. Looking back I suppose it went rather well. We were all invited to the Labour "Victory" party - subdued atmosphere but good buffet- and the movement was off the ground running. We even attracted a few Tories to join.

Plaid officially boycotted the campaign but many ordinary members did not. Still, I was in big trouble with some of the higher-ups. Eventually I would have the satisfaction of seeing a bunch of enthusiastic new Plaid AMs enter the Assembly in 1999, some of whom had been less than appreciative of my efforts to get widespread support for devolution. I was also very pleased to see Mike German as an AM. In 1987, he had beened tipped to win in Cardiff Central by a local poll and was depressed and deeply disappointed. If he had won, I realise now, he would not have had the same amount\ of time and energy to fight for devolution.

Perhaps the Sian of 1987 would have been gratified to see a vision of how it all turned out, but at the time I had more immediate concerns. During the next year my attempts to get a medical job in Wales were not successful and I was then off to Scotland to find employment and training. When I returned, I would be a fully-fledged consultant.

Most of all, in 1987, I realised that politics is not only a team sport. Most of us want roughly the same things and are divided more by the ideology of how to achieve them than the goal itself.  

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