I’ve voted in a by-election once before. It was the 1986 Fulham by-election, held at the height of the Thatcher era, triggered by the sudden death of the then mainly working-class constituency’s rabid Thatcherite Tory MP Martin Stephens (1929-1986). Nick Raynsford won the London marginal seat for Labour on a 75% turn-out (the Tories would regain it at the general election a year later). I was a firebrand local trade union rep at the time and I remember a loud, dirty and passionate campaign that gripped the electorate. But those were the infant days of the Neo-Con project, engaged citizens had not yet been shrivelled into spoon-fed consumers, hopeless resignation had not yet crushed the idea that there was still a future up for grabs. We didn’t know our sky was turning grey. On the eve of the Cardiff South & Penarth by-election things are very, very different.
There is zero excitement and even less political debate, nobody talks about it in the pubs and clubs and, apart from the odd window sticker here and there, you could get away with not being aware of the election at all. The turn-out is likely to be around 30%; I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here will expect higher. The LibDem leaflets, flyers, pamphlets and ‘personal’ appeals that pour into letterboxes on a daily basis are universally ignored and shovelled up for landfill along with the Chinese takeaway menus, Virgin Media special introductory offers and all the rest of the junk mail. LibDems are currently going through the seven stages of political bereavement: they’ve done shock, elation, anger and guilt, now it’s denial’s turn (only acceptance and depression left!). Behaving as if they were still a small, cuddly protest party for the disaffected, rather than face the awful fact that they’re the despised bastards running the country, their bumf pretends this is a local council election all about parking zones and Russell Goodway’s allowances and treats the voter like a lobotomised ignoramus who has just woken from a coma. They’ve spent more than all the other parties combined (£100,000), felling hectares of rain forest trying to hang on to 3rd place – a poignantly futile and profligate avoidance exercise to defer the penny dropping that it will be a couple of generations before they’re ever believed again. If all goes well, Bablin Molik might save her deposit.
Not one single communication has come from the Tories. They are spending precisely nothing on the campaign because a) they have no chance of winning, b) it’s in Wales. Despite this, and the certainty their vote will be slashed because of what the multi-millionaire old Etonians are doing at Westminster, they are still guaranteed 2nd place simply because there are around 5,000 die-hard Little Englanders grimly enduring on M&S ready-meals and ventilators in Penarth. I wish the Tory candidate, Pentyrch councillor Craig Williams, had the balls to knock Splott doors: I’d have the young fogey wetting his cavalry twills!
Labour’s Stephen Doughty will be Cardiff South & Penarth MP tomorrow night. The constituency (notwithstanding boundary changes) has been Labour since 1945 anyway and there’s a venal ConDem government in London: end of story. Labour has hardly bothered with the election either, it being such a foregone conclusion. Us poor southern Cardiffians could have Mr Doughty as our MP for decades to come – coasting in a safe seat is not conducive to good representation, as proved by his predecessors James Callaghan and Alun Michael. But Mr Michael considers the seat to be in his personal gift and has decided to bestow it on an old family friend, so who are we plebs to argue?
As a sentient Welshman I will be voting for Plaid’s Luke Nicholas*, of course. Plaid can’t win, but must keep trying to build a platform in every part of Wales. As a bonus, Luke’s a really nice, intelligent guy – he’s got to be, he follows this blog!
As for the Police Commissioner elections, for the first time ever I will spoil a ballot paper rather than vote. The only decision is what contemptuous words to scrawl across “Michael, Alun Edward, Labour”. I’m favouring SHOVE IT UP YOUR CHIEF CONSTABLE at the moment, but I still have 24 hours to think up something better.