Powered by Google

Llais Gwynedd - Rebels with a cause

Owain Williams

WHEN political parties are perceived as taking their electorate for granted, they should beware of fratricide as the knives come out – Gordon Brown is presently finding this out.

And his Labour Party found it to their cost in Blaenau Gwent in 2004, when they tried to force all-women shortlists on the local party, to choose its prospective MP from. The natives rebelled and formed the Blaenau Gwent People’s Voice Group – since registered as a political party.

Former Labour Assembly housing minister, the late Peter Law, took the seat for the People’s Voice at the next Westminster election. His widow Trish now holds the seat in the Assembly while colleague Dai Davies represents the constituency in the House of Commons.

Now Plaid Cymru has felt the brunt of a similar rebellion in its own Gwynedd heartland, losing its majority in the local elections earlier this month as new party, Llais Gwynedd, made huge inroads into its core vote.

Llais Gwynedd was formed from the fall-out over the ruling Plaid group’s proposals to close 29 primary schools and to federalise dozens more, leaving the county with 48 schools compared to the current 106. Many of its founding members having been card-carrying Plaid members, it soon found itself on a roll.

Yet no one could have foreseen its spectacular success, taking 12 seats. That could yet increase to a baker’s dozen when the election for the Blaenau Ffestiniog ward of Bowydd and Rhiw, postponed this month following the death of Labour candidate Ernest Williams, is held.

The party’s group on the authority is led by Owain Williams, a long-standing councillor for the Clynnog Fawr ward who has always worn his nationalist credentials like medals of honour.

Jailed in the early 1960s for largely symbolic bomb attacks on the site of the controversial Llyn Celyn reservoir, that saw a whole community turfed out of its homes and the village of Capel Celyn drowned, he later turned to the democratic route.

He is the former chairman of the Independent Wales Party, and also tried his hand within the ranks of both Labour and Plaid Cymru. But he has consistently been a thorn in the side of Plaid, casting doubt on their nationalist commitment.

He consistently defeats their candidates in his Clynnog Fawr stronghold with thumping majorities, in the past as an independent or independent nationalist.

Llais Gwynedd would on the surface seem to be a nationalist-leaning party, even though its defeated candidate in Deiniolen had his nomination papers signed by a former UKIP candidate noted for his vehement anti-Welsh views.

The leader surprisingly distances himself from applying any labels to his fledgling party.

“Our councillors come from a wide spectrum of abilities and opinions, and I believe we’re seeing here a historic move away from the London-centric and Cardiff-centric parties towards a more local form of democracy,” he says.

He believes that while it was the schools issue which brought things to a head, there was general dissatisfaction among the electorate with the way Gwynedd was being run. But he denies that his is a single-issue party doomed to fizzle out.

“It’s true to say we were formed on the back of objections to Plaid’s closure plans for the county’s schools, but if we were being seen as a single issue party, how would that explain our success in places like Pwllheli where closures are not on the agenda?

“Our policies are in the process of being put together. During the election Plaid kept challenging us about our policies, but they’ve had 80 years to put theirs together, while we’ve hardly had 80 days.

“The future of our schools is central to our thinking, which is why we can’t contemplate at this time jumping into bed in coalition with Plaid. It would be a betrayal of the thousands of people who voted for us.

“But that’s not to say that we don’t recognise that Gwynedd has a host of other problems that need addressing.”

He cites the economy and job creation as major areas where Plaid are failing locally, as well as the dearth of affordable housing or rented accommodation.

“With the economy, we need to move away from Plaid’s strategy of concentrating developments on the Menai Strait corridor, ignoring the needs of Dwyfor and Meirionnydd and indeed parts of Arfon.

“We need more work, but we’re not going to be attracting a major employer like Ford here. What we do have is a base of small businesses, and we need to target Objective One assistance at them to help them grow, and to help new ones develop.

“Housing is also a major problem. We need the planning department to be more flexible, especially in respect of modular housing – proper wooden houses of the type they use in Scandinavia that cost much less than conventional homes.

“I don’t see why new housing has to be confined to town and village boundaries, as long as they’re sensitively sited.”

Now the wrong side of 70, it’s taken Owain Williams a long time to reach the dizzy heights of leading a party with meaningful democratic representation. He says he was honoured to have been asked by his 11 fellow councillors.

“I’m proud to lead our team of talented people; we’re in it for the good of the electorate, not personal gain.”

Share