Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Preseli Pembrokeshire Constituency: Assessing the Parliamentary Candidates for the 2015 General Election

There's a hustings in Haverfordwest, but I'm entertaining guests. So Instead of driving 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back just to hurl abuse at reigning Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb (a task for which I have no real motivation or qualification) I thought I'd try and do the adult thing – at least, the digital-native adult thing – and assess the suitability of the presumptuous candidates who would represent me via the medium of blogging.

I'll tackle each candidate in the order they're featured in the Western Telegraph. And I'll give them a mark out of ten. And I'll try not to be horrible. Here goes.

1. Nick Tregoning - Liberal Democrat

Nick Tregoning has a windswept brooding look, like he thought he was posing for his 2016 calendar, soon to be featured alongside Cliff Richard and, I don't know, someone from Orange Orange, in the 3-for-2 section of The Works. He's got that rugged exoticness that makes him instantly attractive as a lover, but perhaps not entirely trustworthy as an MP. His name sounds Cornish, and basic research substantiates that. Being from Cornwall, he has first-hand experience of windswept UK peninsulas largely ignored by anyone who either can't afford a holiday home or prefers to get an uncomfortable aeroplane to their chosen budget holiday destination. He also appears to have quit the Welsh Liberal Democrats in a huff just three years ago. This indicates that Nick's appearance as a Preseli Pembrokeshire candidate is some sort of cruel penance imposed by his party on rejoining. His spiel is a dull boilerplate of sniping at both of the bigger parties and a little bit of boresnoring about tax, health, education, blah, blah. There's zero foreplay and not a pleasantry in sight. Nick doesn't want your stupid vote and is beginning to wonder why the hell he ever left Cornwall in the first place.

I voted Lib Dem last time and I'm not especially ashamed or regretful of that; at the time their policies chimed best with me. And I'm glad they got to form a coalition government with the Tories; that was very marginally better than a Tory government, or an interminable hung parliament. But I can't see me (or many other people) voting for this Nick this time. The popular Nick found out last time that it was better to be outside a burning tent pissing on it than inside the tent pissing yourself. And this Nick's Twitter doesn't even mention he's running and he hasn't tweeted since February.

Poor pitch. Would not recommend: 3/10

2. Paul Miller - Labour

Paul Miller is local. He looks pretty reasonable in a politiciany way. Youngish. Niceish. Even vaguely trustworthy. He's not going to be featuring on any sexy calendars with Nick Tregoning, but we can't all be born Cornish Adonises, and Pembrokeshire is on average about half a degree cooler, therefore conducive to less tanning. He gets "Withybush" (hospital) in to the second sentence, and I can immediately relate to that because my daughter was born there. Nice. He also talks about how difficult it was returning to rural Wales (although he doesn't use the word "Wales"); I know that too, although I grew up in/on Anglesey I always wanted to return, but the Pembrokeshire job market doesn't really scream "COME GET ME" unless you're a farmer, a gas factory-place worker thing (full disclosure: I have no idea what they do in there) or an owner of some sort of boutique glamping hovel. He talks about sport, which immediately bores me, because I prefer wine. And I'm not really sure a shabby cricket changing-room is up there in my list of global or even national concerns. He is a bit trigger-happy with the line-break, and a cursory glance at his website reveals all of his text is in image format (dreadful for SEO) and it's riddled with basic spelling and punctuation errors. But my pedant days are over; such things are but cosmetic, like one's sexy-calendar-capability. Beyond that, I've read a bit of his website and it's a disappointingly dichotomic diatribe in jolly-local flavour. And if that sounds too Brandy (as in Russell), let me say quite clearly that I strongly disagree with Miller that MP Stephen Crabb and PM David Cameron "could not care less" for Pembrokeshire. Crabb, whatever one thinks of his policies, seems to love it. It re-elected him just five years ago with a comfortable majority. (What's not to like?) David Cameron (I think?) had family here some time back, and visited when recent floods struck. They could care less. They could care as much as they care for, I don't know, Zambia. Also, he talks about "Selling Pembrokeshire to UK PLC" which makes me feel a bit sick.

I voted Labour in 2001 and 2005. Or did I? I think I definitely would have, but I have a feeling I might have been 17 in 2001, and living in Prague in 2005. I would have voted Labour though, and might have done in local elections. But I wouldn't really have known why, other than that they weren't the Conservatives, whom I was vaguely aware of disliking. However, now I know a thing or two (possibly even three) I'm not entirely convinced that Paul's assertion that "Labour’s the only party fundamentally committed to a fair society in which everyone is given the same chance in life" is true. There are several other parties who seem far more committed to that particular detail, and who don't talk about selling their homelands to big business.

That said, not a bad pitch and imagine his heart's in the right place. Would recommend if you are tied to a two-party "battleground" outcome (and there's at least a very slim chance of a Labour gain based on last election's polling).


3. Howard Lillyman - Ukip

Howard looks like he might have been a greaser some time in the '50s. If he were impersonating Elvis on a pier in Pembrokeshire (are there any? Local knowledge not hot on this subject) it would definitely be late-period Elvis. But I'm no spring chicken either. He's got a jazzy tie. My issue with Howard starts with his text: it smacks of party boilerplate, which isn't a good sales angle from Ukip, a party which sells itself on its spirit of independence (the "i" bit) and its ""characters"". It actually seems like he's toeing the party line like some kind of mesmerised ballerina: "For too long we've had the same old policies from Labour and the Conservative Lib Dem coalition" he says. (Although, obviously only for five years, if you're including the coalition in this, which isn't very long at all.) Then, after blaming those three parties for what's wrong with "Britain" he chastises them for "Each blaming the other". This is the bizarre paradox of Ukip for me; even if they weren't pushing policies based on issues I don't find pressing, they have a habit of calling kettles black (and telling them to get back to where they came from) while simultaneously blacking up and not addressing or even acknowledging any kind of ambiguity in the whole "who-came-from-where-when-and-how-long-ago-was-it-okay" debate. They jump ship to an exciting new party and simultaneously condemn careerist politicians. They condemn the privileged from fat white mouths, and call for cuts to much-needed aid to (genuinely) poor countries with the next breath. Howard never once mentions the place he's fighting for and one strongly imagines he's nothing but a smiley face to soak up the expected number of protest votes in this corner of a country (Wales, Howard, not UK) that Ukip barely acknowledges. Either a parachuted candidate or a willing local who isn't trusted by his party not to say something truly dreadful if allowed to stay from the brief. There's little to be found out about who Howard is and what makes him tick (I shan't speculate that whatever it is probably owes a lot to the NHS, and biomechanical engineering), so I'll leave you with some of the amusingly badly punctuated ranty lines copy-and-pasted from the Little Purple Book of Spite. All [sic] and enraging my inbuilt spellchecker with squiggly red lines:

"It’s time we took control of our borders to stop uncontrolled immigration, not ALL immigration."
"We’ll cut the international aid buget saving us £9billion a year by not proping up governments who have space and nuclear weapon programmes."
"It’s time for change it’s time to vote UKIP."

I'm not voting Ukip. They are a ragbag of ideologically proud jingoistic 19th century Tories, genuine lunatics, and cynical careerists. Whichever type this is, I don't agree with his priorities nor his logic:


4. Stephen Crabb - Conservative

Considering the Conservatives are the party I have the least in common with according to every online policy test I've ever taken (and that includes the BNP and Ukip), I don't mind Crabb. Sure, he comes across as a classic contemporary career politician, but all-in-all there's little to suggest he's among the worst. He trumpets local businesses, and spends his whole life (seemingly) at county shows and village fetes. Something Paul Miller chastises him for (although Paul spelled it "fate" for reasons unknown to me). Stephen recently became "The first bearded Conservative cabinet minister since 1905" which is lucky, because 100 years would have been far too long. He actually made a joke about crabs in his maiden speech to parliament, which is brilliant. And his sporting exchanges with the outgoing Labour MP (reported in the speech too) speak of a political world quite unlike the one we see on our TVs. That said, I don't for a moment think that Christian Crabb (who interned for an arguably slightly off-colour abortion-and-gay-people unfriendly charity) fits my own ideal of a progressive representative of the people. He seems a pretty modern Tory; his voting record suggests he barely ever deviates from the party line, he's EU-sceptic but not Ukippy, homo-sceptic but not homophobic, etc. He came to power talking about promoting Pembrokeshire as a business hub and upgrading the A40 to a dual-carriageway. He's had ten years, and it doesn't look very dualistic to me; but how powerful is an MP for Pembrokeshire? He (like all Tories) cites the recovering economy as proof of the party's economic prowess. But isn't the whole global economy recovering? The problem with Crabb's claims and promises (like those of almost all MPs, especially Tories) is that they are largely unproven and unprovable; not to mention contested by many experts. His "fair milk prices" talk will probably win him the farming vote, and therefore the actual vote in our constituency. But can he deliver it? Certainly he's no worse-placed to than any of the others. But if he does, or if Milford Haven or Trecwn blossom into industrial superpowers instead of withering to jobless misery, it'll probably be more luck than judgment. I suppose the Tory argument is that you keep the big businesses happy at the expense of the little guy. And yet Crabb's focus (beyond general localness and Withybush) seems to be on SMEs, whereas our Labour candidate is banging on about selling Pembrokeshire to the highest bidder. One really doesn't know what to believe.

It's highly unlikely I will ever vote Conservative, due to not agreeing with the vast majority of their policies, and due to my own prejudices I'm uncomfortable with frequent displays of religious affiliation from politicians; but I don't dislike Crabb himself. He brags about building a skate park in Haverfordwest, while my Red-Wedge socialist teen hero Billy Bragg is busy trying to clear the skaters off the South Bank. World turned upside-down, or just a world getting older?


5. Chris Overton - Independent Save Withybush Save Lives Party

Chris looks like a nicer person than most of the others, which is probably because he's not a politician. But selling yourself as a potential MP based on your non-political credentials doesn't have a great track record as far as I'm aware. And nor do single-issue candidates. Just because the issue is valid and worth attention, it doesn't make it worth standing as an independent for. Or at least it doesn't make it worth voting for somebody who's standing as an independent for it. Especially when most of the other candidates (and both of the serious contenders) are talking a lot about that issue. That said, his argument does carry some weight: "Once the election is done and dusted they will revert to type and vote the way they are told. Vote against your interests as required." Politicians like Crabb and Miller are careerists and do (or in Miller's case, probably would) follow the party line. That's what parties are for. Maybe Nick wouldn't follow it? Maybe that's why he left or got kicked out and ended up running in one of the least Liberal-likely corners of Wales? I don't know. But I don't think we (even in Pembrokeshire, so far from the real world with its comforts and threats) are a single-issue people. Withybush is a big issue, but I just can't see how it is better in Chris's hands than in any of the other less-likely contenders' hands (e.g. Green/Plaid). Sometimes you feel that deals should have been struck earlier on in the process.

I wouldn't vote for a single-issue independent knowing nothing about their stance on other matters.


6. Frances Bryant - Green

Frances is a woman, which oughtn't to be something worth remarking on in this context, but given that she's the only woman running in Pembrokeshire one can't help but. She's also got a lovely cardigan, and a photo with the air and colour balance of a classical portrait. So far so pro. She immediately gets stuck in with emotive (and pretty shocking) facts and figures, as opposed to just banging on about "change" like a beggar on a bridge (like Howard). For a rep from a party trying to reposition itself as... well... a party, rather than a protest vote or a pressure group, Frances doesn't put a foot wrong. Fracking is mentioned. I'm not for it, but it does feel a little buzzwordy and a little small-scale. I'm aware it's a solid and popular issue to bring up, and that such issues really are core to the Greens' positioning, but I do wonder if such stances by this point really go without saying. when you've only got so much room. There aren't so many people who'll be pro-fracking that'll be put off by it; but those who are anti- surely know where Frances stands on this? Beyond that: minimum wage, Withybush, HS2, Trident; all are getting a mention. Taxing the wealthy, animal welfare, and finally – and perhaps most importantly – energy. Wales has a surplus of energy and water. I don't know the details but Frances talks of selling the former. I don't quite understand this; if it's not being done already, is it being given away? I suppose if water and energy are private (they are, aren't they?) Welsh people get no profit from their abundance? This is certainly an area of interest to me (in which I have a lot to learn) and nobody else has brought it up at this point, certainly not so clearly.

I've voted Green in local elections and European elections. I'm yet to be convinced there's any point in a GE, and that's the real challenge facing Frances and other Greens. Many people who vote for other parties kind of prefer their policies, but might not be fully convinced they can (or even could ever) enact them. I guess it comes down to how best you feel the world can be changed. Finally, I strongly feel Plaid and the Greens should be allying and pooling votes in Wales (if such a thing were possible). They agree on a lot and for two small pressure parties not to somehow combine their powers seems daft.


7. John Osmond - Plaid Cymru

Back when I lived on Anglesey, Plaid Cymru voters were the cantankerous old people who told us to get back to where we came from. (The West Midlands, I presume they meant.) But their "nationalism" nowadays seems very different from the spray-painted slogans on slate walls and burning barns behaviour of yesteryear; and indeed one doubts the party itself ever had much to do with the more misguidedly militant aspects of Welsh nationalism. I have no problem with Welsh nationalism (or any nationalism from a non-nation-state); largely because I've observed British and even English nationalism to more frequently carry a menacing aspect. In the recent ITV Leaders Debate, party leader Leanne Wood projected a warm and welcoming Wales, taking Nigel Farridge to task on his bizarre and misleading HIV scaremongering, and declaring that Wales needed immigration, no less. But I know Plaid will always be a tough sell not just to the quarter of the Welsh population that's ethnically English (like me), but also to the majority of Welsh citizens who don't speak the language (dim fel fi! Wel, dypin bach fel fi...), and feel better represented by the more worldly and outward-looking (often perhaps distracting from domestic issues) Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties.

Sorry! Back to you, John: lovely photo. Effortlessly casual, like a truly passionate sports or even perhaps theatre critic. Straight in there with the anti-austerity rhetoric which despite Crabb and Cameron's insistence is backed up by at least half of the credible economists out there, probably more. He cites the whole holy trinity: Wales, Pembrokeshire and Withybush; so we know he's nationalist, regionalist and localist. But he also has a message of solidarity, repping for: "Plaid Cymru [in Wales], SNP in Scotland and Greens in England." This is lovely and quite rare, but also problematic because the Green party is the Green party of England and Wales. AND there's a Scottish branch. So are the Greens just the second best to your friendly neighbourhood nationalists? Or are they a party with broad policy crossover with Plaid? He has things to say about energy and small businesses that are good, but possibly a touch radical for some. Certainly very different to Paul Miller's notion of socialism (which seems to be selling every drop of Pembrokeshire's blood to the richest vampire) but perhaps quite frightening for our centrist times? I like all of what he has to say, personally. Even the bit about the Welsh language. The Welsh language is well worth not just keeping alive, but actively promoting. But it's in Plaid's interests to help make this less of a contentious issue; to help remove the notion that Welshness and Welsh nationalism is inexorably linked to the language, and that a Welsh citizen who speaks Welsh is to be valued more than one who doesn't. Otherwise, you have no nationalist movement; just pockets of forever-Welsh enclaves in misty valleys surrounded by the modern world, with its academics and well-intentioned students, and its majority first-language English-speaking population. Plaid is keen to skitch into town on the tailgates of the SNP cavalcade; fair enough, as they have the policies and a seemingly genuine interest in the best for their people. But they should also take a look at how Scottish nationalism has matured in recent years and how nationalism can be a mutually-beneficial political notion, rather than a divisive rallying cry. And, indeed, it looks like they might be doing just that.

I've never voted Plaid. The very notion would have seemed daft in the past. (Wouldn't I be voting to be kicked out of the country?) But nowadays they seem much closer to the values I used to presume I had to vote Labour to demand. Values that, as Ukip note, are lost to the centrist gravity of modern British politics; but values which a cursory glance at Ukip's policy priorities would reveal they have very little genuine interest in.


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