Local Election Issues

Though very much overshadowed by the looming General Election, today sees important local elections in various locations across the United Kingdom including here in Cardiff where all seats on Cardiff City Council are up for grabs. This is an example of a unitary authority, unlike some areas where there are county and borough councils that operate on different levels.

Councillors are paid an `allowance’ which varies across the country but in Cardiff corresponds to a basic amount of £13,300k per annum. Not exactly a luxurious income, but it is essentially a part-time job. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though, as many difficult choices have to be made when budgets are tight.

Since my current job at Cardiff University is part-time I did toy with the idea of putting myself forward as a Labour Party candidate, but in the end didn’t pursue it – largely because I’ve not had as much free time as I thought I would. In any case we have three very good prospective candidates in Iona Gordon, Kanaya Singh, and Caro Wild. I wish them all good luck!

When I first moved to Cardiff, in 2007, the Liberal Democrats were the largest party in the Council, a position they consolidated in the 2008 elections, where the administration that was formed consisted of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party. At the 2012 elections the Liberal Democrats crashed and burned and Labour regained the position as majority party it had lost to the LibDems in 2004. These local elections normally take place every four years, but were deferred by one year by the Welsh Government, which is why they are taking place now rather than in 2016.

Local elections return councillors for each of a number of wards within each area. Some wards return only one representative while others can have a number of councillors. My own ward, Riverside, for example, has three councillors. When I moved to my house in Pontcanna in 2008 all three councillors belonged to Plaid Cymru; at the 2012 elections all three were Labour. I think the past success of Plaid Cymru in Riverside may relate to the presence of Welsh language media organizations in the area. It’s a very mixed ward, actually, with some very posh areas in the North (towards Llandaff) and some very working-class areas to the South.

What will happen this time? I honestly have no idea. It is very difficult to predict local elections on the basis of national politics for a number of reasons. One is that turnout is very low – 30% is very high for this kind of poll. Seats in the council can be gained and lost by just a few hundred votes. There’s also the fact that those people who do vote tend to do so on the basis of very local matters, e.g. the efficiency of the refuse collection service, rather than the national and international issues that will dominate the General Election. Not that this will stop the pundits prattling on about the results.

I can see Plaid Cymru doing reasonably well, but would be surprised if either the Liberal Democrats made a substantial comeback or the Conservatives made big gains. We’ll just have to wait and see, though, as I’ve been massively wrong about such things before!

Anyway, I’m going to a concert tonight to take my mind of things and have no intention of waiting up until the early hours of the morning to hear the results come in, so I’ll update this with the results tomorrow morning.
UPDATE 8.30am, 5/5/2017: Riverside ward returned three labour councillors and Labour retained control of Cardiff City Council.

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