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9 December 2019updated 13 Jul 2021 11:43am

“If I had a pig, I’d call him Boris“ : view from the three-way marginal of Ynys Môn

By George Grylls

If you ever find yourself cold and wet on Anglesey, it is worth popping into the Bread Basket for a spiced bun and a cup of tea. Whatever you do though, don’t mention the Prime Minister.

“I love him. He’s brought a breath of fresh air into parliament,” says Enyd Hughes, a baker on the morning shift.

“He’s a shit. If I had a pig, I’d call him Boris,” says Deborah Williams, her colleague.

The two women have voted Labour all their lives, but the referendum cleaved the 133-year old bakery into the familiar halves of Leave and Remain. Hughes is worried that an increase in the minimum wage will destroy the business and is voting Tory. Williams is sticking with Labour. 

The Bread Basket overlooks the busy port of Holyhead. Outside of Northern Ireland, there is arguably no constituency with a greater stake in this election than Ynys Môn. Where there were once skilled jobs in aluminium, steel and nuclear energy, now there is seasonal tourism and passage to Dublin. Trade experts predict that Johnson’s deal, and the ensuing customs fudge in the Irish Sea, will see the port of Holyhead overlooked in favour of better-equipped Liverpool.

“It’s inevitable that trade will be subject to more checks in Holyhead,” says Aled ap Dafydd, the Plaid Cymru candidate for Ynys Môn and a former BBC journalist. “Anything that will put hauliers off going through the port of Holyhead is something we should guard against. It is a port that employs 600 people.”

Ap Dafydd speaks with polished confidence. Ynys Môn is Plaid Cymru’s top target at this election. Labour took the seat from the Welsh nationalists in 2001, but Albert Owen, the victorious MP 18 years ago, is finally stepping down. Just to add to the confusion, the island voted narrowly to leave the EU. It is a complex jigsaw where in 2015 Labour polled almost exactly the same as Plaid Cymru, and the Conservatives polled almost exactly the same as the Welsh nationalists two years later. All three parties are in with a shout.

“At the end of the day Plaid Cymru aren’t going to form a government,” says Mary Roberts, who was selected to replace Owen as Labour candidate in October. “It’s a choice between Labour and more Tory cuts.”

Roberts gives an example of how deprivation on Anglesey has been exacerbated by austerity:

“I was talking to the people running the food bank in Amlwch. They told me about someone who lived there. That person had been offered a job in Holyhead. But it was physically impossible to get from Amlwch to Holyhead because there weren’t any buses. The local authority has cut bus services on Anglesey because of the funding. That’s someone turning down a job because they can’t physically get there and having to use a food bank as a consequence.”

Pebble-dashed Holyhead, with its sumptuous views of Celtic bays, is really struggling. On the day I visited, sex workers spoke to me anonymously outside the vape shop on the high street. They told me that they ought to vote Labour, because they considered themselves working class, but they did not think the party represented them, so they would not. Opposite us was the shopfront of Minesto — a firm advertising EU investment in tidal energy.

“We need work on Anglesey. Our youngsters are having to leave the county,” says John Hodgkinson, a retired docker with a magnificent set of mutton chops. “I’m totally confused about the election. Albert (Owen) has stood down for a young girl. She’s the only islander running. I’ll probably bite the bullet and vote Labour.”

Hodgkinson is not the only Labour supporter wavering — and he voted Remain. From the mood on the streets, there will be a big swing to the Conservatives in Ynys Môn. Confronted with this likelihood, ap Dafydd rejects the premise that Plaid Cymru is splitting the Remain vote. 

“I can take you around hundreds of houses where Labour voters are saying we’ve had 20 years of Labour rule in Wales and we’re now changing our vote to Plaid Cymru,” he says, questioning Corbyn’s commitment to the Remain cause.

If, as ap Dafydd suggests, the Welsh dragon is stirring in Anglesey, then it was in a very groggy mood on the day of my visit. In the town of Llangefni — traditionally a Welsh-speaking stronghold — the Plaid Cymru vote was holding up, but the converts were few and far between. Despite this, there is a precarious path to victory for ap Dafydd. He will be hoping that Labour loses just the right amount of votes to the Tories — enough to lower the bar for victory, but not enough to gift the seat to Johnson. The problem for ap Dafydd is that the swing looks big.

“It will feel very strange voting for the Conservatives,” says Trevor Jones, a former rugby player for the Llanelli Scarlets and a retired member of the National Union of Miners. At the age of 25, Jones experienced the closest thing to hell on earth — he was on his hands and knees, hacking at the coalface, when the roof of the mine he was working in collapsed. And yet Jones’ idea of eternal damnation is entirely political. “My mother used to create hell if I bought the Sun. She reckoned that it was a Conservative paper.”

The story of Ynys Môn is generational. Old people are staying on the island. Young people are fleeing. 

“I don’t think I’ve got any friends from school still hanging around here,” says Stacey Chadfield. After graduating from university in Cardiff, she returned to Llangefni to set up a craft shop. 

“I regret coming back. I’m trying to make a small business work. But I’m sat here from 10 to 5 every day, and I get two or three customers all week.” Chadfield has never voted and is not sure if she will now.

So who is the beneficiary of all this? The Conservative candidate Virginia Crosbie was parachuted onto Anglesey at the last minute after a failed attempt to contest Burton. (Crosbie refused an interview request). Her challenge is to both make up Labour’s lead of 5,259 votes and see off the renascent Plaid Cymru. Thus far, she seems to be succeeding — YouGov’s MRP analysis had the Tories picking up the seat.

“I’ve always voted Labour but I never will again, not with that idiot in charge,” says George Owen, who used to work in the building trade on Anglesey. Like so many others, his children have moved away for work. “Corbyn is a bloody terrorist supporter. If I do come down and vote, it will be for the Tories.”

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