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3 May 2007

Labour is not what it used to be

Plaid on the rise

By Bethan Jenkins

“I tell you one thing, I’m not voting Labour again.”

At the beginning of the campaign, I should have decided to take a dictaphone with me to record the number of times I’ve heard people say this to me on the streets of South Wales. There is anger in their voices as they are forced to admit that the Labour Party is ‘not what it used to be.’ From Tony Blair’s Iraq War, to the Cash for Honours scandal, to Rhodri Morgan’s weak team of AM’s in the Assembly, this election could be the Labour election meltdown that the ‘National’ media choose to ignore while they scuttle to Scotland for the predicted SNP win.

As a first time candidate, and one of the youngest candidates at 25 years of age, I didn’t quite know what to expect. In the area where I grew up, you could put anyone up for Labour and they would walk it. For that reason alone, I didn’t anticipate being openly welcomed on the doorstep or on the streets as a Plaid candidate only twenty minutes down the road! But people are beginning to realise that the Labour party that they were born and bred to believe in, and to support, is a party far removed from our communities today – it is the party of super rich city bankers and non domiciled foreign tycoons not ordinary working people.

‘My brother died in Iraq. They didn’t give us any help or support’, a Bridgend resident tells me as he passes me on the street. ‘And my wife’s just had a baby, but the stress of getting her in to Hospital was too much. Labour’s ruined our health service’.

On another occasion, a woman in the Neath valley tells me about the campaign of her village against the LNG pipeline, a massive £800m project that has been rubber stamped by the DTI without any local consultation on the matter.

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The defining issue of this election locally has been the Government’s plans to centralise adult neurosurgery services from Swansea to Cardiff. The issue has been kicked into touch until after the election. The problem for the Labour party is that they have form. Before the 2003 election they did exactly the same with Children’s neurosurgery services before centralising immediately after the election. Needless to say Labour’s promises are being considered with a great deal of scepticism.

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Plaid conversely is having a great election. The opinion polls put us clearly in second and in a position to challenge Labour for the first time since 1999. We are the party picking up the meltdown in Labour support. People on the door are genuinely excited by our positive message – it’s more than just a protest vote.

To date, Scotland has been the story of these elections. Whilst nobody will be happier than me to see our SNP colleagues win on Thursday, perhaps Wales will once again provide an equally important story. Perhaps Tony Blair will utter even greater expletives today than what he offered in 1999 – a fitting end to decade of wasted opportunity.