A Dispatch From the Campaign Trail

In which The Author bumps into a friend

I was in Aberdare Library this afternoon when my friend Clive W. came in.
Clive isn’t so much an old friend as a relatively new friend. Although we’d been following each other on Twitter for quite some time, we only met in the flesh about six months or so ago. That meeting also took place in the Library, when a tall sandy-haired stranger introduced himself to me one afternoon. At first his name didn’t register; then he mentioned his Twitter username and it all made sense.
This afternoon he told me of an encounter he’d had with the local Labour Party, only ten days before the polling stations open.
The background to this is a bit of a complicated saga, and I won’t attempt to go into details. If you’re interested you can look through the Wales Online archives and explore the whole story for yourself. In (very) brief, Ann Clwyd decided some months ago that she wouldn’t be contesting the extremely safe seat she’s held since 1984. She would have been in good company, as Peter Hain (Neath) and Dai Havard (Merthyr and Rhymney) are also standing down this time.
Ms Clwyd’s announcement threw the local Labour Party into turmoil, because Central Office decided they wanted to compile an all-woman shortlist. As I told you in No Future, a considerable proportion of people in the Cynon Valley haven’t been happy since we left the 1950s. The prospect of not being allowed to vote for an ex-miner must have come like a hammer blow to the traditionalists. Obviously I wasn’t privy to the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, but the upshot was this: Ms Clwyd is the Labour Party’s candidate in 2015.
She’s 78 years of age. I know that isn’t a great age these days, but that’s not the point. After a long career in politics, Ms Clwyd was probably looking forward to a nice seat in the Upper House, where she could ride her hobby-horses into her twilight years. Instead, she was pulled back from the Tunnel of Light and is expected to serve another five years as a constituency MP.
My friend Howard made a good point when I was leafleting in his street last weekend. If Ms Clwyd falls ill (or worse) during the course of the next parliament, he asked, how much would it cost to hold a by-election? More to the point, would the question of the all-women shortlist rear its head again? That’s a can of worms which I’m glad I’m not going to be involved with.
This afternoon Clive called into the little pop-up shop in Aberdare which serves as Labour Party Campaign HQ. In the window there’s a large photo of Ms Clwyd with strategically-smeared coal dust on her face, dating from the now-legendary ‘sit-in’ at Tower Colliery. I mentioned the photo on Facebook last week, and one of my pals looked it up: it was in 1994. I commented ‘Talk about dining out on past glories!’ and sparked off a long discussion about the situation locally.
Anyway, Clive told me that he’d called into the shop. He had the temerity to ask the elderly Party stalwarts (a man and a woman) about the rigmarole which had led to Ms Clwyd’s reselection. This was his comment on Twitter immediately afterwards:
Cynon Labour just proved why no one should vote Ann Clwyd. A mentality of abuse, arrogance, bigotry, disregard, hatred, xenophobia ‪#‎Aberdare‬
In brief, it would appear that Ms Clwyd’s position within the Cynon Valley cannot be questioned – by anyone. Clive was told in no uncertain terms that the selection process was none of his business; he was also accused of belonging to a Labour Party faction which was opposed to the entire business. One of the Party Faithful even called him ‘an Englishman’ (he was born and bred in Aberdare) – as if that would have made a difference.
Clive told me he wished he’d videoed the whole encounter and posted it online. I wish he’d done it, too. As things stood, I retweeted his comments and they fed through via my social media network. Aberdare Online picked up on Clive’s comments too – and they’re not massive Labour Party supporters by any means. I expect the forum is alive with gossip by now.
Clive’s next Tweet was a message to Cerith Griffiths, outlining what had happened and pledging his support a week on Thursday. He’s already been leafleting for Plaid Cymru around his local area, but this afternoon’s experience has turned him against the Cynon Valley Labour Party for ever.
As for the Party Faithful, it’s probably time they realised that it’s not the 1950s any more. Six decades ago, political discourse was confined to the letters pages of our local and regional newspapers (see A Letter to the Editor 1959). In the Third Millennium, experiences like Clive’s are available for everyone to read mere seconds after they occur.
And, as Kelly Jones famously observed, word gets around…