A GUEST POST ON THE POLITICAL CLASS OF CARMARTHENSHIRE, NOW BEING USED BY WOULD-BE TYRANTS EVERYWHERE TO PROVE THAT DEMOCRACY IS A CRUEL DECEPTION
Jeremy Corbyn may have won the Labour leadership contest, and Labour may have seen an unexpectedly large influx of new members, but how much has really changed at local branch level?
Nothing at all if we examine “Welsh” Labour. Take Labour in Carmarthenshire, for example.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Immediately after the general election the knives came out for party veteran Kevin Madge, who was also leader of the County Council. The contest was widely regarded as a tussle between the party’s Amman Valley and Llanelli factions, but it later emerged that at least one of Madge’s assassins was much closer to home.
Kevin Madge has spent his entire career of almost 40 years as a full-time Labour councillor, and for most of the last ten years he enjoyed a generous “senior salary” as a member and then leader of the council’s Executive Board, or cabinet, in bed with Meryl Gravell and her Independent rag-bag army of reactionary grannies, rich retired farmers, opportunists and assorted hangers-on.
The rambling, incoherent Madge was never the brightest lamp post in the street, although decades spent wrangling in smoke-filled Labour committee back-rooms clearly taught him a few survival skills.
Meryl and her acolytes sized up their man, clasped him to their ample bosoms, and a long love affair was born in which Madge was nothing more than an impotent mascot pinned to the bonnet of the municipal limousine chauffeured by Chief Executive Mark James, with Lady Gravell ensconced on the plush leather back seat.
The result was a scandal-prone, seedy dictatorship which turned Carmarthenshire into an Eldorado for companies sheltering in tax havens, assorted fraudsters, funny handshake merchants, con-artists and big business rip-off merchants, while ordinary voters were left to scrape a living on the minimum wage.
Top council jobs were and still are the preserve of outsiders, swathes of rural communities had the guts ripped out of them as they lost their schools, shops and pubs, the young and talented left in droves for the brighter lights of the big cities, and the Welsh language suffered a catastrophic decline. CBEs, OBEs and MBEs showered down on the elite and their supporters.
Kevin Madge didn’t see it like that, of course, but what eventually did for him was a growing realisation that the party was on a one-way street to electoral disaster as Madge found himself championing a string of extremely unpopular policies, including massive hikes in charges for using council-owned sports pitches, bowling greens and other facilities.
Voters could no longer see the difference between Madge’s party and the crypto-Tories he had snuggled up to for so long.
Having lost the top job, Kevin Madge disappeared from public view for a couple of weeks before returning to the council chamber to blub his way through an interminable valedictory ramble listing his supposed achievements. He now sits on the backbenches nursing his grudges and sharpening his knives.
Madge’s replacement as Labour leader on Carmarthenshire County Council is the very lugubrious Jeff Edmunds whose main activity when not being a councillor is as pastor of a spiritualist church. His expertise in contacting the dead may yet come in very handy.
But the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on. Jeremy Corbyn is now party leader, and in Carmarthenshire the party is reorganising itself. It’s all change, or rather the deckchairs are being rearranged.
A recipe for success
Kevin Madge has just been appointed chair of a new “super branch” encompassing the Amman and Gwendraeth valleys, presumably because someone believes that he is a vote winner.
When he stood for election in the 2007 Assembly election, Kevin Madge saw Labour’s share of the vote decline from 31% to 24%. In 2012 when Labour was bouncing back in local government elections from the catastrophe of the Brown years everywhere else, Labour lost ground in Kevin Madge’s stomping ground in the Amman Valley. In 2015 Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was one of Labour’s top target seats, and the election was contested by Kevin Madge’s young protégé, Calum Higgins. Whereas Labour saw modest advances in most parts of Wales, Madge and Higgins saw Plaid Cymru returned with a significantly increased majority as Labour voters stayed away or switched to Ukip.
Prior to the influx of new members brought about by the recent Labour leadership campaign, Labour’s constituency branches were in dire shape – in Carmarthenshire as in other parts of Wales. Party activists were reduced to a gnarled rump of grizzled veterans with a very sparse sprinkling of younger blood.
Why anyone under the age of 60 would have wanted to join “Welsh” Labour before May 2015 is a question worth asking. The party was about as attractive to average 20-somethings as joining a bowls club, playing bingo or going to a 1950s night at the local working men’s club.
There are strange and rather sad young people who do all those things, but they are few and far between.
The answer is, of course, that unlike bowls clubs and the like, “Welsh” Labour runs a system of patronage which offers all sorts of goodies for anyone who is prepared to go to committee meetings and put up with the smell of wee and the company of poisonous old power junkies.
Open all hours
Let’s meet Shahid Hussain over in Kevin Madge’s heartland in Cwmaman.
Shahid is in his early thirties and a budding entrepreneur who runs a garage and a couple of shops. Back in 2012 he stood for election to the County Council. “I’m sexy and I know it”, he told his Twitter followers, who were treated to his views on women, “yids”, rugby (“gay porn”) and older people. Referring to his Plaid opponent, Shahid predicted he would so kick his ass that he might “pop a hip or something”.
Shahid was very proud of the coverage he had been getting in the local rag, but he quickly achieved press coverage which few Welsh politicians, even the heavyweights, could ever dream of. He even made it big on the other side of the Atlantic.
Labour reacted by telling Shahid to delete his Twitter account and tut-tutting. Kevin Madge blamed it all on the “dangerous” Twitter rather than the unpleasant idiot using it, and days later he was back out campaigning for his boy.
Fortunately for the people of Cwmaman, it was Shahid’s ass that was kicked, but all was not lost because he remained a member of Cwmaman Town Council.
The unfortunate Twitter episode was quickly forgotten, and this year Shahid rose to become mayor, from which lofty position he has continued to make waves.
At a public meeting chaired by Shahid to discuss relocating the town’s post office, he opposed a proposal to move it to the community centre.
Kevin Madge shifted uncomfortably and suggested to his boy that he perhaps ought to declare an interest here, as Shahid was known to be seeking the post office franchise for his garage.
“What is this fucking shit?” shouted Shahid, outraged at the implication that there might be anything wrong with using public office to further his business interests.
Not long after that, matters came to a head again when Shahid opposed a planning application for a convenience store run by a partner of Tesco, forgetting to mention that he had submitted his own plans for a convenience store nearby.
At a stormy meeting on 23 October, the town council approved a vote of no confidence in its mayor, by 11 votes to 1. The only councillor to have confidence in the mayor was, erm, Shahid himself. The next stop is expected to be a formal complaint to the Ombudsman.
If this does bring his career in Labour to an end, Shahid can at least be confident of a warm welcome from Ukip.
Shahid is one of Labour’s young guns, but perhaps we should not be too harsh because the older generation of Labour councillors has not always set a good example.
UPDATE 30.10.2015: Despite a near-unanimous vote of no confidence (11 to one, with one abstention), Shahid Hussain is refusing to resign as mayor of Cwmaman, according to a report in the Carmarthenshire Herald today. The matter will now be referred to the Ombudsman for Public Services with all the attendant lengthy delays and legal costs that that will entail.
Step forward the reptilian Keri Thomas, Labour’s veteran councillor for Tyisha, Llanelli.
Keri Thomas has been known to drink more than the occasional glass of shandy, and in 2011 he fell seriously ill before receiving a liver transplant.
He took a year off on full pay from the council with the Chief Executive’s blessing. Despite being too ill to campaign, he was nevertheless selected to stand in the 2012 election once again, and was successfully returned, proving the old adage that you could put a red rosette on a dead donkey and it would still romp home in most of Labour’s strongholds.
Thomas recovered sufficiently to take up work again after the 2012 election, and he was soon lashing out at Llanelli’s Polish community for their drinking habits. Unfortunately, a little more than a year later the occasional tipple was starting to take its toll again, and for most of the last two years he has rarely been seen in County Hall except for meetings of the planning committee of which he was a member until recently.
Keri Thomas remains a councillor and, incredibly, a member of one of the scrutiny committees.
Readers of this blog were recently shocked by John Bayliss’s 27% attendance record in Swansea, but Keri Thomas is on course for the worst attendance of any councillor in Wales. According to the council’s own statistics, he has notched up an attendance record of 0% since they began publishing performance data in August.
Staying in Llanelli for a moment, let’s meet Dafen Dolly, or Tegwen Devichand as she is more formally known. Tegwen has led a colourful life, and despite very humble beginnings has managed to become quite a wealthy woman and the grande dame of Llanelli Labour politics.
One of her protégées was Theressa Bowen, a local woman and party activist, and thanks to Tegwen, Theressa became a Labour county councillor for the first time in 2012. Unfortunately a very bitter falling out ensued, with Tegwen accusing Theressa of stealing a stash of valuable jewellery from her home.
Nothing came of the accusation, and no charges were brought, but Theressa promptly upped and left Labour to join Meryl’s Independents. Meryl and Tegwen are not exactly best friends, and Meryl welcomed Theressa with open arms, not least because the defection put Labour and the Independents on level pegging in the County Council. Meryl even let Theressa stay in her exclusive Spanish villa.
The simmering dispute between Tegwen and Theressa boiled over again earlier this year in a very public row in which the two women accused each other of assault, and both complained to the poor old Ombudsman.
The rise, fall, and rise of Ryan
Our trip started in Cwmaman before reaching Llanelli. All aboard for the next stop in Kidwelly where a by-election has been called for 19 November following the death of the previous Labour incumbent.
This is the first Carmarthenshire by-election to be held under the new Corbynista Labour Party, and with all those new members, you would think the party would have been able to come up with an attractive candidate.
Fair play, they did at least try. One new member who had signed up so that he could vote for Jeremy was surprised to receive an e-mail asking if he would like to stand in Kidwelly, even though he lives as far away from Kidwelly as you can get in Carmarthenshire, and has never set foot in the town.
Which brings us to the cautionary tale of Ryan Thomas.
Ryan became a member of Kidwelly Town Council at the tender age of 24, and by 2014 he was deputy mayor and a rising star. A bit like Shahid, in fact.
Unfortunately things went pear-shaped for him at last year’s mayor-making ceremony when he became tired and emotional, made some very rude comments about the mayor’s wife to a young man who turned out to be her son and then groped a 19-year old woman.
The police became involved, charges were eventually laid, and Ryan was committed to trial.
In the meantime, Ryan was suspended by the Labour Party and he resigned from the council.
British justice ground its way slowly, as usual, and many months passed until the morning of the trial itself when Ryan suddenly realised that it had all been a terrible mistake. He made a formal apology which was accepted by the young woman who had waited in vain for so long, and charges were dropped. The judge dismissed the case and entered a verdict of not guilty.
For those readers who sometimes wonder about the subtleties of the legal system, this neatly illustrates the difference between “not guilty” and “innocent”.
That was in August, and there was jubilation in the public gallery as Ryan walked free. He now finds himself selected to stand as the Labour candidate for his town in November.
(Jac says: ‘What an indictment this is of the English judicial system. The horny little sod confessed, eventually, to indecent assault – but was then found ‘not guilty’! When I come to power anyone suspected of being a Labour Party member will – after receiving a good kicking – be sent off for two years of re-education, where this blog will be compulsory reading. Oh yes.’)
CLARIFICATION (see comments) 05.11.2015: In court Ryan Thomas said, “I accept that I was intoxicated and that my conduct may have been inappropriate as a result” . . . “I wish to apologise for any offence caused.” So let us accept that he was found not guilty of groping. And I may have got the charge wrong, though different reports use different terms, including ‘groping’. The fact remains that he apologised for having done something, so what did he apologise for?
A new boy
To find a truly fresh-faced new hopeful on the Labour scene in Carmarthenshire, we will have to return to Llanelli where Lee Waters, until recently director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs, has thrown his hat into the ring to replace Keith Davies as Assembly Member for Llanelli next year. Party-loving Keith is retiring, presumably to spend more time with his Chardonnay.
As director of the IWA, which likes to describe itself as an independent think tank, and a former ITV chief political correspondent, Lee Waters has been able to observe the inner workings of the Labour Party at close quarters, and he will be even more aware than most of the party’s dismal record since 1999, so his decision to throw in his lot with the freak show in Carmarthenshire is hard to see as anything other than a career move.
Neither Waters nor any of the other exhibits we have examined could be described as part of the Corbynite new wave, so where does this leave all those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new converts and idealists?
The idea that Kevin Madge, Dolly Dafen or any of the other grizzled old guard and their young clients are about to release their grip on the party and hand the reins to a group of newcomers is about as realistic as Jeremy’s chances of entering 10 Downing Street.