Previewing the Torfaen by-elections of 08 Apr 2021

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Before we start, I would like to apologise for a major error in the Local Elections Archive Project which affected last week’s preview for the St Kingsmark division of Monmouthshire. Based on the LEAP record, I stated that at the 2017 election the Conservatives had polled 65% of the vote, with an independent candidate and Labour tying for the runner-up slot on 94 votes or 13% each. It has since come to my attention that the 2017 vote for the independent candidate Lia Hind was in fact 407 votes rather than 94, and so the Conservative win in percentage terms was 45-40 over Hind. The LEAP record has now been corrected. In a database with (at the time of writing) 327,598 candidacies I am well aware that there must be errors lurking somewhere, but I take great pride in the quality of the Local Elections Archive Project’s data and I am sorry to have let you down last week.

In the last contests before the 6th May local elections, there are three by-elections on 8th April 2021:

Abersychan;
Cwmyniscoy; and
New Inn

Torfaen council, Gwent; caused respectively by the death of independent councillor Raymond Williams and the resignations of Labour councillor Neil Waite and Conservative councillor Raymond Mills.

There are four weeks to go until local elections resume in England on 6th May 2021. Before then, we have three local by-elections to bring you from the Torfaen district of south-east Wales. Torfaen district is based on the New Town of Cwmbran and the older town of Pontypool, in which general area all three of today’s by-elections are concentrated.

The village and division of Abersychan can be found north of Pontypool, in the Lwyd valley on the way to the World Heritage Site of Blaenavon. Like Blaenavon, the Abersychan area started out with an ironworking industry, which gave way to coalmining by the twentieth century. By the 1920s one of the major local figures in the mineworkers’ unions was Arthur Jenkins, who was elected in 1935 as Labour MP for Pontypool; his son Roy Jenkins, born in Abersychan in 1920, became one of the most significant politicians of the late 20th century.

The modern Abersychan division covers a number of villages in the valley, including Cwmavon and Varteg. Varteg made the headlines around the world a few years back with a proposal from the Welsh Language Commissioner to change the spelling of its name to the Welsh-language Y Farteg, which it’s fair to say caused a bit of a stink among the locals. In the 2011 census Abersychan came in the top 100 divisions or wards in England and Wales for population born in the UK.

Immediately to the south of Pontypool can be found the Cwmyniscoy division, which is based on the Cwmfields area along Cwmynyscoy Road. This division includes the local campus of the further education college Coleg Gwent. However, most of the division’s acreage is upland, pockmarked with quarries.

Very different in character is New Inn, on the eastern side of the valley. Pontypool is rather unlike other Valleys towns in that it was an important railway centre, and New inn was once at the centre of that: there were extensive marshalling yards here, and a steelworks down the hill at Panteg also offered employment. The only survivor of this industry is the railway station on the Marches Line, now an unstaffed halt called Pontypool and New Inn with irregular trains to Newport, Hereford and beyond.

These three divisions have contrasting political traditions. New Inn division was created by boundary changes in 2004, which merged together the previous New Inn Lower and New Inn Upper divisions. The division was gained by the Conservatives in 2008, and these days it votes as if it was in Monmouthshire over the border: New Inn has become one of two reliable Conservative divisions in Torfaen. (The other is Llanyrafon East and Ponthir, on the eastern edge of Cwmbran). In May 2017 the Conservative lead over Labour here was 55-31, with the division’s councillors accounting for three-quarters of the Conservative group on Torfaen council. Raymond Mills had sat for New Inn since 2008.

The other two divisions go back to the founding electoral arrangements of Torfaen council in 1995. Cwmyniscoy is a single-member division which took until 2008 to see a contested election; in that year Neil Waite, who had sat since 1999, lost his seat by 19 votes to People’s Voice. This was one of three seats won in Torfaen that year by People’s Voice, which was a political party associated with Peter Law, the Labour-turned-independent MP and AM for Blaenau Gwent, and which continued after Law’s death until being wound up in 2010. Neil Waite got his seat back in 2012, and was re-elected in 2017 with a 56-44 margin in a straight fight with UKIP.

Recent elections in Abersychan have tended to be a free-for-all between Labour and a large number of independent candidates. The late independent councillor Ray Williams was first elected in 2004, lost his seat in 2012 and got back in 2017 by winning the last of the division’s three seats with a 200-vote majority over the second Labour candidate, Wayne Tomlinson. Sadly, Williams died in December 2020 from COVID-19, aged 84.

Former Labour councillor Wayne Tomlinson is one of two independent candidates seeking to succeed Raymond Williams in the Abersychan by-election. Tomlinson has contested every election in this division from 1999 onwards, being elected as an independent candidate in 2008 and as a Labour candidate in 2012. The other independent candidate is Charlotte Hill, who runs a specialist cheese shop in Blaenavon. Labour have selected Lynda Clarkson, who represents part of the division (Garndiffaith and Varteg ward) on Pontypool community council. Also standing in Abersychan are Tristan Griffin for the Conservatives and Kieran Gething, in the first election for a new political party: Gething is standing for Propel, a Welsh nationalist movement led by the former Plaid Cymru MS Neil McEvoy.

In Cwmyniscoy the defending Labour candidate is John Killick, the deputy leader of Pontypool community council. Killick has been a Torfaen councillor before: he won a by-election in Pontypool division in 2011 partly thanks to six independent candidates splitting the opposition vote, but lost his seat there in 2012. With no UKIP candidate this time, Killick is opposed in Cwmyniscoy by Propel candidate Ben Evans and independent Bridgette Harris.

Finally, the defending Conservative candidate for New Inn is Keith James, a solicitor. Labour have reselected IT worker Farooq Dastgir, who was on their slate here in 2017. Completing the New Inn ballot paper is independent candidate Ross Attfield.

Abersychan

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Lynda Clarkson (Lab)
Kieran Gething (Propel)
Tristan Griffin (C)
Charlotte Hill (Ind)
Wayne Tomlinson (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 1242/906 Lab 1000/706/504 C 338
May 2012 result Lab 845/679/623 Ind 570/244/238/199/175/137 PC 252 Grn 178
May 2008 result Ind 1148/810/734 Lab 862/725/465 Grn 446
June 2004 result Lab 1062/970/614 Ind 773/661/568/398 Grn 265
May 1999 result Lab 1348/1327/1204 Ind 732/611
May 1995 result Lab 1559/1313/1104 Ind Communist 822 Ind 593 Ind Lab 565 Grn 167

Cwmyniscoy

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Ben Evans (Propel)
Bridgette Harris (Ind)
John Killick (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 192 UKIP 150
May 2012 result Lab 274 Ind 225 PC 10 C 9
May 2008 result People’s Voice 232 Lab 213
June 2004 result Lab unopposed
May 1999 result Lab unopposed
May 1995 result Lab unopposed

New Inn

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode districts: NP4, NP44

Ross Attfield (Ind)
Farooq Dastgir (Lab)
Keith James (C)

May 2017 result C 1171/1067/1013 Lab 655/594/576 Ind 314
May 2012 result C 1086/1061/1050 Lab 739/724/671 PC 219
May 2008 result C 977/913/813 Ind 805 Lab 667/630/570 People’s Voice 609
June 2004 result Lab 934/933/916 UKIP 811 C 711 LD 368

Andrew Teale