Aberystwyth and Ceredigion's vote to Remain

Saturday’s demonstration at the Bandstand on Aberystwyth Promenade in support of all nationalities living in the town (above) following the EU Referendum was an impressive show of solidarity arranged with only a few days notice through social media.

Ceredigion as a whole voted 54.6 to 45.4% to remain in the EU on a 74.4% turnout and Aberystwyth’s reputation as a strongly pro-EU town is confirmed by the detail of the voting. 

The cross-party group of Remain campaigners at the count on the night of June 23rd, comprising local Plaid, Labour and Lib Dem activists, took samples, mainly quite large, of most of the ward votes across the county as they were being counted. In ordinary elections, the different parties keep these kinds of samples to themselves as useful information about where their strengths and weaknesses lie for future campaigning but, since the parties were all working together on the referendum campaign, there was no need this time. The figures given are not the actual ward results since no formal tally was made of these but, with many of the samples being half or more of the vote, they are thought to be very accurate.

The result of the sampling for Aberystwyth wards was:
Bronglais: 77% Remain
Canol / Central: 76% Remain
Gogledd / North: 75% Remain
Rheidol: 66% Remain
Penparcau: 60% Remain

This is an impressive result and fully justifies Aber’s reputation as a progressive,  outward-looking town.

Although Bronglais ward’s 77% was the highest Remain vote in Ceredigion, other areas in the north of the county were also very high. Furnace and Taliesin, heading north towards Machynlleth, voted 76% and 73% respectively for Remain whilst, to the south and east of the town, the figure for Llanfarian was 74% and Capel Seion 71%.

Looking at these figures it’s easy to wonder why the overall Remain figure for Ceredigion was not higher than 54.6%. The answer lies in the south of the county. Heading south from Aberystwyth, the first area actually returning a Leave vote was Blaenpennal on the road to Tregaron. The voting is more varied in this middle part of the county, although Remain is still in the majority.

The key divide in the county seems to be a few miles south of Aberaeron and Lampeter. If you take a line from between Aberaeron and New Quay inland to somewhere near Llanybydder (see below), the majority north of that line voted Remain whilst the majority to the south voted Leave. The Cardigan Remain vote was 46%, whilst the lowest Remain vote in the county was Tregroes, near Llandysul at 32%. 
The reason for the divide may well be found in the kind of demographics relating to age and education levels that have explained voting patterns in the rest of Wales and England. However, as can be seen in the previous post, the whole of the county is a net beneficiary of EU funding and, in time, is likely to suffer equally if we leave.

Cai Larsen’s excellent blog (in Welsh) about the results in Gwynedd can be seen here


Vote REMAIN for the sake of our local economy

Whilst there are many good reasons why we should vote to remain in the European Union on Thursday, these are being thoroughly covered elsewhere and there's probably a need to raise awareness of the stakes for us in Wales and, since I'm writing from Aberystwyth, in Ceredigion specifically.

Most of Wales is designated as a ‘less developed region’ of the EU by virtue of our low overall income in line with much of Portugal, Southern Italy, Greece and most of Eastern Europe. It often comes as a surprise to people that we are so isolated in Western Europe in terms of our poverty and on a par with these places but the map illustrates this very well (click to enlarge). 

As such, in line with those other regions marked out in yellow, we are given European funding to help us develop. As a result, Wales benefits by a net total of around £245 million a year from EU membership. 

In Ceredigion this has resulted in funding for some 80 different community and infrastructure projects in the county over the past eight years. These and other initiatives have led to the sort of gains in this graphic:

And this one...

All this is on top of around £44 million received by Ceredigion farmers each year as part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the tens of millions of pounds of research funding received by the county’s universities.

The benefits of all this to our local economy, culture and environment have been immense and undeniable. If we didn't receive such EU funding, Ceredigion would be a very different place, with far greater unemployment and depopulation of young people and significantly fewer community facilities. 

It defies belief that, in the event of us leaving the EU, a Westminster government would simply agree to maintain this level of funding for us, especially given the competing pressures in England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent warning of a major economic crash in the event of a vote to leave.

If you care about Ceredigion and the survival of other similar communities around Wales into the future, a strong vote to remain in Europe is essential.


Peter Edwards 1889-1983 - a forgotten medical pioneer from Aberystwyth

This is a speech I recently gave at the unveiling of a plaque to Dr Peter Edwards MBE in the grounds of Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth

Most of us first became aware of the achievements of Dr Peter Edwards when an article appeared in last May’s edition of Aberystwyth Ego magazine in which local man George Simpson was interviewed. George graphically described the positive effect Dr Edwards had had on his life and how he wanted his achievements to be properly recognised. 

Aberystwyth Town Council then took the issue on, talked to Brongais Hospital, and the result is the modest plaque in the hospital’s new garden which we’re about to unveil.

I should emphasise that Dr Edwards never worked in Bronglais Hospital - the hospital wasn’t built here until 1966 when he would have been 77. He was born just around the corner from here in the house called The Laurels in St David’s Road. He went to school at Ardwyn Grammar, then a further 150 yards away at what is now Llys Ardwyn at the end of St David’s Road, and then he went to Aberystwyth University. 

So, at that stage in his life he hadn’t gone very far from this immediate area. And I’ll come back to how his upbringing here affected the work he went on to do in his life. However, having been to Aberystwyth University, he then went to Edinburgh University and things changed from there.

He was enlisted during the 1st World War, was wounded five times and was eventually discharged in 1917 with TB. And it’s almost certainly this that led to him, having first qualified as a doctor, eventually becoming the superintendant of Cheshire Joint Infirmary which, at that time, specialised in the treatment of tuberculosis and where - I believe - he made such an impression on George Simpson. But George wasn’t the only person that he made an impression on…

I’m going to read a couple of passages that I’ve found describing him and his work which give a flavour of what he achieved and his unique style of achieving it. This one is by Ted Parton, the former head porter at the Cheshire Joint Infirmary from an article on the BBC website in 1999:

“Back in the days before anti-biotics, TB was not just a killer, it was so deeply feared that sufferers were sent away to remote sanatoria for many months and years. During the 30s and 40s, many thousands of sufferers were sent to the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium in Loggerheads in Staffordshire. The sanatorium had 300 beds - and the regime, under the direction of Dr Peter Edwards, was one of 'fresh air and rest'.

"We would wheel all the patient's beds outside into the fresh air, so that they could get the fresh air into their lungs. We would also wheel them out when it was frosty, or in the snow, and the snow would pile up on their beds - but it was thought to be good for them," says Mr Parton. "We would also put sandbags on their chests while they were lying down. Patients could be left out in the elements with sandbags strapped to their chests for hours. The object of the exercise was to give the lungs something to grapple with - to increase their strength and breathing power."

The vast site at Loggerheads was planted, at Dr Edwards' instruction, with pine trees, because he believed they purified the air (something that, we know today, has some truth to it). If the sandbags failed to do the trick, and a patient's condition continued to fail, surgery was considered.

When a patient did get better, he or she was encouraged to take one of a number of designated walks through the sanatorium's own pine forest. "One walk would take half an hour, then you would build up to three quarters of an hour and then an hour," says Mr Parton. A walking patient could take up a job in the kitchens or the grounds.

Although the regime seems fairly primitive by modern standards, it was in its time - in the years between the wars - medically revolutionary and exciting. "It was a marvellous place and its patients have very fond memories of it," says Mr Parton, adding: "In many ways it was like a golden age of looking after people.”

And then anti-biotics made their arrival at the sanatorium in the form of streptomycin. It was integrated into the treatment, and although the fresh air route to recovery was not entirely abandoned, the drug proved a more effective weapon in the fight against the lung disease.

Now, there was more to Peter Edwards’s life than the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium. He played football for Hearts, one of the top two teams in Edinburgh, and was the honorary club doctor for Stoke City. He was consultant for the International Refugee Organisation and he was awarded an MBE by King George VI. And this last short passage, giving another, slightly different, perspective on the kind of person he was, is from the autobiography of Noel Browne, a doctor who worked with Peter Edwards and who eventually became the Irish Health Minister:

“At the Cheshire Joint Sanitorium I was to learn about the imaginative, unorthodox, original diagnostic and care procedures devised by the remarkable, infinitely charming autocrat Dr Peter Edwards. Incredibly he ran a sanatorium staffed almost entirely with former consumptives (that is, sufferers of tuberculosis); everyone there, and even Peter Edwards himself, had all recovered, or were recovering, from tuberculosis. This was unheard of in tuberculosis practice at the time, but Dr Edwards had original and heterodox ideas on virtually every subject you could think of.

“As well as a considerable store of information about the care of tuberculosis, I also learned from Dr Edwards his insistence on the egalitarian values of a good radical Welshman. There was no distinction whatever in his sanatorium between the disparate roles of the hospital staff. We all contributed equally to the struggle to help and to care for our patients. “There were no titles; we all used Christian names. Technicians, nurses, doctors, porters, ambulance drivers, and administrative staff were all on equal terms and co-equal members of a fine club.” 

So, from those two passages, you get something of a feel for Dr Peter Edwards - his imaginative, highly innovative  and groundbreaking approach and his attitudes, which were undoubtedly started by his upbringing in this particular corner of Aberystwyth.


Vote positive - vote for Elin Jones in Ceredigion on Thursday

Elin Jones supporting Fairtrade at Aberystwyth Art Centre

My personal pitch for why people should vote for Elin Jones in Thursday’s Assembly election in Ceredigion isn't just about all the things she’s done for the county, nor with Plaid Cymru’s policies. Yes, Elin has done a fantastic amount of work that keeps Ceredigion firmly on the Welsh Government’s map and the Plaid manifesto is a hugely impressive and fully-costed document. But all that’s been covered elsewhere. 

No, more than that, my pitch is this:
Despite the relentless, depressing torrent of negativity and blatant fabrications pouring through the letter boxes of Ceredigion from Elin's main rival on an almost daily basis, Elin has refused to lower herself to that level and has remained relentlessly positive throughout. 

Instead of trying to convince everyone that we live in a world with lots and lots of things to be cross and worried about, Elin believes in a firmly positive vision of Wales and, despite the challenges, in working with others to put that vision forward in everything she does. 

If your glass is half full rather than half empty, if you like to focus on the best rather than the worst in people, if you prefer to think about how good things are and could be instead of how bad they are, if you basically like people and love life in Wales, then vote positive and vote for Elin Jones to continue moving us forward and representing us so well.


Plaid have a strong chance of winning the Police & Crime Commissioner election in Dyfed-Powys

To say that the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections are the lesser of the votes taking place in Wales in the next couple of months is a considerable understatement. Nevertheless, the election for the Dyfed-Powys police area is looking more than capable of producing what may be quite a surprise to many people, in the shape of a win for Plaid Cymru’s Dafydd Llywelyn (pictured).

First, lets recap on the brief, sorry history of PCC elections. In 2012, the first PCC elections were brought in by the Conservative/Lib Dem government, to be greeted with first opposition and then utter apathy on election day. 

Only two candidates stood in Dyfed-Powys - Christopher Salmon for the Conservatives and Christine Gwyther for Labour. Other parties either consciously chose not to stand, like Plaid, or just didn’t get it together. Many actively pushed for a boycott or the spoiling of ballots. The result was a turnout of just 17%, with the Tories winning by a margin much narrower than the number of spoilt papers. More of the story of the PCC is elections can be found on this excellent blog by Cneifiwr.

The difference this time is that the PCC elections are being held on the same day as the National Assembly elections on May 5th. We can therefore reasonably expect a turnout of about the same as these, usually between 40-45%. Coupled with the fact that five parties are actually putting up PCC candidates this time, that makes it a completely different election.

There are no opinion polls for Dyfed-Powys so the first place to start looking at how we might expect things to go is to add up the voting figures in the area from the last Assembly elections. By putting together the votes for each party across the seven constituencies comprising the Dyfed-Powys area at the last Assembly elections in 2011 we come up with this:
Conservatives 52,376
Plaid Cymru 51,901
Labour 46,619
Lib Dem 32,215

UKIP and an Independent are also standing in this PCC election, but not the Greens.

Based on these voting figures, it’s very clear who the two frontrunning parties are, the difference between them in the area last time being just 475. The possibility of a Plaid win is enhanced by the latest all-Wales opinion poll, showing Plaid moving into second place ahead of the Tories.

Dafydd Llewelyn is a criminology lecturer at Aberystwyth University and before that was the Principal Crime and Intelligence Analyst for Dyfed Powys Police, managing a team of analysts and researchers. So he’s certainly the best-qualified of all the candidates, even, I suspect, the bloke who actually been doing the job since 2012, the Conservative Christopher Salmon. 

All the Plaid PCC candidates are standing on a manifesto of:
1. Strong neighbourhood policing teams that will cut crime in communities
2. Protecting vulnerable groups and supporting victims so that they aren’t just a statistic 
3. Breaking the cycle of crime to reduce future crime

Plaid PCCs will, “use these priorities to prevent and detect crimes that happen in communities, protect vulnerable groups and support people who are the victims of crime, and to work with offenders to break their cycle of offending, punishment and re-offending and thereby reduce the overall amount of crime.” 

I reckon most people would prefer that to a continuation of Christopher Salmon’s ideology-based reduction in policing resources and refusal to countenance a dedicated local police helicopter.

The point of this article is show people why it’s worth voting - and voting Plaid - in the Police & Crime Commissioner elections in the Dyfed Powys area. Apart from his extensive working knowledge of the actual issues involved in the job, Dafydd Llywelyn is the best-placed to relieve us of a Tory incumbent. Whatever else you decide to do in this round of elections, why not give him a go?


Aberystwyth traders vote Yes to setting up a Business Improvement District

As a follow-up to the story below, here's the (quite tight) result of the ballot (click to enlarge):

Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, the Chair of Aberystwyth's Chamber of Commerce, said,
"My thanks to all those who worked on getting the BID formulated, developed and across the line. It has been a long and at times a tortuous and thankless task but it is what was needed to further Aberystwyth as a town with great prospects. Perseverance pays off, lets not squander this opportunity and make this a successful 5 year period in Aber's history. The hard work now begins!"


Aberystwyth's Business Improvement District ballot

Aberystwyth businesses have this week been receiving information and ballot papers for voting on whether or not to form a Business Improvement District (BID) for the town.

The way it works is this. Every business premise with a rateable value (RV) of over £6,000 would pay 1.25% of their RV each year. For a business with an RV of £10,000 this would amount to £125 per year, for large businesses more. Those with RVs of under £6,000 are exempt.

This would generate a pot of money for Aberystwyth amounting to around £200,000 each year, or £1 million over 5 years. That's a sizeable amount of money which the businesses can themselves then use in whatever way they choose to boost business in the town. 

Ideas being put forward include collective purchasing schemes to cut costs, free wifi to encourage people to spend longer in the town, better signage so that visitors can find where businesses are, local loyalty schemes and promotion and marketing of the town.

So far eight other towns in Wales have agreed BIDS - Swansea, Merthyr, Newport, Caernarfon, Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Neath and Llanelli. More are in the pipeline. 

I reckon this opportunity for local businesses to set the direction and take some control of their area's economic future is something no self-respecting town with ambitions would turn down. All that's required now is for businesses in Aberystwyth to vote Yes by the deadline of March 15th.

Fuller details are on these links: