Ogmore challenge

As the rain continues to pour in the principality, so the activists of the Welsh Socialist Alliance have braved the elements in recent weeks to engage in a flurry of electoral activity. On February 7 Charlie Balch, a postal worker and Communications Workers Union activist, contested the council ward of Gabalfa in Cardiff (see result below). Although hardly constituting a breakthrough for the WSA in electoral terms, comrade Balch's meagre 44 votes, in what had prior to the election been a Labour seat, nevertheless represent the highest percentage (2.63%) for a WSA candidate in South Wales so far. Meanwhile, local activist and SWP member Jeff Hurford is standing for the WSA in the Ogmore parliamentary by-election in the south Wales valleys. Voters go to the polls on February 14 to elect an MP following the death of veteran Labour member Sir Ray Powell. Ogmore is classic old Labour territory. Once dominated by the mining industry, the constituency has been a Labour seat since 1918. The Labour majority was 14,574 in 2001, although this represented a 9.5% swing to Plaid Cymru. Indeed, Plaid Cymru is hoping to make further inroads into the Labour majority. Its candidate, Bleddyn Hancock, is Welsh secretary of the miners' safety union, Nacods, currently embroiled in a scrap with the Labour government over compensation for former miners suffering respiratory diseases. Yet if coal is no longer king in Ogmore, then the former King of Coal - aka Arthur Scargill - is also hoping to capitalise on the grievances of ex-miners to boost the flagging fortunes of his Socialist Labour Party. Speaking in Maesteg Town hall last Sunday evening, comrade Scargill clearly believed that his reputation will give impetus to the campaign of SLP candidate Chris Herriot, a former miner himself. So far, the SLP campaign has been nothing short of pathetic. With the only SLP member in the constituency refusing to sign his nomination paper (she is supporting the WSA), comrade Herriot was forced to knock on doors of constituents to secure the necessary signatures. Since then, the SLP campaign, apart from comrade Scargill's fleeting visit, has been virtually non-existent. This has been in marked contrast to the WSA. With a small but extremely enthusiastic set of local WSA activists, comrade Hurford has campaigned vigorously. With the help of WSA activists elsewhere, this has meant that the alliance has been able to make modest, but significant inroads. The campaign was also boosted by Liz Davies, chair of the Socialist Alliance in England, speaking to a meeting of about 40 people in the constituency. Yet comrade Hurford's campaign has suffered from certain weaknesses bearing all the hallmarks of his Socialist Workers Party membership. In none of his election material has he raised the national question. Not surprising, given the SWP's penchant for prioritising economistic bread and butter demands over and above high politics. Unfortunately, this gives the nationalists of Plaid Cymru the monopoly when it comes to raising the issue of the national rights of people in Wales with left-leaning voters. The WSA will pay a high price politically in years to come if it fails to take on the nationalists. Disappointing also has been the almost total boycott of the official WSA e-group by the SWP. This has meant that information about comrade Hurford's campaign is almost impossible to find on that medium. In fact more information has actually appeared in England. Consequently some activists in the WSA not on the campaign mailing list (usually those who have the temerity to criticise the politics of the SWP on the e-group) have been left in the dark about WSA events in the constituency. Let us hope that this exclusivist style of information-giving does not become the norm in SWP-led contests. Nevertheless, comrade Hurford deserves a good result on polling night. This will be a hard task, given that our vote is likely to be squeezed by residual loyalty to Labour, Plaid Cymru's left-sounding rhetoric and the intervention of the Greens and the SLP (see list of candidates below). It will be interesting to see if the SLP vote is higher than that of the WSA in the first head to head contest between our two organisations. But the size of the vote is not that important. The WSA has put a marker down in the constituency. When the SLP waves goodbye to the constituency on Friday morning, the WSA will still be there, stronger and more resilient than before. Cameron Richards Council by-election: Cardiff, Gabalfa Votes % Conservative 138 8.24 Labour 451 26.94 Liberal Democrats 925 55.26 Plaid Cymru 116 6.93 Welsh Socialist Alliance 44 2.63 Parliamentary by-election: Ogmore Votes % Bean Party Captain Beany 122 0.66 Conservative Guto Bebb 1,377 7.49 Green Jonathan Spink 250 1.36 Independent Rev David Braid 100 0.54 Labour Huw Irranca-Davies 9,548 51.96 Lib Dems Veronica Watkins 1,608 8.75 Loony Leslie Edwards 187 1.02 Plaid Cymru Bleddyn Hancock 3,827 20.83 Socialist Labour Party Chris Herriot 1,152 6.27 Welsh Socialist Alliance Jeff Hurford 205 1.12