Thursday, April 27, 2006

Constituencies do not belong to parties, they belong to the voters

My flatmate is that exceptionally rare creature - a Conservative who comes from Blaenau Gwent. This was the constituency where in the last general election the party received its second lowest share of the vote in the entire country. Because of him I've been paying particular attention to events there following the death of Peter Law.

Law broke with the Labour Party in protest over the imposition of an all-women shortlist for selecting the parliamentary candidate upon the local Constituency Labour Party - a selection process in which approximately only 14% of the local party membership participated. Running as an independent Law's thumping victory was one of the high points of the night and a stark reminder to all political parties that there is no such thing as a "safe seat" and that no-one can take the voters for granted.

Shortly before Law's death it seemed he had been vindicated when it was announced that Labour would not impose such a shortlist on the selection of its candidate for the next general election. However it seems they are still trying to take the people of Blaenau Gwent for granted. As Peter Black AM notes, Labour has been trying to push for an early by-election. As Law was an independent MP there is no holding party in Parliament who would otherwise determine when the writ for the by-election would be moved. And so Labour try to force a fast poll to maximise their chances of regaining both seats - and winning Law's seat in the Welsh Assembly would give them an overall majority.

However they appear to have been thwarted. The by-election for the Welsh Assembly seat can only by called from the National Assembly and Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas has refused to consider dates until after Law's funeral. Unless Labour were to try and hold the two by-elections apart (and the Welsh Assembly seat is the bigger target) this should stop them.

No party owns Blaenau Gwent. I hope that come the by-elections the voters will remember that Labour still hasn't learnt the lesson they were taught last May.

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