Cllr Matthew Evans is Leader of the Conservative Group on Newport Council.
Fighting one election in a year is arduous enough. But last year I stood in the parliamentary by-election in Newport West and in the General Election.
In the by-election, I managed to keep UKIP a distant third and reduce Labour’s majority to under 2,000, while in the General Election I was heartened to get over 18,000 votes. But not quite enough. Labour held on with a majority of 902. In Newport East, our candidate, Mark Brown, managed to reduce Labour’s majority to under 2,000. So unlike other parts of the country, Newport remains stubbornly socialist. This was true across the South Wales cities and valleys with only Bridgend changing hands.
This was my tenth election and it is difficult to put a finger on the reasons. I can’t speak for the other cities but we have had a Labour Government in Wales since 1999 and with the exception of a four year period between 2008-12 where I led a coalition with the Lib Dems, Newport has had a Labour-run Council. The Welsh Government is unpopular and the decision the break their Manifesto promise to build an M4 relief road has caused enormous anger, while the Council has abandoned the popular two hours free parking we established and introduced charges to parks, increasing resentment.
This year, despite getting the biggest settlement in Wales: a 5.4 per cent increase; they are consulting on an increase in council tax of almost eight per cent. This is outrageous. They sound like double glazing salesmen: just an extra couple of pounds a week. When I was Leader of the Council we raised council tax by around inflation only, and disagreed with our national stance of no increase, because people expect an increase. But eight per cent – after a five per cent increase last year. No way is that justified.
The fact that they delayed the announcement until the day after the General Election makes me even more angry. They pride themselves on “openness and transparency” and yet the three major schemes they are investing millions in, a hotel, office block, and market, were taken behind closed doors with not even confidential Part Two reports. Then they were announced via press releases. They once spent over £50,000 on a Democracy Conference while saving £20,000 on closing some public lavatories.
Yet people still vote for them. I can only assume Newport has a very large public sector employed at the Patent and Statistics Office, the Council, and Welsh Government, and that might have a bearing.
Looking forward, we have full elections in 2022 and have been working hard building a base of active candidates. We meet every month.
The current composition of the 50 seat Council is: 31 Labour councillors, 12 Conservatives, fours independents, two Lib Dems, and one Independent Labour.
Naturally our prospects locally will partly depend on what happens nationally. Things can change rapidly. I remind younger councillors that before I took a seat from Labour in 1999 we only had one councillor – and nine years later I was Leader of the Council.
And on another positive note, I am absolutely delighted by the General Election result and I am convinced we can make a success of it.
Onwards and upwards…