With more twists and turns than the A484, more plots than Persimmon and more backstabbing and barely believable characters than Pobol y Cwm, it’s been a while since this blog reported on the goings-on in the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire, and so here is a cut-out-‘n-keep souvenir issue to mark the, erm, election of Rob James to serve as leader of the Labour group on the county council.
Back in May 2015 at what was described as a “very emotional” annual general meeting of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire County Council, Kevin Madge’s political career finally hit the buffers when he was ousted as leader by Jeff Edmunds, the Llanelli undertaker.
Within days the coup d’etat led to the break-up of the dire Labour-Independent coalition and put the Plaid group in power.
The council elections in May 2017 saw Labour consolidate its grip on Llanelli while being driven to near extinction everywhere else in the county, including its former strongholds in the Amman Valley.
One of the new Labour intake in Llanelli was Cllr Rob James who ousted the veteran maverick Bill Thomas in Lliedi ward. Prior to that, James was a county councillor in Neath Port Talbot for five long years in which he made a name for himself by being absent for much of his time in office. His legacy to the local party was to gift his old ward to Plaid Cymru.
What young Rob may lack in the delivery department, he makes up for with ambition, and from the moment he first set foot in Llanelli it has been rumoured that he has been eyeing up the jobs of both nuclear Nia and Lee Murky Waters, recently memorably described as Welsh politics’ answer to Alan Partridge.
It would not be his first attempt at breaking into the political big-time. A few short years ago, Rob set his sights on securing the nomination for the Cynon Valley Assembly seat, promising that he would make his home there.
Unfortunately for Neath, Llanelli and Carmarthenshire, the Cynon Valley Labour Party had other ideas, probably after they had been forced to watch this video, in which our unshaven hero keeps gazing up at something to his right while pretending not to be reading from a script.
Roll forward to May 2018 and what was no doubt another very emotional (i.e. bloody) Labour group AGM where new boy Rob with only a year under his belt challenged veteran Jeff Edmunds for the crown.
According to very reliable sources the vote was a tie, with the tiny Amman Valley contingent having to hold its noses and vote for lugubrious Jeff after spending most of the last three years sticking pins into a wax effigy of him.
In most bodies of this kind the decision would then hang on the casting vote of the chair, but the impasse was resolved instead by tossing a coin. Rob won.
Earning a crust
As a result, Rob will see his council salary rise from £13,400 to a more attractive £22,100 as leader of the opposition.
The £22,100 will presumably come on top of Rob’s salary as full-time office manager for MP Geraint Davies (Lab. Swansea West), where the salary range is from £30,000 up to £41,748.
Thanks to the taxpayer, Rob will therefore be bringing home somewhere between £50k and £60k a year thanks to that lucky toss of a coin, but money must be tight in the James household because Rob is also the only one of Carmarthenshire’s 74 councillors known to be claiming for the cost of childcare, worth up to £403 a month, presumably because the missus is also out boosting the family budget.
This may leave some readers wondering what happens to the James brood when Rob is performing his full-time office manager job and not in County Hall.
For reasons which are not clear, Rob recently used his membership of the council’s Democratic Services Committee to persuade his fellow councillors that there was no need to flaunt this additional source of income and upset the voters, and so it was agreed that Rob’s childcare claims should be hidden in a general total figure.
What Rob has done for you
In his year as county councillor for Lliedi it is fair to say that Rob’s attendance figures have been a marked improvement on his five years in Neath, but it is also fair to say that he has not exactly made much of a mark.
Highlights of his career so far in Carmarthenshire include his opposition to the planned new Ysgol Dewi Sant, backed by a coalition made up of dogwalkers and the barmy twosome behind CUSC, Labour’s paramilitary cyber and hairdressing group set up ostensibly to campaign for sports clubs, and the Rainbow Flag fiasco.
In addition to being a member of the Democratic Services Committee, Rob is also a member of the council’s so-called Constitutional Reform Working Group (CRWG), which in a neat Mark Jamesian twist is not actually recognised by the council’s constitution and so does not have to tell the public about its deliberations.
One of the weighty matters considered by CRWG earlier this year was the vexed question of the council’s flag flying policy. Had he turned up for the meeting Rob would have voted in favour of flying the Rainbow Flag, he told the press. Unfortunately his car let him down. Jeff Edmunds, Labour’s other representative, did manage to get to County Hall and voted instead to maintain the ban on anything other than flying flags to mark various high days and holidays in celebration of the Windsor clan. No doubt urgent consideration is now being given to adding Meghan Markle to the list.
Rob’s campaign promise to rid Carmarthenshire of its beloved chief executive, Mark James CBE (no relation), seems to have been quietly buried.
In short, Rob’s contribution to local government in Carmarthenshire so far has been as effective as what is known as a “rhech mewn pot jam”. Look it up.
It remains to be seen whether Rob’s lucky toss will now temporarily put his political ambitions on hold, and there are those in the party who fear not.
Just over the Llanelli constituency border in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr the constituency Labour Party is so concerned by the prospect of being saddled with Rob James as its Westminster candidate that it has decided to volunteer to accept a women-only shortlist.
Will Rob elect to undergo the knife and become Roberta to further his career? Watch this space.
In another bizarre twist, a Mancunian recently settled in the rural idyll of Pentrecagal called Chris Hardy is claiming to have already bagged the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr nomination and to be Labour’s official candidate for the Westminster constituency which is held by Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid).
On his website here, Chris introduces himself as “the local Labour Party candidate for the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency”, something which has apparently taken the local party by surprise, and he is seeking donations to fund his campaign.
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Chris describes his time in Carmarthenshire as “turmoilous”, and he admits to having upset a few people, but his message is one of love and Universal Politics, a creed based on luuurv, and lots of it.
To bring us all together, Chris has set up a second website called Care4Carms.com which he hopes will act as a forum for ideas and discussion across the county. Neither the labourchris.com website nor Care4Carms.com contains any Welsh, but Care4Carms has attracted a number of messages from the county’s Russian speaking minority.
It’s worth checking that your anti-virus software is up to date before visiting either site.