Many people in Llandybie and much further afield will have been saddened to hear of the death of Alun Davies on Monday at the age of just 60. Alun served his community in various roles for many years. Most recently he was a popular county councillor for Saron ward, a member of Llandybie Community Council, a former chair of the Plaid Cymru Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency party and a tireless campaigner and fund raiser for Wales Air Ambulance.
The tributes to him describe Alun as a genuinely nice guy who was liked and respected by his political opponents, a big and gentle man who was a familiar sight at countless public meetings.
Alun’s death will mean a by-election, and normally political foes could be expected to show respect by waiting a couple of weeks, at least until the funeral, before triggering an electoral contest, but Rob James, the newly installed leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire County Council (“elected” by tossing a coin), clearly has little time for such niceties. Constrained only by the fact that Monday was a bank holiday, he hit the ground running on Tuesday, insisting that the council kick-start the electoral process.
Polling day will be 19 July, and the nominations process will begin before the funeral.
Saron ward returns two members, and in last year’s council elections Alun topped the poll with 810 votes. Carl Harris (Plaid) came second with 679 votes, while Labour trailed in third and fourth places with 588 and 439 votes respectively. The two Tory candidates came in a distant fifth and sixth.
It is worth recalling that 2017 was a good year for Labour in general, but the party went backwards in most of Carmarthenshire outside Llanelli, despite being in opposition.
We will not have to wait long to find out who Labour will field, but one possible contender will be Anthony Jones who lost his Llandybie seat to Plaid last year. Prior to that setback, Jones was one of the bigger and noisier beasts in Labour’s Carmarthenshire menagerie, with ambitions to become leader of both the Labour group and the County Council itself, unsuccessfully playing Brutus to Kevin Madge’s re-interpretation of Kenneth Williams’ performance as Caesar.
“Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!”
If Anthony Jones does throw his hat into the ring, he will be hoping that voters in the Amman Valley have forgotten his time on the council’s planning committee where he managed to incur the wrath of both Ammanford Cricket Club and the residents of Penybanc.
It remains to be seen what Labour will do in the case of the now vacant seat on Llandybie Community Council. The party could choose to stand back and allow Plaid to co-opt a new member, or it could force another by-election as it did recently in Iscennen ward in Ammanford.
Readers will recall that Labour went down to a heavy defeat in Iscennen after forcing an unnecessary election, with the unsuccessful Labour candidate arguing on this blog that his party had triggered an election in response to popular demand. Cough.
The otherwise clean Iscennen campaign was marred a day before voters went to the polls when Rob James and the editor of the Carmarthen Journal, SWEP etc. launched a ham-fisted and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to smear his political opponents.
Despite that drubbing, the indications are that Rob James will insist on forcing a second contest in Llandybie because the Labour leader unexpectedly travelled up from Llanelli to attend the AGM of Llandybie Community Council on Wednesday.
In common with most community councils, Llandybie rarely gets to welcome members of the public or the local press to its meetings, and such was the surprise of councillors at the sight of the increasingly Gothic looking Labour leader, that he was asked in what capacity he had decided to grace them with his presence. “As an observer”, came the reply.
Clearly Rob still has some way to go to becoming a household name even in his own household because when he temporarily left the room, the chair of the council AGM for the evening, Cllr Anthony “Whitey” Davies, asked his fellow councillors who the surprise visitor was, despite sitting opposite the Labour leader in the chamber of County Hall.