Politicians target rural vote in Welsh local elections

Opinion polls predict that no party will have an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly elected on 3 May which could open the door for a member with farming links to take on the rural affairs portfolio. 

The polls reckon Labour will get 25 seats and the terms of any coalition will include giving ministerial posts to members of another party.

This could allow in a farming member to take on the rural affairs portfolio.

Six months ago many farmers would have been sorry to see the back of former rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones, but his determination to cut Tir Mynydd payments and reluctance to tackle TB in wildlife has tarnished his image.

In contrast the same issues have enhanced the reputations of members like agricultural economist Elin Jones of Plaid Cymru and farmer Glyn Davies, the Conservative chair of the last rural affairs committee.

Turnout is likely to have a big impact on the result – in 2003 it stood at 38.2%. Any further reduction is likely to impact most on the traditionally strong Labour vote along the M4 corridor in south Wales.

Plaid Cymru lost five seats in the last assembly election, but was still the second largest party with 12 seats. Opinion polls have indicated that Plaid could do better this time, though results also back claims of a resurgence of support for the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats held six seats in the last assembly and Mike German, the party’s leader in the assembly, held the rural affairs portfolio for some time.

In 2003 a handful of UK Independence party candidates picked up only 3.4% of the votes. This year UKIP is well represented and targeting rural votes with a manifesto promising financial support for young farmers, support systems that recognise local conditions, rationalisation of small abattoir regulations and encouragement of local food consumption.

But all the other parties have made very similar commitments at meetings organised by farming organisations.

Whoever is elected will be responsible for drafting a crucial new Rural Development Plan and for overseeing the already agreed devolving of extra powers to Cardiff.