Blaenau, Gwent, Brynmawr council by election 29th September

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Blaenau, Gwent, Brynmawr - Independent Hold

Party   2016 votes     2016 share  since 2012 "top"since 2012 "average"since 2008 "top"since 2008 "average"
from nowhere
from nowhere
Previous Independents 

People's Voice

Total votes


Swing (if meaningful) Labour to winning Independent 35% / 31% since 2012
Council now 33 Labour, 8 Independent, 1 Non-Aligned

review first published here > written by @andrewteale 


Blaenau Gwent council; caused by the death of Independent councillor John Hopkins at the age of 77.  A former teacher, Hopkins had served on Blaenau Gwent council since 1991 initially as Labour: he was leader of the council until 2007 and Labour candidate in the Blaenau Gwent by-election to the Welsh Assembly in 2006.  Hopkins left Labour in 2009 and had led the council’s independent group until 2014.

“Crawshay Bailey had an Engine
It was always needin’ mendin’
And dependin’ on its power
It could do four miles an hour
Did you ever saw
Did you ever saw
Did you ever saw
Such a funny thing before?”
The combination of John Hopkins and Brynmawr might bring to mind a pair of American universities, but this is Wales, not the USA.  As befits its name (from the Welsh for “big hill”), Brynmawr is one of the highest towns in Wales, located at the head of the Valleys not less than 1,250 feet above sea level.  The town is so high up the Valleys that it was part of Breconshire until the 1974 local government reform; it was called into being by the Industrial Revolution thanks to the development of the Welsh coal industry and Crawshay Bailey’s huge Nantyglo ironworks just down the valley.  Brynmawr was hit hard by the General Strike and the Great Depression, leading to the Quaker-led “Brynmawr Experiment” which tried to diversify the town into light industry such as boot and furniture manufacturing.  Another industry tried in the town was rubber manufacture in the modernist Dunlop Semtex factory (Semtex here being not the IRA’s favourite explosive, but a brand of vinyl flooring) which despite being the first post-war UK building to be listed was demolished in 2001.  One local landmark which is thriving is the Market Hall cinema, which claims to the oldest cinema in Wales.  Brynmawr continues to suffer from high unemployment, with most of the jobs that exist being low-paid.
As an electoral unit Brynmawr ward dates back on its current boundaries to at least 1987 in the days when Blaenau Gwent was a district under Gwent county council; while the town used to have a Conservative councillor who served until 1999, Brynmawr’s three seats have been fought over at each election this century between Labour and independents.  Blaenau Gwent is perfectly capable of electing independents under the right circumstances, as can be attested by Labour’s two 2006 by-election losers Hopkins and Owen Smith (whatever happened to him?); in Brynmawr the independents led 57-43 at the most recent election in 2012, with Hopkins being re-elected under his new colours to make the seat split 2-1 in the independents’ favour.  Labour only narrowly held off Plaid across Blaenau Gwent in May’s Senedd election, suggesting that their machine here is in only slightly better working order than Crawshay Bailey’s engine.
This by-election is a straight fight.  Defending for the independents is Wayne Hodgins, who finished fifth here in the 2012 election; he is a businessman and Brynmawr town councillor.  Challenging for Labour is Julian Gardner, another town councillor and singer-songwriter who is running an arts project at the Market Hall cinema.
Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Blaenau Gwent
Proposed parliamentary constituency from 2020: Blaenau Gwent
May 2012 result Ind 943/713/643/499 Lab 708/498/399
May 2008 result Ind 1283/595/536 Lab 1071/695/645
June 2004 result Lab 1599/1255/1098 Ind 803 LD 514
May 1999 result Lab 1802/1443/1121 LD 725/372
May 1995 result Lab 2127/1760/1208 C 1421
May 1993 Gwent county council result Lab unopposed
May 1991 Blaenau Gwent borough council result C 1541 Lab 1423/1366/1229 Ind 962 Ind Lab 605
May 1989 Gwent county council result Lab 1287 Ind 1116 PC 190
May 1987 Blaenau Gwent borough council result C 1828 Lab 1591/1300/1089 Ratepayers 959 PC 807