Wales politics

General election 2017: Blaenau Gwent profile

Ebbw Vale town centre on market day
Image caption Ebbw Vale town centre on market day is a key opportunity to meet the voting public

On the early morning of the 5th of May, the day after the 2017 council elections, Labour was telling the media that the result was not as bad as it could have been.

But things were pretty bad for the party in Blaenau Gwent.

The party lost 107 seats across Wales - some 20 of those were in this south Wales valleys Labour heartland, with control of the authority falling to independents amid an ongoing row over recycling.

A year earlier, Plaid Cymru almost pulled off a shock assembly election result, coming within 650 votes of taking the Blaenau Gwent seat from Labour's Alun Davies.

The result was a surprise to many, not least Plaid Cymru officials - the party had little organisational presence in the borough where it had only around 20 members at the time.

Blaenau Gwent has been in non-Labour hands in the recent past at the assembly, council and Westminster levels, most notably when assembly member Peter Law quit Labour in protest at all-women shortlists and won election as an independent MP in 2005,

The question now is whether this general election provides the context for the Westminster seat to slip out of Labour hands again - especially during a campaign where the competition between the Conservatives and Labour has dominated.

Privately at least one Labour source has told the BBC of concerns that there is a real contest here, but that view is not held by all, with others feeling the seat is more comfortable for the party.

Plaid Cymru for its part has earmarked Blaenau Gwent as one of the party's target seats - and activists have been encouraged to help out in the borough.

On paper, Labour is in a good place on the basis of the last general election result.

In 2015, the incumbent Nick Smith won the seat with a majority of 12,703, ahead of UKIP. Plaid Cymru camed fourth.

Image caption Plaid Cymru candidate Nigel Copner says Blaenau Gwent is going to be very close

Nigel Copner, the man who stood for Plaid in 2016 at the assembly elections, is doing so again at the general election this year.

A university professor who lives in Ebbw Vale and chairs a research centre, Mr Copner claimed to BBC Wales that the election is "going to be very close".

He said that with the decline of industry in the area, the "work ethic has slowly been evaporated" with generations of families on benefits.

"I feel that Blaenau Gwent has been severely let down," he said. "We've grafted in these valleys."

"I'm hearing from businesses now who tell me if you want to take on youngsters or residents, they don't want to take the job, because they're worse off when they're off benefits."

"That needs to be resolved," he said.

"A lot of companies are saying we have to take on some of the Polish because there just isn't enough people locally to take the jobs."

Mr Copner said he did not have a problem with immigration if it was skilled.

The Plaid Cymru candidate said the proposed Circuit of Wales motor-racing track "does come up" when he speaks to voters.

He said he felt people "could be let down" over the scheme, with a Welsh Government decision on guaranteeing half of the £425m project being delayed.

Image caption Nick Smith has defended leaflets which fail to mention Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Defending the seat is Labour's Nick Smith, who, like Mr Copner, was out canvassing in Ebbw Vale on market day.

First elected to the Commons in 2010, he said: "As Labour support has increased nationally, so it has locally."

Mr Smith claimed that after the publication of the Conservative manifesto "people realised it's 'game on', it's a national election, it's Labour vs Conservative", adding that he was not complacent.

He defended his leaflets which did not mention Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying: " I am the candidate here.

"He's my leader, I support him," he said he told voters, but added: "Round here it's Nick Smith on the ballot paper. Nick Smith is a local man. Nick Smith will work hard for you."

The Labour hopeful says he has supported the Circuit of Wales "100% over the years", saying it could be a "game-changer" for the region. He says he thinks the Welsh Government should be investing in the scheme.

Mr Smith added that Brexit, cold weather payments, and pensions were also important to voters.

"Round here they don't want a Tory government," he insisted.

Image caption Vicki Browning is an independent candidate on the ballot paper in Blaenau Gwent

There are four other candidates taking part in the election in Blaenau Gwent.

Vicki Browning, who runs a online business from her home in Tredegar, is standing as an independent.

"We don't seem to have gotten far with the politicians we've had before," she said.

"I don't actually have a politics background. I just wanted to give Blaenau Gwent a go and speak for the people."

Image copyright Cameron Sullivan
Image caption Cameron Sullivan says the Lib Dems would offer people a vote on the terms of Brexit

Cameron Sullivan, from Merthyr Tydfil, is standing for the Liberal Democrats.

"It's giving people a choice," he said.

"Putting your name on the ballot paper, especially for a party like the Lib Dems, does offer people an alternative."

His party is campaigning for another EU referendum.

"We can still vote on the terms of Brexit. We can still decide how we want this to play out."

Image copyright UKIP
Image caption Dennis May said UKIP would champion Blaenau Gwent

UKIP came second in the general election in 2015, when Susan Boucher polled 5,677 votes.

The candidate this time, Dennis May, says: "Blaenau Gwent has been let down by the domination of Labour who blame anyone but themselves for the demise of the Western Valley."

UKIP has other goals than Brexit in its sights, Mr May said.

"We will fill the void left by a London-centric Labour Party and champion the hardworking people of Blaenau Gwent."

Tracey West is standing for the Welsh Conservatives in Blaenau Gwent. She did not return a request for comment.

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