The Dangerous Power of Stories
Elections for county councillors are coming up. On May 4th 2017 we will be off to the polling stations once again, to choose our councillors.
How will the vote go in Carmarthenshire? I’m not going to guess, but do think that the coalition in power, trying to implement deep financial cuts, has an especially tough job. Their councillors have a record which electors can vote against, while the opposition has only had to oppose.
Plaid Cymru are the dominant force by numbers in the county, with 29 councillors, followed by Labour (22), the Independent group (20), People First (1) and unaffiliated (2). The Executive Board, which does much of the decision making, is a coalition with five Plaid members and five from the Independent group. The leader of the Board is Plaid’s Emlyn Dole (Lannon), and he has two deputies – David Jenkins (Plaid, Glanaman) and Pam Palmer (Independent, Abergwili).
Labour was in power, with the Independents, until May 2015, and so come the elections, will have been in opposition for two years – long enough for some of their more questionable decisions to be relegated to the back of voters’ minds.
Plaid, though, will be completing two years in the media spotlight, and has to answer to the electorate for decisions made when they were the opposition, decisions such as rural school closures, small town parking charges, the expensive stadium for the Scarlets at Trostre, and legal adventures involving the chief executive and top staff officer, Mr Mark James CBE.
Mr James’ clash with local blogger Jacqui Thompson has been documented in detail – on this blog here, here, here and here. Mr James won. To obtain the damages he was awarded, he could force the sale of Jacqui’s bungalow home, which is also the base for her husband Kerry’s forestry work.
The Thompson v. James and James v. Thompson libel cases still carry a big risk for the councillors in power. Private Eye commented in its November 11th issue that Mark James “persuaded the council to indemnify his legal costs, contrary to guidance from both the Welsh and UK governments”. The Wales Audit Office said Mr James’ indemnity was unlawful. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess how national media would present the story – highly paid local government boss got taxpayers’ cash to back libel action against housewife critic. Or similar. It wouldn’t be pretty, and almost certainly the county council would be presented as the Big Bad Wolf, with Mrs Thompson in the role of Red Riding Hood.
Voters tend to remember stories with emotional appeal more than intricate factual detail, whether or not the facts are correct.
And emotional appeals before elections can have far-reaching impact.
Just think Trump. ‘Make America Great Again’ struck an emotional chord. It had nothing to do with facts.