Tales from Wales: I received a call from a Lib Dem member on the eve of poll that had a very strange request

Even members forget which party they are in at times...

When I was in Wales one of the things I was asked to do was act as the returning officer for an internal selection to pick our candidates for the regional list in Mid and West Wales.

Having never been a returning officer before I tried to make sure, as much as possible, that all the rules were abided by and all the candidates were given equal opportunity to engage with the membership.

We arranged hustings meetings across the region, which geographically constituted two thirds of Wales. Having run meetings successfully the members all had a postal vote that would be sent to our office in Cardiff for me to count, when the vote closed.

Some candidates took the selection much more seriously than others and towards the end of the process I started receiving a number of calls from people who had either lost their ballot papers, mislaid them or had realised they were just too late to send them back.

Because all the ballots were traceable it was possible to tell if this was true. As a consequence members who could identify themselves, and give sufficient evidence that they were who they said they were, I reproduced a ‘tendered’ ballot paper for.  If I could prove that in the unopened ballots that they were not duplicates I would accept the new ballot paper.

On the eve of the election I received a call from a lady in West Wales who explained that she had lost her ballot and that she understood I could help her out. Because it was the eve of me opening them I explained the process and asked her which of the candidates she would like to support.

‘The Plaid Cyrmu candidate,’ came the answer. After a moment’s pause I replied, ‘I’m afraid they aren’t standing in this election,’ and following a few moments of disappointed grumbling from the other end of the phone I read out the names of the candidates and when I arrived at the most active candidate’s name she said, ‘yes that’s the one, the Plaid Cymru candidate!’

Thankfully he won by more than one Plaid Cymru vote!

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Tales from Wales: I averted my eyes from the ‘Question Time’ chairman’s gaze to avoid being asked to comment, in Welsh!

The chairman pointed at me expecting me to answer the question in Welsh...

People who know me probably do know that I have been on a brief, but intensive, Welsh language course.  I enjoyed it very much, in the ‘total emersion’ environment of Nant Gwrtheyrn, on the Lleyn Peninsula.

Although the course was excellent it certainly didn’t prepare me to answer political questions in Welsh. 

During the 2003 Welsh Assembly elections I was in North Wales for a meeting and a friend of mine was one of the guest speakers on a Welsh language ‘Question Time’ style debate on S4C.

All the parties had people invited, both on the panel, and in the audience.  Chatting to Steffan John, the Lib Dem speaker, and other Welsh Lib Dems before the event they were keen for me to sit in and listen, knowing that I would just sit outside on my own for an hour and it would be good for my Welsh language practice.

Knowing the entire programme was broadcast live in Welsh I was quite hesitant, but those of you who know Lord Roger Roberts will know that he has a kind of enthusiastic charisma that makes it very difficult to say, ‘No!’

So, sitting as indiscreetly as I can, next to Roger, I waited for the programme to start.  As the programme progressed I started to notice that audience participation was a very big thing.  You notice this even more when you can’t really follow more than 25% of debate, and I found myself averting my eyes every time the chairman looked for comment from the audience.

Eventually the finger of the chairman pointed straight at me and he asked me what I thought. 

Thankfully Roger thought the finger was pointing at him and he answered the question and I was saved.