Plaid Cymru’s Tariq Awan reflects on his work as a councillor in Grangetown, Cardiff and looks ahead to the local government elections in May.
The by-election in Grangetown last November really put Plaid Cymru on the map. In many ways this was a historic victory. There have been good performances from the party in by-elections in Cardiff and Wales, but this was one of three by-elections for Welsh councils in 2016 where we won the seat. I am not used to facing the spotlight on social media. But it became clear to me that this wasn’t just about Grangetown. The by-election had national importance and shows Plaid Cymru can win elsewhere.
As I face a full election, I can honestly say I don’t regret a single moment of it. Being a Councillor is hard work, but it is honest work and is rewarding. Local politics has its ups and downs, but when you help a family get a school place for their son, or you use your authority as Councillor to get something fixed in the street, then it’s all worthwhile.
It’s worth looking back at work done in Grangetown by the party over the years. In recent years this inner city ward has always been a battleground between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. It’s not a place where Labour has been uncontested, but swings back and forth. Plaid Cymru arrived on the scene in around 2004. The vote for the party started increasing because local individuals were doing hard work. These people paved the way for me. Names like Paddy Daley, Farida Aslam, Ioan Bellin and several others, did the work and knocked the doors to make Plaid Cymru known in the local area. We can’t rely on the media in places like Grangetown. You have to become known based on local activity first. This is how I first became aware of Plaid Cymru. Receiving the leaflets, seeing the posters at election time, and understanding that a vote for Plaid Cymru wasn’t a waste.
I stood in 2012 for the full council election. At the time the Liberal Democrats held the ward. We didn’t think we could win that time around but had a plan to increase our vote so we could win the next time around. We laid the foundations for the by-election victory, but future results will still be very close. The by-election itself came about as a tragedy, where a sitting Labour Councillor died. In my first ever speech after winning the by-election, I made a tribute to him. Respect has to transcend political views.
Since being elected in November I’ve faced some major events locally and also internationally. I have always been a community activist and volunteer, mostly in activities relating to the Grangetown Muslim Cultural Centre. But council business was new to me. Working on the local issues is natural and no problem, but the council chamber is something new. My priority here is to keep things going in the council chamber, but maintain my focus on local people and their issues.
I got elected about the same time as Donald Trump, as someone pointed out in my mosque! Plaid Cymru’s response to the issue of Islamophobia is important to me. I need my party to be backing my community on this. It’s a simple matter of solidarity. If you stand up for me, I will stand up for you. Grangetown is truly diverse and multi-cultural, but is mostly a success story. I represent Muslims, Welsh speakers, non-Welsh people, white people and people of all other colours and faiths. Plaid Cymru represents my views on how communities should work together. I’m very proud to be in this party and have the support of Leanne Wood and my local AM Neil McEvoy. They have both encouraged me and helped me out. Many people from ethnic minority backgrounds are now looking at Plaid Cymru more seriously as a result of this. And for me, I am learning more about Wales’ needs as a nation and how we need to ensure the country has a strong and progressive voice.
One of my frustrations is that I am the only Plaid Cymru councillor in Grangetown. I want us to win all three seats. Grangetown is very competitive so we need to try our very hardest. But to really change things I can’t do it alone. I need a strong team of three, and then for Plaid Cymru to try and run the local council. Labour has just had five years to deliver for the capital city and overall it just hasn’t been good enough. Plaid Cymru could do a better job. If I could give one clear message to anyone who has read this blog it is this; we don’t win council seats just by sitting around. We have to get out there, speak to people, and make ourselves relevant. So if you like what you have read in this article, get in touch with me or my team on twitter or Facebook. Come and join us for a canvassing session before May 4th. Let’s put Wales- Cymru first by starting at the local community level.