WHAT kind of parliamentary hopeful would look forward positively to the general election if her party’s candidate had come fifth just two years ago?
Dinah Mulholland, who is carrying the flag for Labour in Ceredigion, is the answer.
A newcomer to the party — she joined the day after the Tories won in May 2015 — she said to herself then: “I’ve just got to do it. If people like me don’t do it, we can say goodbye to the Labour Party.”
Labour in Ceredigion was largely moribund at that time, with around 100 members in the whole county and a single all-member meeting each month in Aberaeron attended by up to 10 people.
Recruitment that began slowly became a massive influx when Jeremy Corbyn got onto the first leadership ballot.
“We suddenly swelled. Our membership now is 800 and, with supporters, is over 1,000. It’s been a phenomenal increase,” says Mulholland.
A single parent on a zero-hours contract working in the support services team at University of Wales Trinity St David (UWTSD) in Lampeter, her job is to support students with learning differences — dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, and those on the autistic spectrum.
“I work with a fantastic team, one of the best in the UK, to enable students with learning differences to fulfil their degree on a level playing field, gaining good degrees. It’s equality in action,” she enthuses.
Zero-hours contracts are increasingly prevalent in higher education, hitting junior academic staff on their entry into the profession and raising the level of insecurity which affects students too as many teaching staff survive only for a brief period of time.
The four UWTSD campuses have been instructed to cut the wages, provoking the fourth wave of redundancies since Mulholland began work there in 2013. Ceredigion’s other university in Aberystwyth is also facing job losses.
“These two universities drive our economy, because the higher education industry is a really significant economic factor. It affects the wider economy of Lampeter, where I live,” says Mulholland, who points out that “agriculture around here is more fragile than it used to be.”
London-born Mulholland is no stranger to the Morning Star, having worked as former editor Tony Chater’s secretary in 1986-7 immediately after leaving university and looking back on that job with fondness for the appreciation that she gained of progressive politics and solidarity.
She moved to Wales nearly 20 years ago, spending most of her time in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, depending on where she was working.
Always involved in single-issue and community campaigns, Mulholland brought her activism into the Labour Party, taking up the reins as campaigns organiser and ensuring that Labour has become known locally as the campaigning party.
“We’ve been involved in several good campaigns. Labour worked with Ceredigion People’s Assembly and the Communication Workers Union in the campaign to save Aberystwyth post office, which got a lot of traction,” she says proudly.
“It was a really exciting campaign, with massive public support. Thousands of postcards were sent to the Post Office.
“We also lobbied the county council to increase discretionary housing payments provision so as not to end up with a huge underspend, so a few more families were able to access the DHP fund.”
A strong Corbyn supporter, Mulholland experienced “utter jubilation” when she saw the leaked draft manifesto.
“I was so delighted that this raft of policies was out in the public domain. I think the leak gave us an extra four or five days to mobilise young people to register to vote.”
With today the cut-off date to register to vote on June 8, a recent Electoral Reform Society (ERS) report illustrates the scale of the non-registration problem for young people.
Since the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition introduced individual electoral registration in 2014, replacing the system where one person would register all eligible voters in an address, the number of 16 and 17-year-olds on the rolls, many of whom are now old enough to vote, has plummeted — by 35 per cent in Scotland, 27 per cent in Wales and 25 per cent in England.
The ERS is urging the “biggest ever push” to register young people who may have fallen off the electoral register.
“Each day counts. If all 18 to 40-year-olds voted, Corbyn would get in. That’s four or five more days to talk about free tuition, a £10 minimum wage, ending zero-hours contracts, some security for rental accommodation, building more homes,” says Mulholland.
“It’s so important for young people and the response at work was amazing, it was all over the campus. There was a real palpable sense of excitement.”
The Welsh language is a major issue in Ceredigion, which presents a difficulty for an English incomer who has some conversational Welsh and understands more than she can speak, but “it’s difficult to learn a language as an adult unless you immerse yourself in it” and the reality is that English is the language of commerce and academia.
She recounts her experience the previous evening of going with a Welsh-speaking comrade to a meeting of dairy farmers who politely conducted affairs in English for her benefit, breaking occasionally into Welsh.
“When they switched to Welsh, they spoke more quickly and fluently and I understood how difficult and limiting it was to conduct the conversation in a second language for the whole evening and it is so important that Welsh is the first language in certain counties and that this level of communication has to be given a priority,” says Mulholland.
Her daughter Liberty, who was educated in Wales and speaks the language fluently, teases and corrects her mother’s attempts, while also encouraging her.
“My Welsh-learning journey is ongoing, I would say. It will come,” she says.
Child poverty rates in areas of Ceredigion are comparable to inner-city Birmingham, clocking 41.48 per cent in Rheidol ward, 36.67 per cent in Llangybi and 35.18 per cent in Teifi and Mulholland points out that rural poverty has dimensions that aren’t easily appreciated in urban and industrialised areas.
Closure of the day centre in Aberystwyth hit provision for older people, increasing isolation, while lack of transport is a major issue as people without access to a car have to depend on a skeletal bus service where final buses can run as early as 4.30pm, forcing women with children and shopping to trudge miles home in heavy traffic.
“Rural transport cutbacks are enormously significant for people with no money. They have a direct effect on people’s lives,” she says.
Mulholland believes that policies offered by Corbyn and the Welsh Labour government’s “hugely impressive” record offers the possibility of success on June 8.
“Labour in Wales has been able to prevent a great deal of damage to NHS. We still have free prescriptions here and our government has worked hard and successfully to maintain level of public services. It’s been absolutely admirable.”
A major problem for Labour in Ceredigion, she says, has been so-called tactical voting where many Labour voters plump for either Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats to keep the Tories out.
“The situation has been dominated by these two parties, so no change really occurs.
“Our local party is so fully behind me and the response out there is so big that I actually think that, if people didn’t vote tactically but voted for what they actually believe, we do have a chance of winning.
“Yes, we came fifth two years ago, but we could cut through the middle. Tories don’t have a chance here and Ukip is thoroughly demoralised. Plaid isn’t that interested in Westminster and the Lib Dems can’t be trusted anyway.
“Only the Labour Party has the capacity and the will to carry though a programme of real change, so if you want to see things done differently in Ceredigion, vote for me,” Mulholland says.
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