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Torfaen new councillor elected

TORFAEN’s newest councillor has hailed his election as vindication for his belief there is no place for party politics in local government. 

Jason O’Connell was the only independent candidate to stand in the by-election in Cwmbran’s Llantarnam ward to fill a vacant seat on Torfaen Borough Council and was up against candidates from five political parties. 

At the election, held on Thursday, February 2, the independent gained 489 votes which was comfortably more than second placed candidate David Bolton of Welsh Labour who had 406 votes. 

“My view is local politics has no place for political parties,” said the newly-elected councillor who replied “absolutely” when asked if he felt his standpoint had been endorsed at the election. 

“People realised local elections are about local politics. What Kier Starmer or Rishi Sunak do doesn’t have any influence on education in Torfaen for example.” 

The election marks a return to the council for Mr O’Connell who served as a borough councillor for five years before losing his seat in Cwmbran’s Greenmeadow ward, where he still lives, at last May’s council elections. 

Though he had been elected, in 2017, as an independent and stood again as an independent last May, in 2018 he joined the Conservative Party and sat in its group at Pontypool’s Civic Centre. 

“I spent a few months in the Conservative Party and left pretty much soon afterwards when I realised I’d made a mistake,” he said. “I apologised and held my hands up and it’ll not be repeated.” 

Since May Labour has been the only political party represented on authority and it easily controls the council as it holds 30 of its 40 seats. There is also the three-member Torfaen Independent Group and, including Mr O’Connell,  seven individual independents who aren’t part of any group.

Despite Labour’s dominance in Torfaen, the Llantarnam ward has three independent representatives, and former councillor Nick Jones, who quit the authority in November creating the vacancy, had also been an independent. 

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Mr O’Connell said he thinks his chances were boosted by the ward’s two sitting independent councillors: “The current independent councillors David Thomas and Alan Slade do a good job and the ward has seen that and recognised that and they want more of the same.” 

The councillor who said the ward is where he had grown up said his election promises had been to carry out improvements in the areas such as to flower gardens and on lighting and for new park benches. 

“I’m keen to do these and not only say I will do these things but keep a record and track of how we are doing on the promises.” 

Though the council is controlled by Labour Mr O’Connell said it is for individual councillors to take responsibility for their wards and work with officers to identify how funding can be found and projects implemented. 

He also said he has no intention of joining a group: “It’s not something that’s been discussed or I’ve given any thought or time to. I don’t want to get into any political games at the Civic Centre. I don’t really know what the benefits are to forming a group, if it ever raises its head I would look at it and it would be something I’d need to consider.” 

Llantarnam ward by-election full results 

David Bolton – Welsh Labour: 406;
Miles Andrew Cook – Welsh Liberal Democrats: 13;
Jason O’Connell – Independent: 489 – Elected;
Stephen John Senior – Welsh Conservatives: 85;
Matthew Woolfall Jones – Plaid Cymru: 111.

Turnout: 22.5 per cent