Disenchantment at leadership's loss of common touch: The Cynon Valley remains a stronghold, but its people are increasingly disillusioned

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The Independent Online
Jennifer Hartwell, nurse and local councillor, lives at Hirwan at the valley head with her husband Dane, a former miner and lodge official who now looks after redundant and disabled colliers.

'I'm just a dog's body. I joined the party the day Mrs Thatcher walked into 10 Downing Street. I ran a support group during the miners' strike, food parcels, Christmas parties, that sort of thing. As soon as you join the party you get a job. If you don't do it, it doesn't get done. There's no 'thank you' at the end of it.

'I was in London last week, shopping, looking at the price tags on the clothes. When you look at jackets for pounds 200-pounds 300 you're thinking 'That's how they dress in the House of Commons'. If that's the price they pay it makes you wonder how far removed they are from knowing what our problems are.

'They don't understand what's going on. At least I'm here. I walk up the road and see my problems every day, the continuous battle to buy the kids' shoes, worried sick about the monthly bills. People here are waking day in, day out with no light at the end of the tunnel. What they're saying at ward meetings is 'Where is everyone? Why aren't they saying anything?'

'We had Dennis Skinner in Aberdare the other night to do a lecture.

Usually it's a struggle to sell tickets. Well, we had 160 people there and could have filled the hall twice over. It really raised morale, made us all feel if we tried hard enough we could win.

'The trouble is they're after the vote in the south of England. Once the Buckinghamshires of the world start to squeal they take notice, don't they? The old Labour leaders would have turned in their graves if they'd seen the Sheffield rally. We can vote Labour here till we're blue in the face and that's the trouble isn't it? They don't care about this part of the world, do they? Because they know there'll never be Tory voters here.'

Her husband Dane said: 'Shutting the pits in this valley has done a lot of harm to us, politically and as a community. The colliery lodges were better than the Labour Party, more political, more practical in our dealings with people.

'A lot of old socialist die-hards, people of my own generation, are coming round to the view that there's got to be a deal with the Liberal Democrats. People like myself never thought to hear ourselves talk like this but there's got to be a way to get Them to lose an election. Lenin said 'Embrace your enemy until you squeeze the last drop of blood out of him'. Perhaps we ought to apply that philosophy to the Liberals.

'We've got a very good local branch in Hirwan, 75 members, but they're all retired schoolteachers or people like myself who are working and fortunate to be so.

'We've masses of young people who've left school and are unemployed and we don't seem to be attracting them. They don't see us as a way out, unfortunately. You don't see any political party that interests them.'

The Rev Mark Williams is a newly-arrived vicar of St Winifred's, Penywaun, a problem-ridden council estate where an elderly woman was murdered by two local girls a year ago.

He said: 'Part of the reason I've just joined the Labour Party is that I can identify with John Smith, particularly now that he seems to be identifying Christian values. I suppose it's a reaction to this evil in society, what with this murder here in Penywaun.

'I just know the party's getting more up-to-date and I'm very happy to see the unions have less power. I don't know a lot about Ann Clwyd because I've not met her but what I've heard isn't very good. It's just an impression I get that she's not in touch with the people'.

Dai Morris, a miner for 28 years, now a postman living above Aberdare: 'I like the party's shape to be quite honest with you. I've got to applaud Smith's efforts to get rid of the block vote. I don't blame him for wanting to make the people feel more up-market. Going for the middle classes is a bit of a way of conning the electorate because the Tories have got away with it so long. Trying to please all the people, he's bound to upset some of them.

'I think Ann Clwyd's losing support because I don't think she comes over that well. I vote for her more or less for party than person.'

Idris Morgan, 64, former colliery union leader at Deep Duffryn pit, Mountain Ash, now closed. One of Cynon Valley's most respected political philosophers: 'I don't know why the party doesn't spend money educating young people today instead of having red roses. Trouble is, see, people like me, we're not the generation that's suffering now. It's the kids coming out of school with nowhere to go. When we were in the pit we'd men much older than ourselves who gave you the groundings in politics. You take two boys now of 30-odd and they're as thick as two planks you know.

'Why do we lose elections? You lose them with that bloody rally in Sheffield. When it was shown on TV there was Kinnock going 'Yay, yah, yah'. That's all you seen on TV, him going like that.

'John Smith's not been forceful at all. With all the mistakes the Conservatives are making he ought to be running rings round them. Someone like Nye Bevan, or Denis Healey would make these people squirm but you've no one there to do it today.

'There's an inbred hatred of Tories in these valleys and has been for 100 years but Labour can't bank on it for ever more.'

David Morgan, 30, Idris's son, divorced, is now working as a labourer in a furniture factory after years of unemployment. He said: 'The Labour vote's drifting away in the valley. It's difficult to say why. It's just something you realise when you talk to friends of your own age.

'It's still rock solid with the older generation but the ground's moved away under their feet.

'Labour was built on social injustice, education and health care for all, but their ideology's almost gone. For the past 10 years, this side of the valley's voted Plaid Cymru.'

Kevin Cahill, 65, a retired miner drinking with friends in the Mountain Ash Rugby Club, said: 'All the Labour MPs today have learnt their soldiering off libraries. They don't know anything about socialism. Our socialism is neighbourliness. Years ago, if someone died, someone lent them their best carpet so they'd have it in their front room for the funeral. Someone else would bring their best tea service. Labour don't give a sod about us now.'

(Photograph omitted)