He is without doubt one of the most controversial and outspoken figures in Cardiff politics. In the penultimate in our series of interviews with the group leaders hoping to run Cardiff council, Peter Law spoke to Plaid Cymru’s Neil McEvoy about courting controversy while running Wales’ biggest authority.
He is without doubt one of the most controversial and outspoken figures in Cardiff politics.
Over the past year, Neil McEvoy has had public spats with political opponents, party colleagues, charities and figures of authority.
The controversy reached fever pitch in November last year when he posted comments on Facebook and Twitter accusing Welsh Women’s Aid and Safer Wales of “publicly funded child abuse”.
The organisations accused the 42-year-old of a “hate campaign” and he was promptly suspended by Plaid Cymru. His membership was restored following a party disciplinary hearing and the former modern languages teacher apologised for the remarks.
All the while the debate raged, the Bluebirds fan was running Cardiff council as its deputy leader and was in charge of the economic development and transport portfolios. So on reflection, does he have any regrets?
“I think most people understood where I was coming from and in all my days in politics I have never ever received such support,” he said at his Fairwater home. “I had people thanking me for just raising the issue because I was the only politician to have stood up against this issue.
“I possibly could have done it in another language and in future I’ll look at what language I’ll use, but certainly it’s an issue I will carry on with for the rest of my days.
“As long as I have a breath of air in my body I will be campaigning for the rights of children to see both their parents.
“If that’s bad for my career, so be it. That’s just the way it is.”
Coun McEvoy’s political career began in 1999 when he was elected in Riverside ward as a Labour councillor.
But, “totally disillusioned with the internal bickering of Labour”, he fell out with members of the party and was deselected before the 2004 council elections.
He stood unsuccessfully as a Plaid Cymru candidate in the General Election in 2005 and the National Assembly election in 2007, before being elected to the council in the Fairwater ward in 2008.
It was a successful election for the nationalist party when it claimed seven seats and went on to form a coalition to run the council with the Liberal Democrats.
“I said in 2003 we would be the biggest party in Cardiff West after the 2008 elections. Everybody laughed at me at the time, but it turned out to be correct,” Coun McEvoy said.
In coalition, Plaid’s key victories have included securing Cardiff as the host of next year’s WBC World Boxing Convention, developing the St David’s Day festival and championing a soon-to-be-launched scheme to help first-time home buyers.
Asked for his verdict on the administration, Coun McEvoy said: “Very effective, saved a hell of a lot of money, we put Cardiff on the map internationally and there is certainly a more Welsh flavour now to the capital city of Wales.”
And on the coalition – which was tested at the height of last year’s Women’s Aid spat – he said: “We have worked effectively together. There have been a mix of personalities and a mix of approaches, which have worked.
“I think myself and Rodney have worked quite well together. There have been disagreements at times, but we both respected each other’s point of view.
“Working in coalition has changed me politically as well. Coalitions can work well as long as there is mutual respect.”
He named the Cardiff Capital Fund, which sees the council invest in local companies to create jobs, as the group’s biggest achievement, along with ridding the authority of “unproductive management”.
“We no longer have corporate directors earning astronomical salaries. We have done away with that layer of management which is not needed,” Coun McEvoy said.
Plaid Cymru polled poorly at last year’s Assembly elections, but Coun McEvoy insists the Cardiff group is a “different beast”.
The group has a record 70 candidates standing for the May 3 poll and is in particular targeting to win Fairwater, Riverside, Creigiau, Ely, Grangetown, Butetown, Llanrumney and Canton.
Coun McEvoy said the group could lose all its seats or potentially double its numbers, however he would not be drawn on which parties he would go into a coalition with – although he has said the Tories “probably shouldn’t pick up the phone”.
“In Ely we’ve got brilliant, brilliant candidates who are very well known in the community,” he said. “More than anything else they get things done in their community – they are the community leaders without question.
“The Labour councillors there have ceded leadership to our community activists – we don’t see ourselves as politicians, we see ourselves as community activists.”