An independent candidate who finished ahead of Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives at the Senedd Election has thanked residents for their support.
Blackwood councillor Kevin Etheridge, who leads the independent group at Caerphilly County Borough Council, stood as an independent candidate in Islwyn.
He won 4,723 votes – 19% of all votes cast – behind only Labour’s Rhianon Passmore, who was re-elected with 9,962 votes.
No independent candidate in Wales received a higher number of votes than Cllr Etheridge, who was standing in his second Senedd Election.
In 2007, he finished second in Islwyn behind Labour’s Irene James, with 28.3% of the votes cast.
Six years earlier, he finished second in Islwyn at the 2001 General Election, where he stood as a Liberal Democrat.
He has been involved with local politics for around 40 years.
Without the backing of a political party, Cllr Etheridge funded his own campaign and was his own election agent.
Together with a small team of supporters, he hand delivered 16,000 leaflets throughout the constituency over the course of the campaign.
Cllr Etheridge said: “We have not stopped through this campaign and I was pleased with 4,723 votes, having campaigned for the Islwyn/Bedwellty Communities for the last 40 years.
“My first count was in the Plaza Hall, watching Neil Kinnock’s votes being weighed when I was only 16. I remember asking my headmaster, who was a JP, to sign my declaration form so I could attend.”
He added: “My mentor was a chap named Angus Donaldson, who once stood against Michael Foot (former Labour leader and MP for Ebbw Vale) and owned the Castle Pub in Tredegar, before moving to Bedwas and becoming the county councillor. A true inspiration to me.”
Meanwhile, Blackwood town councillor Rhys Mills, who stood for Plaid Cymru in Islwyn, congratulated Ms Passmore on her victory and said: “Democracy matters, it has given me the opportunity to help people in ways I could have never imagined.
“I would like to thank the people who voted for me. It really is a humbling experience. This was a deeply personal campaign for me. I kept a promise I made to my friend.
“My thanks to all the candidates, most of whom fought a fair and positive campaign.”
Cllr Mills added: “I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Plaid Cymru members and members of the public who came out to help me campaign.
“My thanks to the staff at Caerphilly County Borough Council for their hard work running an election in such difficult circumstances. To the people of Islwyn, I’m sorry that I couldn’t come and speak to you all as planned. I hope I will be able to do so in future.
“This community matters to me, I’ll never stop standing up for it and holding those in power to account.”
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Islwyn Senedd Election results
Rhianon Passmore (Welsh Labour): 9,962
Kevin Etheridge (Independent): 4,723
Rhys Mills (Plaid Cymru): 3,930
Gavin Chambers (Welsh Conservatives): 3,894
Michael Ford (Abolish the Welsh Assembly): 568
Neil Hamilton (UKIP): 507
Oliver Townsend (Welsh Liberal Democrats): 476
James Wells (Reform UK): 421
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