Never a dull moment for Kevin
8:00am Thursday 30th August 2012 in News
IT’S a sweltering August morning in Ammanford and Kevin Madge, leader of Carmarthenshire county council, is on annual leave.
Not that you’d ever know it.
During an hour at Ammanford Town Hall, he fields half a dozen calls and ignores several others.
When we meet he is mildly fretting about Cwmaman Carnival taking place at Penybont Park the following day.
“The first year was fantastic,”
he says. “The second was a washout and we’ve had to reschedule this year. This morning there was a problem with the tent.”
Welcome to the frenetic world of Kevin Madge , who in May finally reached the top of the greasy pole of local politics when he was elected leader.
It was the culmination of an unlikely 33-year journey by someone who failed his 11-plus and left school with no qualifications.
“Anyone coming into politics should remember that the goal is there and you must put the ball in the back of the net,” he says. “Yes, I’ve had knockbacks along the way, but in the end I stuck the ball in the net.”
When Kevin, 55, talks fondly of his childhood he conjures up a vanished world of working pits, cheery miners and trains steaming down the Amman Valley.
He is less nostalgic for the 1960s environment, however.
“Dusty, very dusty,” he chuckles.
“There was a lot of coal dust.” How Green Is My Valley is one of his favourite films.
Generations of his family attended Glanaman Primary and Kevin still finds the sight of the now-derelict building upsetting.
“I think it was the right decision to close Glanaman, along with Garnant and Twyn,”
he says, “but it was one of the toughest I’ve ever made.
“Now we have Ysgol y Bedol which has brought the community together and received an excellent Estyn report. Children there have improved year on year.”
Penybont Park launched Kevin’s political odyssey.
“There was nothing for the kids there, so I joined Cwmaman towncouncil onMay 23, 1979 – 19 days after Margaret Thatcher (of whom more later) became Prime Minister.”
Kevin’s roots are firmly embedded in Glanaman, although he lives in nearby Garnant. Generations of his family attended the primary school and both his grandfathers were miners who served in the First World War. Because of this, Kevin is chairman of Garnant British Legion.
It was while working for C I Fasteners that his leadership qualities emerged. “I founded their sports and social club when I was 18,” he recounts, “and, as chairman, made my first public speech in the Castle, Llandovery - after downing five whiskies!
“Recently I had to address 200 county councillors from all over Wales down at Parc y Scarlets with Assembly Minister, Carl Sargeant, alongside. For the first time in years I had butterflies - this time I made do with an orange juice!”
In 1981 Kevin met his future wife, Catrin, now the sister-incharge at Amman Valley Hospital, at Swansea’s Top Rank. “Andrea, her best friend, met her future husband there on the same night,” he says.
Laughing, Kevin remembers their first date at the Square and Compass. “I do dabble a little bit in politics,” he told her. The couple have now been married 29 years and have two children, Bethan and Matthew.
“Catrin’s been with me through thick and thin,” he says. “Nursing is her life - she’s an angel and I’m so proud of her.”
Kevin freely admits that the Thatcher years, which saw the closing of the mines and a generation thrown out of work, have scarred him. He served on picket lines and helped provide food for mining families.
“I feel the same about the Tories as I did then,” he says. “I worry about what they’re doing to the welfare state and changes to the benefits system and council tax.
“My biggest concern is more children living in poverty.”
In 1987 Kevin joined Dinefwr borough council and rose through the Labour ranks, despite a bizarre incident at Ammanford Town Hall.
“There was a Labour group meeting and, knowing I kept chickens, one of my colleagues had brought me a cockerel in a box,” he relates. “I forgot all about it and went home. While I was having supper I almost choked when I remembered the damn cockerel.
“When I got to the hall the next morning, the police were there - the bloody cockerel had got loose, run round and set off the alarm. How the Guardian didn’t get wind of that I’ll never know!”
Kevin gained an invaluable insight into life on the bigger political stage as agent for Carmarthen MP Dr Alan Williams, sharing both his euphoria at the Labour landslide of 1997 and despair at losing his Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr seat to Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price in 2001.
In 2007 he was selected as Labour’s AM candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr just before his father’s death.
Kevin didn’t know that his father, who had suffered a fatal brain haemorrage, was in the back of an ambulance that flew past him in Ammanford’s Wind Street.
“He was very proud of me,” he says. “At least he sawme selected as an Assembly candidate.”
The disappointment of failing to unseat Plaid’s Rhodri Glyn Thomas was followed a year later by Labour’s trouncing at the local elections. Last May, Kevin had the satisfaction of seeing a Labour fightback, but he admits the future is uncertain.
“We have to save £20m over the next three years – and that’s only the cuts we know about,”
he says. “We also can’t predict how all these changes to the benefit system will pan out. I will do my utmost to work with the resources we have.”
Away from politics, Kevin is a keen gardener, but the former football referee admits he doesn’t exercise as much as he should.
“I have a few sleepless nights because I never really know what’s round the corner,” he says. “I’m not complaining, but this job really is 24/7.”
And Kevin Madge’s mobile trills again...
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