Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Plaid Conference: Will the party raise its game?

Plaid - Ymlaen | Forward Plaid Cymru kick off the conference season  at the end of the week with a visit to Aberystwyth. The task they have, is to set out a distinct stall before the Assembly elections next May. Now this is easier said than done for a party that is a junior party in a coalition government. How do you project a unique selling brand in such circumstances? 
To add to their problems they have  to come up with exciting new policy initiatives at a time when the piggy bank is empty. The electorate will rightly be suspicious of any party that tries to sell a Rolls Royce of a policy when there is not enough cash to fuel a mini.
So what are they to do?
Cuts are the new reality. Despite many economists disagreeing with the Westminster government about the size and the speed of such cuts, George Osborne and his team are determined to have their way. So all the devolved governments have to accept this reality and act accordingly.
All political parties have to come up with creditable policies that reflect this new reality. The task for Plaid Cymru is to come up with managing the cuts in a way that shows a coherence that has been hitherto absent from Welsh government. 
In times of plenty, a government can get away with distributing money to Ministers and letting them within their various department decide on how they will spend it. 
This approach just won’t do when the budget is likely to be cut by £3 billion over the next three years. To salami slice the cuts department by department will not do, managing the budget whatever its size will have to be done strategically - a Wales plc approach is the only way forward. 
A Wales plc approach should suit a nationalist party, for surely its focus has always been on policies for Wales. Its challenge now is to show that it has a coherence in its approach; that joined up thinking is more than a slogan but a reality. 
Heading down such a road would demonstrate a maturity that has been all to absent in our political culture and embarking on such a journey might convince the electorate that as a party it has come of age. It might then be taken seriously. 
More of the same will not do for Plaid Cymru. It has been treading water  for the last few elections. 
In the general election it did not succeed in winning any addition seats. It failed to win any of its target seats. 
Although the last Assembly elections saw them in government, this was more to do with the shambolic approach of the Liberal Democrats to coalition building that it was to the success of Plaid Cymru in the election.
The uncomfortable fact the party has to face is, that to make any real headway they have to take on and win seats from their coalition partners - Labour.  
The contest will be won or lost by the party that demonstrates the greater coherence in how it handles a declining budget. 
If truth be told, neither of these two parties have  any experience of handling a shrinking budget. The last time there were major cuts in public expenditure there was no Assembly.The cuts were pushed through by successive Conservative Secretary of States aided and abetted  by Welsh Office civil servants
No, since devolution, the various Labour led administrations in the Bay have had to deal with years of plenty. They have had no experience of administrating cuts. Which puts them in the same boat as Plaid Cymru.
The electorate may decide to cast their vote for the party that  shows the most creative approach to handling the years of scarcity that are ahead. 
Will Plaid Cymru raise it’s game and convince? Will they have the guts to use this conference to tell voters how it is? Voters might well respond to a coherent approach even if it involves hardships in some areas when that axe inevitably falls. 

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