Friday, 16 December 2011

Plaid Cymru"s leadership battle

They're all now in the paddock ready for the off in January. No, not the horses for Welsh Grand National but the candidates in the race to take over from Ieuan Wyn Jones as leader of Plaid Cymru. 
Four candidates have now declared themselves in the race. The first to indicate he was standing was Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Who was leader of the party when an MP and until May’s election was the Presiding Officer of National Assembly. He know chairs the influential Environmental and Sustainability committee of the Assembly.
Dafydd Elis-Thomas argues that Plaid needs to strategically position itself clearly as a left-of-centre alternative to Labour and is confident this would lead to electoral gain. He said: “In my view there is nowhere else to live comfortably within Welsh politics.” 
On the vex question of independence, he maintains “Constitutional independence is a mirage. It’s virtual politics, it’s not real politics. The important thing for Wales is to make itself economically, environmentally and politically sustainable. 
He goes on to say “I was happy to talk about self government and self determination but independence is something I found ethically incompatitable I am a Welsh European first and foremost.”
Elin Jones declared her candidature in September and has being campaigning hard since then.  Describing her political philosophy, she says “Had I lived in any other country in the world, I would still have been a republican and a socialist. But as a Welsh citizen, then I am also a Welsh nationalist.”
On independence she sees “a new chapter is opening for Plaid Cymru. Our task is to strengthen our country’s autonomy and economy, and to make the case to the people of Wales that our nation is better served by independence than dependence.” 
Simon Thomas  takes a more pragmatic line on independence “I support independence as the constitutional aim for Plaid Cymru and our nation. But independence in not the answer to today’s immediate problems and focusing on arguing about it only encourages the voters to assume we are not addressing their daily difficulties.
“But Plaid doesn’t just exist for the sake of Wales’ constitutional future. We exist to fight for and deliver fairness in social and economic policy. I believe in a mixed economy - I think Plaid Cymru should be concerned that the private sector is not as strong or successful as it could be. But Plaid Cymru should never be laissez faire about the impact of global capital on our communities. Regulating business for environmental and social benefit is a core value of the party I want to lead. The prize for Plaid is to marry our national ambition with a proper concern for the long term future of our planet. We live in a comparably well off society. “
Leanne Wood who’s candidature was announced yesterday,describes her personal philosophy been honed in the Rhondda Valley which instilled in her “my love of Wales, my socialism and my republicanism.”
She is the only one of the candidates who is not a Welsh-speaker but is very much seen as the candidate of the left. She feels Plaid should push a lot harder for independence “securing independence for Wales is so vital. I am not talking of independence for the sake of independence; I want independence so we can protect and build on those things that are valuable to us all. We campaign for “real independence” in Raymond Williams’ words – independence of thought, as well as constitutional freedom: independence to enable us to develop economic equality; to free us to argue for peace in the world instead of war; to allow us to build on our internationalist traditions by contributing to world affairs while ensuring a vibrant future for our unique language and culture.”
So there we have it, the four likely candidates. Who ever gets the prize will have an up hill struggle to win back the ground tthe party has lost in recent elections. 
They are now the third party in the Assembly behind the Conservatives. Politically, Plaid Cymru has chosen to describe and position itself as a left of centre party. In so doing it has allowed the Conservatives to make inroads into the non-Labour vote and in a good year  Labour mops up the left vote.  Plaid Cymru tend to do well only when Labour governs in Westminster then and only then do Plaid collect the floating protest vote of the left. 
If the Party decided to pitch for the central social democratic vote it might have a chance to capture the non-Labour vote. It could then gain some of the ground that has been so successfully cultivated by Welsh Conservatives  and also some of those disaffected Liberal Democrat voters.
Looking at the four candidates, three of them do not have any ambitions to move the party to a new political terrain, they are quite happy to continue to fight the same turf war with Labour for the “left” vote. It is only Simon Thomas the declares a more social democratic aspiration and could creditably move the party to the centre ground.
Independence will undoubtedly move central stage in politics in the next few years. Not because of Plaid Cymru, but because of the promised referendum on the issue in Scotland. David Cameron promises to fight for the Union. It will be a ding dong battle about the very nature of the United Kingdom and the relationship between its countries. Plaid Cymru will need to be ready for the debate and have a clear position.  Dafydd Elis-Thomas and to a lesser extent Simon Thomas’s views are more ambiguous on the issue than the two other candidates. 
So who will emerge the victor? Internal party elections are always difficult to predict, after all who would have thought that the younger Milliband brother would have succeeded. 

At the moment Elin Jones would seem to be the favourite, she has done all the running and has certainly increased her profile of late. But as they say, a week is a long time in politics and a campaign is even longer. And as is well know a front runner can often become a cropper.


  1. Why do you recommend that Plaid go 'centre right' and appeal to Tories and LibDems? Hasn't that been Labour's project and, some would argue, still is? We need to strengthen the left in Wales, not weaken it and currently Plaid is under real pressure from their nationalist right to follow the SNP in their (successful and therefore attractive) populist project. Salmond is no friend of the left. Shifting Plaid to the right may suit Labour in Wales, but it is a big 'may' and the people of Wales will be best served by the development of a clear left alternative economic and social strategy, which, to her credit, Leanne Wood had begun to explore. We need Labour to embrace that approach rather than recommend they drift towards the neo-liberal little-Englander nationalist mire

  2. As a general comment Plaid need to get real about onshore wind, it isn't wanted. Carwyn Jones thinks the problem is solved by pushing onshore turbines into thinly populated areas where a substantial proportion support Plaid not Labour. Wales already produces more electricity than it consumes. This is a card / policy begging to be played by someone in Plaid.

    Elin Jones was awful on Question Time and frequently waffles and fudges. Surely D E-T's time is long past. Leanne Wood hasn't really graduated from student politics. The field is open to Simon Thomas if he can make a constructive case.

  3. To wrestle away that loyal Labour vote is difficult and only happens when Labour are an unpopular Westminster government. I don't think that Plaid Cymru will increase it's vote if it tries to "out left" Labour. Much as many might hope. So where does that leave them if they want to make a come back?

  4. Salmond is Scotland's Blair - any tack that increases his vote. However, the overall drift is pretty much left.

    Plaid have been a charisma free party since Wigley bowed out. None of the contenders except perhaps, Simon Thomas, look to have that essential charm. There are LD votes looking for a home.

  5. Your 'Left-right' charecrarisation of Welsh politics is rather laxy. If you read Leanne's excellent manifesto, she doesn't mention left wing dogma, the working classes or any of the other 'leftie' badges of honour. She speaks of communities, and empowering them to fight their own way out of poverty through new, imaginative initiatives - and she has been active all her political life in making these possible. She is by far the most politically and intellectually coherent of the 3 excellent candidates, (I do not include DET as her doers not believe in independence) and also the most telegenic and energetic. She also has a huge facebook and twitter following, who have been persuading her to stand. People are joining the party to vote for her (me for instance, who had lapsed) Put your money on leanne, Gareth, should get good odds if you are quick to the bookie.

  6. Plaid hasn't "chosen" to position itself in any particular way on the left-right spectrum; they adopted community socialism and later decentralist socialism in the 1970s. It isn't hard to be "to the left" of Labour, even in the guise of Welsh Labour. It's the natural territory where Plaid has always been for so long as it has been a significant part of the political scene.

    Plaid has had more success than any of the other parties in relation to advancing towards their aims. Labour for example had over a decade of power and it's difficult to see how much of their core mission- democratic socialism, ostensibly- was delivered. In fact the UK went in the opposite direction (to the right) under Labour.

    Plaid needs to build on this success in the coming years but the SNP comparisons are not that relevant to Wales.

    As for Celyn's comment it beggars belief.

    "currently Plaid is under real pressure from their nationalist right to follow the SNP " What? Who is the nationalist right? Dafydd-El? He certainly doesn't want to be like the SNP. The left of Plaid generally pushes SNP-style independence, not the "right" (whoever they may be).

    "Salmond is no friend of the left."
    On what planet? Ask Leanne Wood if she agrees with that comment! Salmond's SNP are to the left of Scottish Labour.

    This is the problem with transplanting Scottish or even British models into Wales. Let's have a genuinely Welsh nationalist, left-focussed project, recognising the need to take on and eventually replace Labour.

  7. sick of the cliches16 December 2011 at 17:38

    whatever position Plaid's new leader adopts it should be one that doesn't include targeting Labour voters who rarely if ever vote for another party. There are enough non Labour votes in every constituency to build support and win, will Plaid learn from this?

    If they take anything from the SNP's success it would be that its largely down to pragmatism not ideological headbanging, i'm not sure welsh politicians and voters are mature enough for this step judging by the 1980's revival in reactions to the Tory/Lib Dems government since it was elected.

  8. One question, Gareth. Why does everyone report that Leanne Wood is "not Welsh speaking"? I don't think I've ever spoken anything but Welsh to her. She may not be a first language Welsh speaker, or from a traditional Welsh speaking background; she probably wouldn't choose to make too many speeches in Welsh (but then, neither do the supposedly Welsh speaking Plaid AMs, if Assembly statistics are to be believed), but Welsh-speaking she most definitely is!

  9. Leanne herself says". I am learning Welsh and I am proud that my six year old daughter attends the local Welsh medium school." which is to be admired. And not having a natural Welsh speaker might be good for Plaid as it is often regarded by voters as only a party for Welsh speakers. If Leanne was leader at least that myth would go

  10. Their -surely they are at the start of your piece
    Dafydd El is too quirky and has little support,although a character would be good
    Elin Jones really talented but not good as a front person Simon Thomas nice guy, good with media, not sure about his robustness Leanne grown this year sharp and principled.
    If its one man one vote then it will be the North who will decide so lets hope they are not too biased against the talent that is the south

  11. Totally amazed too see how many comments you have received on this matter. A matter of little importance given the magnitude of the other horrors going on at the moment. And yet a matter that everyone seems to want to discuss.

    Who cares who is the new leader of Plaid, all have shown themselves, in one way or another, to be relatively incapable. Why does anyone assume things will improve when the leadership changes?

    And what's all this rubbish about the language again? Why does everyone have to be press-ganged into saying how wonderfully liberating it feels to speak Welsh? It just ain't true. It's pandering to the lowest common denominator, and that means it'll get us nowhere! Just like our new Welsh education system, how fantastic has this been shown to be!

    Why don't people start to talk about what needs fixing rather than who we want to see standing in the repair shop window!

  12. "If the Party decided to pitch for the central social democratic vote it might have a chance to capture the non-Labour vote"

    What does this actually mean? Who is the 'central social democratic vote'? Does any voter actually define themselves that way?

    If Non-Labour vote means Tories and Lib Dems, how many of them believe they are 'central social democratic'?

    These factors aren't really what motivates the Plaid vote or any party's vote really.

  13. The analysis from celyn isn't good. Salmond is the most influential left-of-centre politician in the UK. When the SSP collapsed in 2007 the Scottish left went en masse to Salmod rather than Labour. Celyn needs to avoid a Brit Left perspective, it's meant to be a Welsh left version of the SLR originally! The SLR now supports independence from the left. Labour is a dead end. If and when Ed Miliband gets in it will be Blair mark 2 with the trade unions kidding themselves that they're getting a good deal.

  14. Leanne Woode has learned Welsh. WIll you please stop describing her as someone who doesn't speak Welsh.