Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Leanne's leap of faith

Plaid Cymru’s hope is to leap frog the Conservatives and Labour and become Wales’s largest political party after the 2016 Assembly elections. That’s the ambition of Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. 

In making the declaration she said that she was going to give up on her relatively safe regional list seat in South Wales Central and seek her political fortune in a constituency. 

Although she’s being a bit coy at the moment as to where precisely she’s going to throw her hat in ring. 

Ms Wood's  ambitious to become Plaid Cymru’s First Minister and take her party into Government. She’s targeted the fifth Assembly term to do just that. 

In order to head a Welsh Government she's got to become the largest party. This means winning a majority of the 40 Assembly constituencies.  As she put it “In Wales it’s two thirds. That’s how many of the constituency seats we have to win if we are to achieve our aim of becoming the major party of Wales.......I believe I can win.”  

Brave action or foolhardy in standing for a constituency? Well, as party leader she’ll have the pick of the seats. 

The turnover of safe seats and retirements in Plaid Cymru is extremely limited. They currently hold five seats. Three of these in the party’s Welsh speaking strongholds of North West Wales one in mid Wales leaving only one in South West Wales.

But by her own logic she really has to fight a seat that currently is held by another party. That makes her task difficult. 

There is only one seat that can be described as marginal and that’s Llanelli. They’re only 80 votes behind Labour and with a swing to Plaid it could be theirs. It’s one of those seats that has swung between Labour and Plaid in the various Assembly elections. But that seat is very much associated with Helen Mary Jones who has worked the seat over the years and she surely has an emotional attachment to the area. Would she willingly step aside for her leader? Unlikely?

Plaid Cymru’s best ever results were in 1999 under the leadership of Dafydd Wigley when they had 17 Assembly Members. Their success that year was more to do with Labour than Plaid.

Labour entered the election in the first Assembly elections having had two bruising leadership contests. The first was Ron Davies against Rhodri Morgan. Then following, Ron Davies’s resignation after his stroll on Clapham Common, Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan.  

Voters don’t tend to vote for parties that are riven with internal strife. Labour gave the impression they were split from head to toe. The valley’s turned against them. Plaid benefited. 

Labour lost Rhondda and Islwyn. It was seen as a political earthquake. Many at the time thought the mould in Welsh politics had being broken. Labour’s hegemony in the valleys was over.  Not so. The seats reverted back to Labour at the next election. But could be the seats that the Plaid leader might feel she's got the best chance of winning back for Plaid. Although it's noticeable that she's recently moved her regional office to Pontypridd.

But the question is will Plaid do better in 2016 than they did under Wigley in 1999? Hmmm, it's a big ask.

It is unlikely that Labour will be in a similar place in 2016. They have a settled leader in Carwyn Jones. If they have a fair wind behind them they just might be back in government in Westminster.  But not long enough to alienate the traditional Welsh Labour voter.  

Even in the dark day’s of 2007 when Tony Blair’s government was unpopular  and Labour’s vote dropped to 32.2 they still got 28 seats to Plaid Cymru’s 15.

By setting herself and her party an unrealistic target for 2016 she is neither doing herself or her party any favours. She’s setting the bar to high. If Plaid fall short of the self imposed target of being the largest party, it and she will be branded failures.

She’s a young enough leader to contemplate a longer term strategy for her party. She’s throwing her and her parties future on a wild gamble. She’s not in the last chance saloon but she’s behaving as if she is. 

And what about her seat on the list? Could that be where Adam Price could make his comeback to active politics? And dare it be suggested, a potential leader should the position be vacant.


  1. "The turnover of safe seats and retirements in Plaid Cymru is extremely limited. They currently hold four seats. Three of these in the party’s Welsh speaking strongholds of North West Wales leaving only one in South West Wales."

    Rather off the mark here Gareth. PC hold five constituency seats, all of which could be described as Welsh-speaking. Ynys Mon, Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthen Esat and Dinefwr.

  2. Absolutely right how could I have forgotten Ceredigion. Elin Jones will never forgive me. I'll change copy immediately.

  3. Chances are there will be a list seat in SWW that might be up for grabs. Closer to Mr Price's home territory. Otherwise might smack of parachuting.

  4. Gareth- I'd be interested to see what AMs you think will retire come the next election?.
    IWJ, Alun Ffred, Daf El, Rhodri Glyn?? d'you think they'll all remain or will some of them leave?

  5. IWJ probably, Rhodri Glyn possibly, Dafydd El has said he's not Alun Ffred no indication

  6. would be very suprised if Elin Jones carries on. She's been spending a lot of time talking about her dream Aberystywth cafe over the last 18 months.