Friday, 16 March 2012

Plaid's new leader

It’s the real deal. Leanne Wood is a lefty through and through. A republican that got thrown out of the Assembly for calling the Queen “Mrs Windsor.” She’s protested against Trident and been arrested, she’s been seen on many a picket line and has shared platforms outside her party with many a far left organisation. And of course she firmly believes in an independent Wales. Strong and genuine credentials to lead a left wing nationalist party. 
In electing this left wing young republican  Plaid Cymru has made a statement “forget the central ground of Welsh politics we’re firmly staking our claim as a party of the left.”
Her election isn’t an emotional spasm or the romanticism of the large young following that has being the bedrock of her leadership campaign. It is the settled view of the way Plaid Cymru sees itself. 
The election of Leanne Wood is not one of an isolated left winger somehow bucking the trend within the party, but more an election of “one of us” to lead. 

For in the last few years we have seen the election of the following from the left of the party, Jill Evans, MEP as President of the party and Helen Mary Jones the former Assembly Member  as Chair of the party. The top positions in the party are firmly in the grip of the left. 
And who can deny that is exactly what the rank and file of Plaid members want. In recent years the party conferences have consistently voted anti nuclear power generation, they have a pro green agenda and again and again have declare for independence, despite the best efforts of Dafydd Elis-Thomas.  

All these are Leanne Wood’s agenda writ large. There is little doubt the party is positioning itself to challenge Labour from the left. 
It’s a brave and massive gamble for the party to take. But one that it’s prepared to take seemingly with it’s eyes very much wide open.
For the strategy  to work it has to persuade Labour voters to jump ship and to do so in droves. Indeed it has to win the valleys for Plaid,  a  mammoth task and one that has been beyond them to date. This strategy also carries with it the danger of alienating the more conservative Plaid voter in rural north and West Wales. 
What will the other parties make of this extraordinary development? 
Initially Labour will be pleased with the result. Leanne Wood’s election will rule out the prospect of a rainbow coalition. Indeed she was one of four refuseniks AMs when this was live following the 2007 election. 

The only coalition game Plaid will now play, is with Labour. And if such a marriage is ever contemplated it is unlikely to be consummated this side of the next Assembly elections. 
The chances of the opposition parties under a lefty Leanne Wood and a rightist Andrew RT Davies getting their ducks in a row to mount a creditable challenge to Carwyn Jones’s government is highly unlikely. So our First Minister will be quietly pleased with the outcome of Plaid’s leadership  contest in the short term. 
But what of the longer term. 

The prospect of Plaid Cymru placing their tanks on Labour’s lawn may not cause Carwyn  Jones much loss of sleep even over a longer time period. 

The valleys are not the hot bed of radicalism that many a left wing romantic would like to hope, think and make out. No, the typical valley voter is  quite conservative, with a small ‘c’ of course. And a Stanley Baldwin type figure like Carwyn Jones suits them just fine. 
Ms Wood may attract some new idealistic young recruits to the ranks of her party, her enthusiasm and relative youth should do that.  And as her campaign showed, she can energise her own party.  

Getting the voter to desert Labour for a more radical party of the left... others have tried and failed. Looking into the entrails of history the omens are not very promising. 
The Tories are full of glee at the result. They’ve most to gain from the lurch to the left.  The party has, over the last few years, being quietly turning itself into the “Welsh” Conservative party. 
Prominent members of the party like Glyn Davies, David Melding, Jonathan Morgan, Guto Bebb, Paul Davies and former leader Nick Bourne have being pushing for more devolution, more sympathy for the language. 

Forget their initial opposition to devolution, they have the zeal of the newly converted. These right wing welshy Tories aim to hoover up the Plaid Cymru vote. 
There are many voters with a sympathy for all things Welsh. These in the past have looked to Plaid to represent their interests. Could they now  be seduced by this newly invented Conservative party with its strong “welsh” agenda?
The gradual but steady growth in the Conservative vote in Assembly elections is testimony indeed that their strategy is working. It is not mere chance that this most pragmatic of parties has overtaken Plaid to become the Official Opposition in the Assembly
All in all, Leanne Wood has a daunting task to lead a left wing crusade in a country that for some few years now has  talked radicalism but has hardly embraced it.   The backdrop to yesterday’s count was a dragon climbing a very steep hill, how very prescient of the party to display such a motif. 

But  yesterday's result has made Welsh politics suddenly very  interesting.


  1. Good post - but is there any significance in the banana skin in the picture?

  2. I just hope she'll manage to get Wylva B stopped up here in Anglesey. Worth her weight in gold if she remains true to her word on nuclear power!

    Come on Leanne.

  3. Picture taken before result was known.

  4. As a Plaid member i accept that Leanne has a mandate from the Party for change. However i feel the policies she will espouse, such as legalisation of all drugs, her greenprint for the valleys document which is an economic policy document with no figures and her admiration of all things cuban will not go down well with the electorate.
    Her comments on Wylfa B have already probably cost us Anglesey and i fear there is worse to follow.

    1. Plaid is fully democratic - its policies are decided by the membership, not the leader, though of course you would expect the leader, especially one as persuasive as leanne is, to have an influence on that.

    2. Anonymous:
      Unlike one of the other contenders, Leanne has been very clear that she will not make up policy on the hoof, she will follow party policy. If you're a member you, of course, have an input into that.

    3. Do people really vote in Welsh elections on the basis of opinions about Cuba? If that was the case Paul Flynn would never get re-elected (presuming support for Cuban things is unpopular- something I genuinely have no idea about) and neither would Elfyn or Edwina Hart or whoever else expresses solidarity or sympathy with Cuba!

      Wylfa B is more likely to be an election issue but I would imagine the Plaid policy will stand which will see the usual compromise being made. I wouldn't anticipate drugs policy being put in the party's ongoing programme, but the Greenprint ideas are more likely to be promoted as part of a wider package. I think there is likely to be a difference between the party's political programme and the personal views that Leanne follows on a range of subjects. If Plaid has learnt anything of late it is to stick to a set of battles that are worth fighting and I thought that came through from Leanne's speeches too as she would be more relaxed about attending royal events etc as party leader.

  5. "This strategy also carries with it the danger of alienating the more conservative Plaid voter in rural north and West Wales."

    This is a narative the unionist parties will use, but is there any evidence to show that Plaid voters in rural north and West Wales are conservative? I think that is just a stereotype. Plaid politics have always been that of radical, community based ideas.

    Of course there are some cultural and small 'c' conservative Plaid voters, but Leanne's stance on independence and the Welsh language have managed to entice many such members to vote for her over EJ and DET. And with large post industrial communities amongst those 'rural' areas of the west and north Wales, I believe that for every vote lost(which won't be many, if at all), there will be a lot of votes to gain.

    Iwan Rhys

    1. I agree - the word is that her vote came from across Wales, and across generations. Far too much is being made of this split between conservative West and radical East. Both traditions are informed by the non-conformist ideals of equality, community values, and fairness. That is what Leanne stands for, and that is why she won.

      My hope for the future is not only will Leanne persuade voters to desert Labour for Plaid (and the inert, laissez faire Labour government, run from London is helping no end with their complacency), but I believe she will inspire a large number of people who currently don't vote (because they fell alienated by politicians) that something CAN be done, and they can help by voting PLAID.

    2. My impression and vague reading of history is that the political philosophy in the "heartlands" liberal rather than conservative, and you can see that throughout Plaid's history and also the electoral history of those areas. Those kind of areas also place a high value on specific candidates so it would be more important to them that Elin Jones was their candidate than who the party leader was. But with that said there isn't really a huge clash between Leanne Wood's political offer/Plaid Cymru policy and the old liberal Welsh tradition in those areas.

  6. Anon 02.43

    "Her comments on Wylfa B have already probably cost us Anglesey..."

    Are you seriously suggesting that Plaid support building a new nuclear reactor, with all the concomitant problems and dangers, not to mention the unaddressed existing problem of waste, in order to save a seat in the Assembly?

    Should the people of Wales and our dearly held principles be for sale just to get elected? That's pathetic.

    I suspect that many people on the island don't want another facility there anyway. I certainly wouldn't want it in my vicinity. It would be generating electricity for the conurbations of the north of England, nor for Wales. If the London government foist it on Wales, then Plaid will urge that local people are employed on the project. Most of the skilled workers will be imported.

    I fully support Plaid's non-nuclear stance. I fail to understand how it could have an energy spokesperson who directly contradicted and undermined the policy. That is no way to win elections.