No rush to fill Ieuan's shoes

I wasn't particularly pleased with Ieuan Wyn Jones' announcement that he would step down as Plaid leader sometime in the next two or three years, though it was obviously better than saying he would step down immediately. I don't think anyone inside or outside the party expected him to be leader at the time of the next scheduled elections to either Westminster in 2015 or the Senedd in 2016, so what on earth possessed him to say what he did now?

There is of course a precedent for announcing that you are going to stand down not now, but in a few years' time. Rhodri Morgan announced that he would step down as leader of the Labour group in the Assembly a full four years before he actually went. But one factor that enabled him to do this was the discipline within the Labour party. He knew that the contenders for the leadership would not make any public moves until he was ready to go.

I've no doubt that Ieuan was trying to do the same thing: he hoped that by confirming that he would step down in two or three years, he would carve out time and space for Plaid to properly consider both our own direction as a party, and time and space for a greater range of potential leaders to prove themselves, particularly our newly elected AMs.

But sadly not all our AMs have the same discipline as was shown by the Labour party.

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In an interview last December, Dafydd Elis Thomas said that he would like to "do a lot of damage" if he was no longer Llywydd after the elction in May. He appears to have started already, with his first target being Plaid Cymru.

He obviously wants to be leader of the party, and I suppose there is a slim chance that he could be leader ... but only if he is able to "bounce" the party into an election contest in the next few weeks or months. Yet what sort of leader could he be? The best he could hope to be is a caretaker, in the same way as Menzies Campbell became temporary leader of the LibDems when Charlie Kennedy had to admit his drink problem.

I've no doubt that Dafydd El's ego thinks he has enough stature to hold the job for a year or two, but does he have any idea where the party is going? Over the past years I have come to regard him as at best a semi-detached member of Plaid; someone who does not seem to have taken any interest in the policies of the party, preferring the status first of the House of Lords and then of Llywydd. It was a standing joke that he saw himself as the first President of Wales rather than the first Presiding Officer of the Assembly. And he certainly seemed quite at home mixing with what we might call "the establishment" ... though we were more than happy to let him. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

I very much doubt that anyone can make the transition back to an active or meaningful political role after having been in a non-party political role for the last twelve years. It would be equivalent to a Speaker of the Commons thinking they could return to the back benches. Retired or ousted Speakers all went to the Lords, and I think semi-retirement in the House of Lords might be the best place left for him.

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I think we in Plaid are faced with two choices of action. The first is to spend the next two years or so to regroup and set out a road map of how Wales is going to gain more autonomy and become independent. The second is to think that being in power now matters more than Wales' long term future.

Dafydd El is holding out a carrot, hinting that Plaid can be back in government with the Labour party by the end of the year. Is that really the scope of our ambition for Wales? We went into One Wales in 2007 primarily because of one thing: the referendum on lawmaking powers for the Assembly, which could only have happened with the support of Labour because it required two-thirds of AMs to approve it. We negotiated other good things into the agreement too, and got the experience of being in government for the first time ever, but in my opinion those things were secondary. As I said in this post last week, the only basis on which we should consider doing another deal with Labour is if it results in more areas of responsibility being devolved to Wales.

Being in government with Labour is completely meaningless unless it is accompanied by a firm programme of further devolution to Wales. Those are the carrots that matter, and only a moron would think one or two ministerial posts could be a substitute for them.

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What I fear is a stitch up by elements within Plaid that are more interested in getting power for themselves or their protégés than in the direction we need to take as a party. We should be a bottom-up, not a top-down party. If we want to be run by a small elite, we might as well give up and join Labour or the Tories. It's all too easy to present a quick change at the top as a cure for past failures, and it's all too easy for people at the top to think that doing a quick internal review will make Plaid more electable. Something much more radical is needed.

We need to involve the whole party in this, and involve people that could and would support Plaid if we were to adopt a more far-reaching set of ambitions for Wales. This means that the debate must spill out into the open rather than be something that can be handled behind closed doors. My advice is that we should not be afraid of that, even though it means that the next couple of years are not going to be easy for us.

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Everything depends on what we're trying to achieve. If we're looking to point fingers at people for either doing or not doing things, or indeed for their characters and personalities, then it would be better to do it in private. But I think we'd do a lot better if we took collective responsibility for not capturing the imagination of people in Wales, rather than simply pass responsibility to the next set of shoulders in the hope that they might have the magic missing ingredient. We're too concerned with personality and not concerned enough about policy. I've lost count of the number of people whose only answer to what we should now do as a party is either, "We should never have got rid of Dafydd Wigley" or "Adam Price will sort everything out" ... with the subtext that we're stuffed unless he can take us in hand and lead us forward.

In a way, we've been living with the legacy of the Curry House plot for the last few years, and those half-buried animosities and factions have coloured everything we've done. We have had a leader and deputy leader who have just about managed to reach an accommodation with each other after previously being at each others throats. It was as if two factions agreed to divide the spoils so each could come away with something.

I think a much better approach would be to consider the leader and deputy leader as a partnership from the outset rather than deputy leader being a consolation prize for an unhappy loser. I'd like to see two people acting together as a leadership team, each complementing the other, standing on what the Americans would call a joint ticket. It would be a good way of taking the focus off the personality of just one individual, and would force us to consider how well our leadership represents what the party as a whole stands for.

I think the pairings should, and indeed have to be, opposite in these three respects:

•  One should be from north or west Wales, the other from the south
•  One should be male, the other female
•  One should be bilingual, the other should not be a Welsh speaker

By doing this, we can very effectively deal with the natural differences of emphasis within the party. It's well known that our roots are in the Bro Gymraeg, and that identity, culture and language are the touchstones of our support there. But it's equally true that we will never win a majority in the Assembly unless we break through in the industrial heartlands in which Labour are at their strongest.

Obviously it will be up to the people concerned to discover who they think they can work with and what the personal chemistry might be, but here are a few combinations that might work well:

•  Elin Jones as leader, Lindsay Whittle as deputy
•  Llyr Huws Gruffydd as leader, Leanne Wood as deputy
•  Jocelyn Davies as leader, Alun Ffred Jones as deputy

It's perhaps worth noting that one opinion I have heard many times is that Jocelyn could be a very good leader, but she stands no chance because she doesn't speak Welsh and the membership won't tolerate it. But I think the symbolic significance of Plaid having a leader who doesn't speak Welsh will do more for our electability throughout Wales than anything else.

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I'm sure lots of people will wonder about Adam Price. I certainly think he could make a good leader, but the same factors apply to him as apply to other AMs who have not yet had any Assembly experience such as Llyr Huws Gruffydd, Simon Thomas and Lindsay Whittle. All have promise, but until we see how they perform in the spotlight of the National Assembly choosing any one of them would be a gamble. I'm sure that a good part of Dafydd El's eagerness for an early leadership election is to narrow the field in order for him to be more electable. But if we give ourselves a couple of years, we will be able to make a much more informed choice.

If we allow ourselves to be rushed into the position of making a decision in the next few months, we will have wasted the best opportunity we will get for years to make the huge step-change in attitude that will be needed if we want to move beyond making small improvements to what is still a very limited devolution settlement. What has happened in Scotland is game-changing, because it means that independence will be at the centre of political debate in the whole UK for the next few years. We will end up looking silly and irrelevant unless we can put independence for Wales at the heart of our agenda as something to be won in the next ten years or so, rather than as something for the dim and distant future.

We need to see which AMs in Plaid measure up to that challenge before we choose a new leader.

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28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post that understands how we move forward. There is a new generation coming through that has real talent and I'd be happy to push a Leanne-Llyr ticket.

Welshguy said...

Excellent stuff! Think the two-person team is a great idea, effectively deals with the lack of an obvious successor to IWJ. Of those pairings you suggest I would prefer the second two, but I must admit that it's mainly because I have grave misgivings about Elin Jones.

Another possible combination that fits your criteria, with some new names, might be Simon Thomas - Bethan Jenkins; although not sure if Bethan is leadership material she's certainly likeable enough.

I think re-electing Dafydd Elis Thomas would be a DISASTER for Plaid. I'm frankly amazed that he's even considering it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, not impressed with two-person team. It will look like another fudge. JOcelyn's problem isn't that she doesn't speak Welsh it's that she's pretty unknown within the party and has no profile.

When the Tories were looking to beat Livingstone for Mayor of London they were given the advice that Ken is a well-known figure. Their only chance of beating him was with another equally well-known figure. Sorry MH, how the AM performs in the Senedd is pretty well irrelevant. This was the mistake Cynog Dafis did - thinking that people actually took any notice of the debates in the Senedd. It's how they perform outside the senedd that counts.

I'm a Welsh-speaker a 'cultural nationalist' (aren't all nationalists cultural by definition as a nation is a cultural concept? in anycase) and I'd be quite relaxed with a non-Welsh-speaking leader. The only problem is that it just looks a bit odd - you'd have the leader of the Labour party speaking Welsh and Plaid not. It's not a huge problem as there are plenty of other AMs who do speak Welsh, but it would be a little odd.

And sorry, a strong 'Wigley' 'Adam Price' leadership is important. Rhodri Morgan could depend on discipline within Labour because he commanded respect. Likewise, the public do not read manifestos they go with a general feeling of affinity with the leader. The public aren't stupid. The know policies can change so they take a hunch with a leader who they recon is sensible and dependable ... but first of all they have to know who that leader is.

People like Jocelyn (who's done a good job) have had 10+ years to develop a political persona and yet they haven't. Helen Mary managed it, but unfortunately she's gone.

This 'paring' idea could lead us into the same mess as the 'women on top' business which say Janet Ryder above Wigley on the list. Its sounds a mess. What we need is a strong leader not the micromanagement of the leadership itself.

Nashi

Anonymous said...

There is nothing here that is not forward thinking and worth of consideration. However, the two person ticket idea falls down on the notion of accountability and the potential for divisions unless handled very carefully.

I firmly believe Plaid need to widen their spokespeople, to also include 'outriders', particularly when launching new ideas or debates, but not necessarily official policy.

However, the dual ticket thing would need to be far better defined beyond a leadership contest. Who is ultimately accountable? My concern is that throwing in the language criterion you divide Plaid in two essentially - like 'Plaid Valleys' and 'Plaid Gogledd'. We might not do that as a party, but then our enemies will have a field day.

What we need is a new leader that has won a healthy and challenging contest between different candidates. Once that is won, we all unite around that leader and present ourselves as a team to enter into the next elections.

Of course a deputy can help in that, but I am not sure if it's a bit lacking in depth beyond the joint ticket of contest itself.

Welshguy said...

I'm sorry to say that I think one of Elin Jones' main problems from a leadership point of view is that she doesn't speak English very well. When one hears her on S4C she's much more impressive than on English-language media, where she ums and ahs every couple of words and just doesn't come across very well at all, and clearly appears uncomfortable. In an ideal world of course this shouldn't be an issue of course but the unfortunate fact is that 75%+ of the electorate will only ever understand her when she speaks English - I think it would be far better to have a non-Welsh speaker than a Welsh-speaker whose English is less than perfect.

Penddu said...

I am not a member of Plaid, so will not suggest any one candidate - but whoever Plaid elect, it must be soemone who can lead from the front - command respect within his/her own party - can communicate well in the media - inspire the elctorate - and appeal to both North/South and Welsh/English speakers.

I dont think that any one of the current potential candidates ticks all of these boxes. Dafydd Wigley did - Adam Price will.

Dafydd Huws said...

I would also support a Leanne Wood - Llyr Hughes Griffiths ticket.

Anonymous said...

I wish to disagree with Anon921 and saying that a two person team at the helm is a fudge.

When Salmond and Sturgeon launched a leadership bid in the SNP against a lacklustre Winney, it was exactly that. They also married the austere conservative voice of Angus/Lothian with the fire and social radicalism of Glasgow. It was the very essence of uniting the nation in common purpose. Also, community and traditional sectarian divisions in Scotland make the issue of "speak or not-speak" the Welsh language insignificant. It was an essential ingredient to take on Labour in their heartlands. It is for this reason I agree with Anon913, on the Llyr-Leanne ticket. It's important that ALL the communities of Wales are united in common national purpose, we do not have to pick and choose between communities but unite them. We need to find out what he SNP did to ensure what Salmond says in Perth was the same message as what Sturgeon says in East Kilbride. I suspect it was a clear radical agenda of common purpose, and anticipating events rather than reacting to them. That gog-welsh-speaker-sectarianism trotted out by Labour doesn't wash now we have our own parliament, but it is still important that diverse communities have different voices to articulate the message the key is to ensure it's towards a common purpose. That I believe, is the very definition of leadership.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

A Llŷr-Leanne slate ticks all the boxes with me, too, although they are both Southerners. Not only do they bridge the language, rural/urban and sex divides, they also represent differing political orientations.
Would Adam become their eminence grise, though? A deus ex America thwarting their leadership?

Siônnyn said...

Leanne would be my choice from the present set of AMs - she is experienced, young, passionate, articulate very nationalistic, a committed socialist , comes from the Rhondda, a thinker, fearless, and is just what Plaid needs if it to set welsh politics alight again.

I don't particularly care who her deputy is.

Anonymous said...

Llŷr was elected to first place on the North Wales list because he told members attending the hustings that his first priority was the Welsh language. As important as that may be, it is hardly something that will gain Plaid new votes.

As for Dafydd El, he's one of the few politicians who actually knows what he's doing. I doubt very much that he expects to win a leadership contest.

Cymru Fydd said...

Anon above hits the nail on the head about personality not policy being the vote winner. Of course you have to have your policies and values well thought out and water tight, but the ability to articulate those ideas come through force of personality, particularly in a media age.

Far more people vote on sentiment than careful consideration. Body language, emotive connection and a sense of that politician having the same aspirations as me is far more important than some manufactured policy circle jerk producing an echo chamber for us members to talk about.

It is my view that the voters are not listening to Plaid at the moment. We should use that to our advantage in terms of the reform of the party, it's policies, it's strategic thinking and then it's leader being conducted in the next few years.

siorsyn said...

My preferred ticket would be Alun Ffred and Leanne Wood. Either as leader, either as deputy. I think they'd be great.

And I agree wholeheartedly with your emphasis on putting independence at the forefront of Plaid's policies. To say anything else is patronising to the electorate and ultimately, I think, detrimental to Plaid's electoral success.

As has been said, Plaid Cymru did well to get the referendum, and to win it, along with its other achievements in coalition. I think this is a great opportunity to really grasp the independence nettle and go for it.

Aled GJ said...

This joint ticket/pairing idea just sounds too "PC" and too contrived to be believable.

More importantly, it would just give the impression that we don't have a clear and decisive leader. And hasn't that been our achilles heel for the last decade as things are? Why on earth would PC want to perpetuate this impression??

As a couple of others have mentioned, do ordinary voters pore through party manifestos( or, as in this case, take heed of an agenda which seeks to be artifically inclusive?)No, of course not:they respond on an emotional and visceral level to an individual who can LEAD. It's not being patronizing at all to realise that most voters want to be led, to be persuaded, to be convinced, to be inspired. This is even more important in Plaid Cymru's case, in view of the media situation that we currently have in Wales and the unionist narrative that most people just take for granted in their everyday lives.

Therefore, rather than seeking an artifical balance between different elements in the party/Wales, we need one individual who can do personify those elements. Personally, it's a no-brainer- it's got to be Adam Price. I know there are difficulties involved with his situation, but the party need to be ready to move mountains to enable this to happen.

AP is a Welsh learner who can fully identify with English speaking Wales. His natural constituency also includes the balance between rural/industrial Wales. He is an uncompromising nationalist who can also reach out to other traditions in Wales.

With Adam Price as leader, Plaid Cymru would be at last a force to be reckoned with.

Anonymous said...

Have plaid contacted Adam? should we all send adam callings for him to come back? its like arthur isnt it or patrick coming back home to wales

Cymru Fydd said...

You will find no bigger supporter of Adam Price than me, but too many of us are forgetting one important factor, the electorate who just voted. Adam is not an AM at the moment, to become an AM there must be a by election, I am not comfortable in foisting a by election on people in a safe Plaid seat because we need Adam in this term.

I hear the case for the a potential caretaker leader for one term, Alun Ffred or Jocelyn for example. This person would be able to fully conduct the strategic review without having to keep favour for the future, fight the 2016 elections properly, then step down as leader next term. We may then have new, old and current blood to choose from; bigger in number and bigger in real leadership candidates.

Ironically this role would have suited Dafydd El to the ground, but he just isn't going to wash with us members.

Southern Boyo said...

The idea of positive discrimination in favour of a non-Welsh speaker is frankly absurd. Most Assembly Members either speak Welsh or are learning, so such a leader would look rather benighted for a start. And don't we (rightly) complain when counties with substantial Welsh speaking populations appoint a monolingual chief executive or education director? The leader would have to address the confidence of his or her whole party, many of whom are Welsh speakers. Having said that, there are strong candidates who don't speak Welsh: Leanne Wood has proved to be an impressive AM with the "common touch". What about a Simon Thomas and Leanne Wood ticket?

Siônnyn said...

The Messianic tendency of calling for the return of the King Over the Water shows what a sad state Plaid is now in. This is about a lot more than updating the 'brand' and finding a 'face' - it is about re-inventing the party, and remembering what we are for. 5 years in opposition, thinking, and plotting and scheming our return is just what we need.

I can't see Labour doing anything to galvanise the Welsh electorate during that time. In fact, the way they are shaping up already suggests that, of all the parties, they are the last to understand and grasp the realities and the possibilities of devolution - presenting a real opportunity for Plaid in the next election.

Of course - by then the situation in Scotland will have moved on apace - and whatever the outcome of the referendum there, the nature of the UK will have changed forever.

Plaid need to be looking forward, not backwards in order to take advantage of the very real and exciting challenges ahead.

Glyndo said...

Leadership teams, not a good idea, IMHO, you would probably land up with the best and second best people in opposing teams with the result that one of them would be excluded from the deputy post.
Also the talent pool is not that deep, (Witness some of the suggestions made above)and this system would require finding twice as many contenders.
Not a goer for me.

Anonymous said...

Typical Dafydd El. When he's good he's very good, but can we trust him. He spoke well on Gwilym Owen's programme lunch time on Radio Cymru. Could he be like that everytime? Can he show the same passion for attacking or criticising Plaid's opponents as he uses to criticise Plaid and other nationalists?!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radiocymru/safle/rhaglenni/pages/wythnos_gwilym_owen.shtml


Nashi

Dewi Harries said...

Facing massive local elections in Caerffili, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Gwynedd with a lame duck leader is lunacy. Ieuan needs to move on quickly...and Joc and Alun Ffred might just work...

Anonymous said...

Regarding your comment about Plaid only going into coalition with Labour for constitutional gains, I'm not sure I agree. Labour can't deliver constitutional changes while it's out of government in Westminster. They can promise to campaign hard for them, but they can't deliver them. That means Plaid would only be able to go into coalition with Labour when Labour were in power in Westminster. And possibly, for the same reasons, we could only consider ruling with the Tories if the Tories are in power at Westminster AND if we have more AMs than them in Cardiff. That sounds like we're backing ourselves into a corner. It also makes us look like a party that's only interested in constitutional reform. I can't see how that's a vote winner - it's never worked for the Lib Dems and I'd argue that it's not the reason why people voted in large numbers for the SNP either.
We came up with good policies in Build4Wales and Leanne's Greenprint for the Valleys. I think we should go into coalition with Labour on the understanding that the coalition government adopts these policies and others of ours. However, I would certainly advocate a period for reflection and licking our wounds before we consider a coalition.

Anonymous said...

With grass-roots members now pushing strongly for Plaid Cymru to fully commit themselves to Independence, having a strong and forceful leader in place is now even more important.

As the SNP's independence agenda progresses, there is bound to be a realignment in political thinking in these isles over the next few years. The case for Welsh independence can be a credible part of this realignment- but it has to be presented by a credible leader, who can instill a sense of national confidence and purpose. We need a once in a generation political figure to fulfill this work, and Adam Price is that politican.

Draig said...

Excellent post by MH as ever, but perhaps we're looking at it the wrong way round. Let's set the Narrative first and then see who steps into it.

If the defining Narrative of the next 4 years is about Independence, then surely the grassroots should push that debate forward, and then we'll see who is actually bold and articulate enough to step up the plate and embrace it.

MH said...

Thanks for all the comments, I don't think I could even start to address them all. However 11:56 has already said something that I would have mentioned, but managed to do it much better than I could have:

"When Salmond and Sturgeon launched a leadership bid in the SNP against a lacklustre Winney, it was exactly that. They also married the austere conservative voice of Angus/Lothian with the fire and social radicalism of Glasgow. It was the very essence of uniting the nation in common purpose. Also, community and traditional sectarian divisions in Scotland make the issue of "speak or not-speak" the Welsh language insignificant. It was an essential ingredient to take on Labour in their heartlands."

A continuing theme of discussion has been to ask why we in Plaid haven't done as well as the SNP. But the SNP has suffered huge setbacks in its time, perhaps much greater than our loss of four AMs a fortnight ago. I think their present success owes a lot to the Salmond/Sturgeon partnership. Putting all our expectations on the shoulders of one person—what Siônnyn calls our Messianic tendency—is too much to ask of any one person, even someone as talented as Adam Price. If he were in the running (and he needs to pull his finger out if he wants to be) I'd say exactly the same to him: that he would need to choose a deputy that extended Plaid's appeal.

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how Plaid's constitution works and whether it is possible to run for leader and deputy on a joint ticket. But as we've been promised a root and branch review of our structures as well as our policies, we should ensure that it is at least possible to do so.

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Another main theme is whether we should aim to be in government now or in the reasonably near future with Labour. From what Carwyn said on the Politics Show on Sunday, it appeared that he'd ruled out a deal with the LibDems (and with the Tories, of course, but that was already obvious) but would keep the door open to Plaid. That seems to dovetail with Dafydd El's thinking ... except that he wants to do it straight away.

I wouldn't rule that out, but I want it to be later rather than sooner. I was encouraged by what Simon Thomas said on Adrian Master's blog about the Plaid review lasting "well into next year" with Ieuan remaining as leader during that process. That seems about right to me. I certainly don't think we should be talking about a leadership contest this year under any circumstances.

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As I think I've made clear, my position is that constitutional advancement is much more important that being in government, and that we should only support Labour if that is on the agenda. I accept that Labour cannot deliver constitutional advancement because they are not currently in power at Westminster, but I think that getting them on board to ask for it is important in itself: partly because we might just find that the ConDem coalition is willing to give us what we want; but also because Labour might get back into power there in 2015, and will be able to deliver on their commitment then. Their commitment is more important than their ability to deliver it immediately. We need to be playing the long game rather than the short game.

We've talked a lot about Adam Price, and he wrote an interesting article in Golwg last week about Labour delivering independence for Wales. I smiled when I read it, because he was echoing something I've said on a few occasions myself. But that's probably worth another post. I haven't read the full article, so if someone wants to scan a copy for us all to read, please put it up.

Anonymous said...

Dewi Harries - thankyou for reminding us that we have elections next year - early next year we should be in full election mode - I for one will be very miffed if we are still talking "well into next year".

Anonymous said...

What should we do, write a joint leter to adam asking for him to come back? I have talked to several tory and labour supporters whove said if adam was leader they would vote for plaid just like that, we should launch a get adam organisation

Simon Dyda said...

I'd be interested to see how Jocelyn Davies performs at any hustings, should she throw her hat in the ring. Ideally Adam Price would be my first choice, but failing that unlikely possibility I'd prefer to see a South Walian AM at the helm, such as Jocelyn.

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