One of Three

In the next day or two, nigh on eight thousand ballot papers for the Plaid Cymru leadership contest will be coming through our letterboxes. In itself, this huge increase in membership over the past few months has been one of the good things about this election and about our vitality as a party. Of course some will be lapsed members who only pay their subscription in years like this when there's something worth voting about; but many will be old members who left because they were disillusioned about the party, and many new people will have joined too. As I see it, they will have joined in the hope of being able to help transform a party which has languished in the polls since the days when we won seventeen seats in the National Assembly including the Rhondda and Islwyn in 1999.

One big question has stood over Plaid Cymru for the past decade. Why has a party that could make such a breakthrough in 1999 fallen back so far since then? Part of the reason has been our leadership. I don't mean in terms of personality, nor do I wish to single out our leaders alone; instead I believe that we have suffered as a party from a collective leadership that lacked the confidence to articulate our aims, and therefore spent too much time on the back foot. With the bitter taste of 1979 still very real, and only winning the referendum of 1997 by a wafer-thin margin, it was as if we were too scared to go further. We started to hide our aims behind convoluted words.

One thing I am convinced about is that the party as a whole—made up of its individual members and activists at branch and constituency level—has always been very clear about what Plaid Cymru is for. We joined because we wanted to see an independent Wales; a Wales in which we take responsibility for ourselves and our own prosperity rather than letting others make decisions on our behalf. But too many of those we chose as our AMs felt comfortable enough with a half-baked Assembly and lost sight of the final destination. Now, in this leadership election, we have a real chance of changing that and getting a leader and leadership team that is not afraid to speak about independence for Wales being the first and foremost aim of Plaid Cymru.

So I want to take a final look at what the three contenders have got to offer in the hope of helping any Plaid members who are undecided about which way to vote.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas

Let's start with something positive: if Dafydd is elected his first aim will be to get Plaid Cymru back into government with the Labour Party.

Being in government is a good thing, so that's a good priority to have, right? Well, my answer is no. Being in government should be the reward you get only as a result of winning enough seats in an election. Getting into government through some sort of back door is a very different thing. There are times when it will work, but it will only work when two conditions are met. First, when a coalition of some sort needs to be made because no one party can form a government on its own; and second, when a clear programme of government can be negotiated to include the things that matter to us as a party. One Wales was a perfect example of both conditions being met: Labour could not form a government on their own, and Plaid negotiated a commitment to hold a referendum on primary lawmaking powers, which we could only get with Labour support because it required a two-thirds majority to get it through the Senedd.

But this time round Labour have enough seats to form a government on their own. They don't need our votes to get any legislation through the Senedd—not that they have many ideas about what they want to legislate on anyway—and there is nothing that Labour could offer us in the way of constitutional advancement because Labour's MPs in Westminster are not in a position to deliver it.

So any attempt to get Plaid into the current Welsh Government will be nothing more than pointless vanity. Of course it will be nice for one or two Plaid AMs to be called ministers and I'm sure they'll run their departments competently. But it will come at the cost of us being able to criticize Labour, and in the election in 2016 we will be unable to present ourselves as an alternative to Labour. We paid a heavy price for the One Wales Agreement in terms of seats lost in May 2011, as is usual for junior partners in a coalition; but it was a price worth paying in order to get primary legislative powers for the Assembly. The referendum was held too late for us to effectively decouple ourselves from Labour as would have been possible if it had been held in autumn 2010. But what on earth is there to gain this time round? We will just give Labour an easy ride for the next four years. If Dafydd becomes leader, Labour will be the ones who benefit, and we will end up paying the electoral price for it in 2016.


However, I probably need to make it clear that I do believe Dafydd is now in favour of independence for Wales and that my objections to him becoming leader of Plaid Cymru have nothing to do with that. It is his lack of honesty and integrity which disqualify him.

Dafydd's problem is that he very clearly wasn't in favour of independence before, and the first anyone knew about his closet conversion was when he told Martin Shipton about it, as I noted in this post. But rather than admit that he was wrong and had been forced to change his mind, he has tried to make out that this is what he has always believed; and trying to reconcile two irreconcilable positions simply results in him making statements that are little short of gobbledygook.

For all his experience in life we have to be clear that Dafydd is a raw novice about the issue of independence for Wales. He might well have all the enthusiasm of a new convert to the idea; but when it comes to working out a plan to achieve it he's still wet behind the ears.

Elin Jones

I think Elin would be a good leader for the party. She is competent, determined and ambitious for Wales. For me this was best illustrated not so much by her being the minister for agriculture and rural affairs—though I think she did that job well—but that over the years of the One Wales agreement she was one of the few AMs (Jocelyn Davies was another) who appeared to understand how the process of getting the referendum on primary lawmaking powers was playing out. There were many times when things looked as if they would go wrong, and the message coming from Ieuan was not as positive or confident as it should have been. In fact his caveats about it when interviewed actually fuelled the impression that the referendum might not have taken place as agreed.

The other positive is that Elin is unequivocally in favour of independence for Wales and has been one of the few AMs who was not afraid to say it. For this reason alone she would be far better than any of the leaders we have had in recent times.

I am in broad agreement with most of what she's said in her campaign, apart from two things. The first was the rather strange condition she set when she said that Plaid Cymru would have to win two Assembly elections before we would get a referendum on independence. My thoughts on that are here. It was a pointless thing to say because we may well not win the 2016 election. Let's say we did much better than ever before and got just over 20 out of 60 seats, but one or two fewer than Labour and still not enough to form a government. If we followed Elin's logic it would mean we couldn't hold a referendum even if we won an absolute majority in 2020.


But more disturbing than that was what happened when Simon Thomas threw in the towel and she accepted his support on condition that he became her deputy leader. Put bluntly, it was a rather sordid deal. As I noted here, it was not only one that she was in no position to make but one that could pull her down with him.

Now I fully accept that if Elin were to become leader she might well get her choice of deputy leader, not because she has the right to make that decision (it is in fact decided by a vote of Plaid's AMs) but because after any internal election everybody is anxious to make a show of uniting behind the new leader so as to heal any wounds that might have been inflicted during the campaign. But it was an error of judgement to be presumptuous, and the worse presumption was that those AMs who have come out in support of Elin as leader will also want Simon to be her deputy. If Elin wanted to engineer that sort of "joint ticket" the time to do it was before the contest started rather than half way through it.

Now I don't have anything in particular against Simon ... well, except that he did made a complete mess of the manifesto for the last election. On his own merits he might make a half-decent deputy leader, but I certainly don't think he deserves that position just by making a private deal behind closed doors. I think Elin has tied a millstone round her own neck.

In one sense her calculation was good: before Simon jumped the bookies had her trailing behind Leanne, but the deal she made with Simon put her back in front, though only by the tiniest of margins. But let's imagine she does win and think about what the consequences would be for Plaid Cymru as a whole. It seems obvious to me that having both a leader and deputy leader from the same part of Wales would send completely the wrong signal to the electorate. It would do nothing to expand our appeal to the parts of Wales outside our natural heartlands, and indeed would reinforce the idea that we are a party that finds it difficult to reach out to other parts of Wales. There's no problem with Elin becoming leader, but if she does become leader the party will need a deputy leader that's not from her own back yard. Elin on her own is fine, but Elin and Simon are a terrible combination. It was a bad decision, but Elin has tied herself to it and now she can't get rid of him.

Leanne Wood

I wasn't at all sure that Leanne would put her hat into the ring for this election contest. She left it late, and it was a bit of a surprise to me that she did so, but certainly a very pleasant surprise.

For me, she is an ideal leader for the party because she has been in the forefront of developing ideas. For too long we have had leaders who have lagged several steps behind the party as a whole. But in Leanne we have someone who has a record of actively developing policy ideas, someone who is usually a few steps ahead ... which is, after all, what a leader is meant to be. During the course of this campaign we have heard a lot about her Greenprint for the Valleys, but her work on the Justice system in Making Our Communities Safer was impressive too.

Make no mistake, the future of Plaid Cymru depends on our ideas for Wales. Other parties are basically about working within the existing structures, and find it difficult to see beyond those boundaries. Our business is to transform Wales, and without that transformational agenda we are nothing. The challenge for us is to convince others that tinkering around the edges of our current constitutional settlement—maybe devolving a few more powers and responsibilities from Westminster every few years—will do nothing to reverse our continuous, slow economic decline over the last twenty or thirty years. We need more radical solutions.

Leanne has that vision, the ability to flesh out the detail and the ability to communicate it. If we're looking for an inspirational leader then she is by far the best choice available to us, and in particular our best chance of making the breakthroughs we need to become the government of Wales. In concrete terms, we must beat Labour in their heartlands to do it. We will not do it unless we can win in places like the Rhondda and Islwyn as we did in 1999, or unless we can also win places like Caerffili and Neath. So often this is portrayed as us having to out-Labour Labour, as if Labour would be fine if only it hadn't systematically abandoned most of the ideals of the people it was formed to represent. But it is much more simple than that, it is about having better ideas about how to make us a fairer and more prosperous society. As everybody can now see all too clearly, being in the One Wales Government lent Labour a sense of direction and purpose; but on their own and with a slow-moving, lack-lustre leader, Labour are struggling to come up with anything that will move Wales forward.

Vote wisely

In a nutshell, these are our choices as party members. If we elect Dafydd, we will ruin ourselves as a party. It will take many years to pick up the pieces again, if at all.

If we elect Elin, we will get a better party than we've had for some time. Better because we will have a leader that agrees with and supports Plaid Cymru's aims and policies. For all Ieuan's good qualities, it was often embarrassing to have a leader that didn't agree with some of our key policies and who could hardly bring himself to mention the word "independence". Elin will get my second preference for that reason. There is absolutely no point in putting Elin last because it will not help Leanne one way or the other.

But if we elect Leanne, we will get a party that is capable of reaching into Labour's heartlands, leading the next Welsh government and leading Wales to independence.

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Glyndo said...

"But if we elect Leanne, we will get a party that is capable of reaching into Labour's heartlands,....."

People keep saying this, without any basis of evidence. Where are the indications of a rise in support for Plaid Cymru, in her own backyard, since she became the AM?

Anonymous said...

I'm a Plaid voter & supporter. But only now have I joined the party - specifically to vote for the leader (this is perhaps the BIGGEST thing that can happen to a party, as with a new leader comes new style and politics). I won't be renewing, unless there is another leadership election, for the simple reason that I don't see the point on being a member of a political party. So don't take it as a bad sign- I'll continue to vote for Plaid.

For the party - I am against any formal coalition for this Assembly. This could be a disastrous term for Labour, and we can capitalise on this come 2015. As coalition member we cannot. Although this is political and selfish in the short term; in the long term it could lead the Wales for a Plaid LED Government.

Before the leadership election I though it'd be LW: 1, EJ: 2, and no vote for Daf El.

However during the process this has changed. I have actually warmed to Daf El, I think he WOULD be able to lead. I think he IS now pro-independence. And genuinely think he is now a nice guy. However would he take the party forward? in my view no.

With Elin Jones, it has boiled to this - do I want her as leader. And the answer is 'no'. She'll be a great Minister in the Government, terrific leader, terrific speech writer. But leader No. She also disappointed me with the whole Simon Thomas issue. Indeed, if I HAD to rank them I would put Daf El at 2.

However I have now decided that LW is the leader for me, and I will not rank the others I am afraid. She matches the right policy and has real potential to break into the valley. My only worry is that she doesn't have 'fire in her belly' and I just don't feel all pumped up after hearing her speak. Nevertheless with time I think she could improve on this. She's a risk. She excites me. She's made me join a political party for the first time. Thus, she is a risk worth taking LW #1.

Anonymous said...

2007 Assembly, 2008 locals and 2009 Euros all saw a rise in the Plaid vote in leanne's backyard since she became an AM. However I don't think this really matters much, people in the Rhondda as in Ceredigion vote on a myriad of issues which would have included Plaid's media performance, messaging, leadership- not just because Leanne was regional AM. The same applies with Elin in Ceredigion. Her vote has been going down BUT that doesn't mean it's her fault there are all kinds of factors in play, and surely we can agree they are both AMs who can build our support.

Glyndo many of your comments have been quite negative and that's a slight shame. We have to be more positive about all of our AMs because our opponent ts will not!

maen_tramgwydd said...

MH - A pretty sound analysis regarding the choice facing us. I have long since come to much the same conclusion.


There's a world of a difference between a party selecting someone like Leanne to be on the regional list, and quite another to elect her as leader of the party.

The latter is the signal which Plaid would give to the populous post-industrial communities of South Wales, that it is a party for all of us who live in this country, regardless of background, language or culture.

Above all I want the support of the people of Wales for much greater autonomy, for self-determination, and better still for sovereign independence. Not merely as an end in itself, but to make Wales a much better, fairer, more prosperous country. With it will come the dignity from having left behind a dependency culture.

Of the three candidates, Leanne is best placed to move Plaid Cymru and Wales forward.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Plaid have been in a situation to move Wales forward like this since Gwynfor in 1966. His election shocked the British establishment profoundly, and since then our greatest triumph has been to watch the Unionist parties gradually steal our patriot clothes. We lost our USP, but really, that was a victory.

I think history will be kinder to IWJ than either you, MH, or I, have been to him. His boring solicitor mind actually made the One Wales thing work. How many of us in Plaid 20 years ago would have dared to dream of the Wales we live in now? Certainly not me, who was in despair about the country that my then infant children would grow up in. I now live in hope.

I like and admire Elin, but she is no leader. FMQs between her and Carwyn would be far too comfortable and nice - tea and cakes rather than some serious jousting. She still has a lot to offer Wales though, and I hope that when she is defeated, she will not lose heart. I would love to see Leanne endorse her as the deputy.

Poor seimon has not been forgiven for losing Ceredigion, which should be a safe seat by now. He is also too new to the Assembly, and was ill advised to stand.

DET's obsequious attachment to the Monarchy has done him no favours. While leannes's republicanism might have put some people off, at least she has made it plain that the constitutional structure of an independent Wales would be up to the people of Wales, DET seems to refuse contemplating any arrangement that does not involve his beloved hereditary clan.

As someone who, at the age of 14, was publicly pilloried (in front of more than 100 baying unionist boys - all the na-tionalists had been encouraged to stay home!) and humiliated by half a dozen teachers in the Carmarthen Grammar school for refusing to pay homage to Carlo following his shameful investiture, I was horrified the other day to hear the good lord sing the praises of King Charles!

Which leaves Leanne. She has grown beyond recognition since she entered the assembly, and even more over the course of the campaign. Alone amongst the candidates, she has developed a quiet, measured and thoughtful tone when addressing the media, and the faithful, which is very impressive, and far more likely to attract new voters than any of her opponents. That is even before we have started on her intellectual input, which is considerable. At last we will have a philosophical base to our politics which is clearly articulated, easy to understand, and attractive to anyone not satisfied with the status quo.

My vote has already been posted!

Anonymous said...

PS Glyndo - are you sure you are in the right party? I know Leanne inspires people. A friend of mine - lifelong entrenched labour - though a patriotic one - saw the hustings in Cardiff, and is honestly thinking of shifting his vote if Leanne wins! I've been trying to persuade him for 30 years, Leanne does it in one meeting!

Anonymous said...

If you don't elect Leanne you can forget ever challenging Labour.

It might not even happen with her. But there is a chance.

I actually think, just from the fact she is young, articulate and appears passionate, you are really missing a trick if you don't choose her.

Ambiorix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ambiorix said...

Quite right Anon 25 February 2012 17:00 ....For Plaid to be successfull they need to make a breakthrough in the South Wales Valleys!

PEMBLETH said...

This is a difficult election. All three candidates posses strengths and weaknesses in equal measure.

In electoral terms, EJ will make little headway in the south and east; likewise LW in the north and west. DET offers a gradualist approach most likely to appeal to non-Plaid voters from north to south. Unfortunately he does not seem to appeal to the membership.

I'm still not sure who to vote for.

Anonymous said...

Post triple crown, this is how I see it. Dafydd El is Gareth Davies. Had his time, and some success, in the 80s. An establishment man by now. Elin is Stephen Jones. Dependable, trustworthy, a great servant for the cause. Unlikely to get the back line moving. Leanne is Rhys Priestland. A gamble, but might just break through in places where we didn’t know there were gaps. There’ll be the odd charge down, but she’ll inspire those around her and bring others into play.

Anonymous said...

Syniadau says with Leanne we would have a *party* capable of reaching into Labour's heartlands (which is, almostt half of our country).

This isn't the cult of the individual. If we had Leanne as leader we would still hopefully have Elin Jones standing for Ceredigion as she is the best candidate to run there. To challenge Labour in Caerffili, Islwyn, Rhondda, the Cardiff seats, Merthyr, and yes also Newport and Swansea, Leanne couldn't stand in those seats. The party as a whole needs to be good enough and we need good candidates in those seats. We have sometimes had great candidates in those seats but they can't get anywhere because people just don't find Plaid worth voting for, even though they apparently don't hate us either.

It is about what we can all be unlocked to do if Leanne is leader. It doesn't suddenly mean she is the candidate in every seat! It's up to local parties to improve their work and campaign harder and use resources more effectively.

Leanne is far from perfect but then we don't have a big assembly group. But boy will we have a bigger spring in our step if she is leader, than the others. Labour are not invincible and will only be strong for as long as Plaid is unable to take them on. It is crazy to not choose her when you get these opportunities on a plate.

Ambiorix said...

When is Adam Price coming back to Wales?

Anonymous said...

On sunday supplement this am, Elin spoke better than I have heard her before, and I am glad I cast my second vote for her. DET was grumpy- loudly disrespecting the views of his opponents. Can anybody explain to me how a man who calls himself a socialist can , at the same time, be an unapologetic servile defender of a hereditary monarchy? Cognitive dissonance. Needs treatment.

Leanne, though, clearly the brightest most statesmanlike of the three. I will back Elin as her deputy, though. I know I won't have a vote, but I will lobby the AMs. A dream ticket that will unite Wales and transform Welsh politics.

Anonymous said...

Will anyone advise me as to the nuances of voting in this leadership election. For example, how does a second vote for Elin Jones help Leanne?

Cibwr said...

Simple its an AV election, if no candidate gets 50% + 1 of the votes cast the lowest candidate is eliminated and their second preference votes redistributed. So if Elin comes third her second placed votes will decide the election.

Aled GJ said...

I'd just like to say how fantastically liberating this campaign has been for grass-roots nationalists, to hear two of the candidates articulating the case for independence with such purpose and passion. We all knew that Leanne would be fiery for independence from more of a leftist perspective but it's been great to see Elin more than matching her here, albeit more from a centrist perspective. We've also had the Lord providing some entertainment for members, putting the case for a completely different sort of independence, i.e his right to follow his own line completely on all matters, whatever party policy may be on a range of issues.

I just have this sense that huge change is in the air- change within Plaid Cymru, change in Wales and change in the political landscape of the UK because of Scotland's independence referendum. Even Wales first ever triple crown win in Twickenham yesterday seemed to be indicative of this palpable sense of change.

We have to be alive to this change, and Leanne just personifies this current sea-change for me. With her as leader, we will at last hear the type of unapologetic nationalist narrative that any self-respecting national movement should be promoting day in day out. This narrative would be embodied by an individual who can really connect with ordinary people, and who just exudes sincerity and passion. Qualities that people are crying out for from their politicians these days.

Overall, it's been a great, positive leadership campaign, and I think it's going to be very close at the end of the day. I know some have been disappointed in Adam Price's broadside against Elin Jones, but I think he is absolutely right that Leanne needs to target DET's supporters for their second votes. Personally, I think it's perfectly plausible to think that many of DET's supporters will think "Well, we'd better play safe with our first vote, but maybe we can be more adventurous with our second vote." And, if there is any kind of rapprochement between DET and Adam Price, however odd that may appear at first, that can only encourage more of this type of thinking.

I reckon DET will get around 25% of the vote, which means that Leanne( if, she is ahead on the first round as I believe she will be) needs up to half of these supporters' second votes. It's doable!

Jac o' the North, said...

Who is Cynog Dafis backing?

Anonymous said...

Welsh politics cultural not economic. People vote with parties they feel culturally closer to (or a significant number do at least).

elin Jones answered the questions best, she's also not as dogmatic as Leanne, unfortunately, a large section of the electorate won't listen to her because of 'cultural' reasons.

Leanne on the other hand is in danger of being a mouthpiece for the public sector unions but people will be more inclined to listed to her because they feel closer to her culturally.

If Plaid can go into the next election with people knowing
a) the name of its leader
b) something about her and an added bonus, know her story and feel culturally close to her
c) that she's left wing, a nationalist and a fighter

that's as good as it gets. With IWJ people didn't know him, and if they did they didn't feel close to him culturally and had no handly about who he was and why he was in politics.

If Leanne is elected it will be news. If Elin win's it won't.

Elin's the stonger politician but Leanne gets my vote because Plaid are in a hole and it needs to get out of it. Leanne is a risk but not to go for Leanne is a bigger risk.

Cymru Boy

Anonymous said...

In the current times with wages, pensions and benefits under threat I see Leanne's politics as being a good thing rather than bad thing, especially as we can then also promote small enterprises and Welsh enterprise (because Wales isn't attractive to big business and can only be so thru grants and subsidies, and we can't afford that, we will always be outbid by low labour costs in eastern Europe China and India). It would be a waste of time to side with cuts to wages and pensions etc because people will putt hat ahead of what we are saying about independence. Everyone is focusing on Leanne being pro-independence but her better strength is when she talks about day to day issues. People are very worried about the future for their children and there being no prospects for jobs or a good pension. If and when Leanne talks about making the playing field fairer for small firms rather than finance capitalism that will go down well, or at least better than soemone else in our party saying the same thing. Elin would still be ok, but Leanne would affect more people in the east of Wales.

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