Plaid's new deputy leader and shadow cabinet

One of the things that disturbed me in the Plaid Cymru leadership campaign was the deal that was done between Simon Thomas and Elin Jones, in which he agreed to stand down and give her his support in return for him becoming deputy leader of the party. As I noted at the time, the leader of Plaid Cymru cannot determine who will be her deputy after she is elected. It is up to the party's AMs, and only the party's AMs, to decide who the deputy leader should be.

Of course if the leader expressed a preference there would be a very good chance that she would get her way; not because she has the right to make that decision, 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.

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Now I don't for a moment what to suggest that this leadership campaign has been damaging to Plaid. In fact it has been the exact opposite. We have been put in the full glare of the media spotlight, and have been shown to be everything we pride ourselves on being: an open, transparent, democratic party in which the view of every single member matters equally. And although the media have been portraying Leanne's election as a radical step to the left, I think all we have really done is elect a leader who best represents what we already stand for. One of our problems as a party was that the collective leadership did not always represent the views of the majority of party members as consistently expressed in our party conferences. That will now change.

But what will not change—at least not in the immediate future—is who our elected AMs are. It's worth reminding ourselves that the majority of AMs supported Elin and expected her to win. Most commentators and the bookmakers did too. So some of us will have sore heads because we have been celebrating Leanne's victory; but others will have sore heads trying to work out why Elin did not get elected, what it means for the party ... and what it means for them and their political futures. Outwardly, it will all be unity, sweetness and light; but inwardly there will be some serious soul-searching going on.

     

In the immediate future two issues have to be sorted out: who will be deputy leader, and who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues.

On the subject of deputy leader, it is up to AMs to decide who this will be in a secret ballot. My advice to Leanne is not to express any preference about who the deputy leader should be. Let your fellow AMs decide that for themselves. But I do have advice for any Plaid AMs who are reading this. The position of deputy leader is mainly symbolic, but it is important. The main problem I had with the Elin Jones/Simon Thomas "joint ticket" was that both were from the same part of Wales, and that the pairing could make Plaid look like some sort of Cardi Club. But I am very much in favour of a balanced pairing, and I think we would do well to look at how well the pairing of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon has worked for the SNP.

In this post last year I said that the leader and deputy leader should complement each other in these 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

So with Leanne as leader I think the ideal deputy leader for Plaid would be based in north or west Wales, male, and a fluent Welsh speaker. That seems to suggest Alun Ffred Jones, Simon Thomas and Llyr Huws Gruffydd as being right for the job. Alun Ffred is a very good choice in that he almost epitomizes the traditional, cultural roots of the party; Simon would not have made a good deputy to Elin because of being based in the same area, but could be a good deputy to Leanne; but I personally think that Llyr might be the best choice, above all because he has impressed me as an excellent communicator. So I'd encourage you three to consider putting yourselves forward. I don't think that the job of deputy leader should be a "runner-up prize", and for that reason I think it would be wrong for either Elin or Dafydd to be deputy leader. As I see it, the deputy leader needs to balance and complement the leader so that the party can reach out to the maximum number of people in Wales.

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The second thing that needs to be decided is who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues. At present each of our 11 AMs has these specific areas of responsibility:

Ieuan Wyn Jones:   Finance & the Constitution

Jocelyn Davies:   Planning, Business Manager & Chief Whip

Elin Jones:   Health

Simon Thomas:   Education, Higher Education & Skills

Alun Ffred Jones:   Business, Enterprise, Technology & Science

Leanne Wood:   Housing & Regeneration

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:   Europe, Local Government, Communities & Transport

Dafydd Elis-Thomas:   Environment & Energy

Bethan Jenkins:   Heritage, Welsh Language & Sport

Lindsay Whittle:   Social Services, Children & Equal Opportunities

Llyr Huws Gruffydd:   Rural Affairs (inc. Agriculture, Animal Health & Welfare)

Who gets which job is something that only the party leader can decide. But the first question I would ask is whether we actually need to give every single one of our AMs a portfolio. After all, there only eight AMs in the Cabinet.

The priority is for us be able to present a coherent set of policies, and I'd like to suggest to Leanne that this might be better done by having fewer spokespersons, but ones who are able to articulate and communicate—both in the Assembly and to the public at large—how our policies fit together. I also think that some AMs might prefer not to have a specific responsibility, and would be happier and more effective if allowed a freer role.

One thing Leanne does need to be firm about is that if someone takes on a role as a spokesperson on a particular issue, they must present the party's policy on that issue, rather than their own personal views. To my mind it made a mockery of the party to have appointed Dafydd Elis-Thomas as our spokesman on energy. As we have seen all too clearly, he refuses to accept Plaid Cymru's position on nuclear power and has consistently misrepresented it. This could only have happened because our previous leader was equally against Plaid's policy on nuclear power. That sort of ambivalence needs to be put firmly behind us.

If we are serious about making significant progress as a party, we will need a greater measure of discipline and determination than we have shown before. But I'm sure Leanne will be more than equal to that challenge.

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19 comments:

Owen said...

You're bang on the money by saying any deputy needs to compliment the leader. However, what would the role of deputy actually be? Presumably the deputy is going to have a shadow portfolio too. Would it be like, for instance John Prescott, to keep the "core vote" onside?

I also agree about the number of spokespeople. I would like to see Plaid with a proper back bench, able to take their gloves off and really lay into the Welsh Government. Using the FOI and campaigning tactics Leanne Wood, Bethan Jenkins and others have used.

Perhaps any deputy should be a "leader" of the back benches - able to coordinate where and when to go on the offensive.

Ruthin Plaid Cymru Rhuthun said...

Llyr would be an excellent choice for deputy leader. He is an impressive media performer whose youth and vigour would demonstrate a clear break with the past.

Rhys McKenzie said...

I agree entirely with your suggestion of Llyr, who always comes across as intelligent and articulate on camera. He's been a breath of fresh air since the last election.

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

Obviously MH has been following @PlaidRhuthun and @arfonj tweets where we did say that Llyr Huws Gruffydd would be the best choice for Deputy Leader.

Cibwr said...

All interesting comments, I remember the old Liberal party in Westmister where all MPs were spokespeople other than the one back bencher, David Alton!

We want to avoid that, but a core team of spokes people, say 5, would make sense. It would also enable backbenchers to develop special interests and expert roles in committee - which would be good.

I can see that our detractors are already going overboard with descriptions of Plaid as now following a Stalanist path and being to the left of North Korea - we have to be ready for the politics of smear and misrepresentation.

Cibwr said...

All interesting comments, I remember the old Liberal party in Westmister where all MPs were spokespeople other than the one back bencher, David Alton!

We want to avoid that, but a core team of spokes people, say 5, would make sense. It would also enable backbenchers to develop special interests and expert roles in committee - which would be good.

I can see that our detractors are already going overboard with descriptions of Plaid as now following a Stalanist path and being to the left of North Korea - we have to be ready for the politics of smear and misrepresentation.

Anonymous said...

Cibwr

"...the politics of smear and misrepresentation"

It'll become more of an issue (if and) when Plaid becomes a serious threat to the established unionist order. Currently the party gets ridiculed and belittled.

One sees and hears the unionist heavy artillery blasting towards Salmond and the SNP daily. It will get more fierce as the referendum approaches, and the unionist dirty tricks sabotage brigade gets to work behind the scenes.

Plaid has hardly been out of the playpen these last ten years, even afraid to articulate its core policies. We'll know if it's beginning to be successful when the big guns are wheeled out against it.

It has to get ready for the battlefield where the Scots are leading the way - there isn't a lot of time because tensions within the UK are rising, and it must be well-placed to defend Wales' interests when the time comes.

Cibwr said...

FUD Fear Uncertainty and Doubt - some of the most powerful marketing tools there are, ask Microsoft! The unionists are at full tilt in Scotland - Anon 10:41 you are right, at the moment they are mainly in the mocking stage with Plaid. But I can see the way that they are going to go. Its a bold strategy to attack Labour from the left, but one I think we have to follow. They will try to present us as Stalanist dinosaurs dragging Wales down to third world status. Though if the proposed regional pay for public employees goes ahead the government at Westminster will make a good go of that too.

It will take 20 years as an independent country to reverse and make good the decline of the last 70 years - without independence we haven't a chance.

MH said...

As far as I can see, there is no pre-defined role for the deputy leader, Owen, so it is a question of what we want the deputy leader to do. If seen as an equivalent to John Prescott to keep core voters onside, then Alun Ffred would probably be the best man. But if the need was seen as being more towards keeping the old party heirarchy onside, Simon Thomas would be ideal.

It seems that Llyr has quite a fan club ;-) ... and he deserves it.

I'd go along with Cibwr and say that a front bench team of five, or maybe six, is about right. If we did have five front bench shadow ministers, then the way that the LibDems have split their responsibilities seems a fairly sensible way of doing it, see here ... although with only five AMs they have no choice.

• Health and Social Care
• Local Government, Heritage, Housing and Finance
• Enterprise, Transport, Europe and Business
• Environment, Sustainability and Rural Affairs
• Children, Education and the Welsh Language

At the very most Plaid should have no more than eight, to mirror the real cabinet. I think the Tories' idea of giving a portfolio to all 14 AMs, here, is a complete joke. It's like making every child in school a prefect.

Being given a portfolio is something that an AM has to show themselves worthy of, rather than something that is given automatically. And being able to choose who gets a portfolio, and which one, is one of the main means that a leader has of keeping potentially renegade AMs in line. The situation Plaid was in before, with certain Plaid AMs speaking out openly against the fundamental aims of the party, showed a lack of seriousness and discipline within the party. We need a similar discipline about policy matters, and I think one of Leanne's bigger challenges will be to exercise that discipline. Being able to demote a shadow minister that steps out of line, and promote those that demonstrate above average ability, is important.

The best way of rewarding Elin is not to make her deputy leader, as some are suggesting, but to give her a major, meaty, portfolio. Having fewer, but more comprehensive, portfolios goes hand in hand with that. It will also give those who do get a portfolio a higher media profile than they would otherwise have, and allow them to speak with more authority.

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As for the sort of attacks Leanne will face from other parties and their supporters, I don't really think we have to take "Stalinism" and "North Korea" seriously. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be wound up by that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't want DET as a back bencher though, would you? He'd be sniping away at the leader as much as the opposition.

Cibwr said...

Its not so much about being wound up by it, its preventing that becoming the narrative.

We have to have a twin track strategy, the immediate and the long term. On of the most frustrating things has been the lack of vision from this government, at most they think 4 years ahead. Where is the long term plan for the electrification of all the rail lines in Wales? Where are the plans to have high speed trains to the ports, north and south? We need aims and vision, and we need to have plans for the now.

With the likely announcement of "regional" pay beggaring further our nation we need direction and vision.

Anonymous said...

Anon 09:08

I'd prefer not to have him there at all. He is articulate, but inconsistent, whilst undermining party policy. Hopefully he will have the grace and sense to rein in his own views which radically depart from those of the party, and give the new leadership out and out support.

Leanne needs the full backing of all her colleagues if she is to have any chance of turning the party's fortunes around. Plaid is a small party and there is no place for self-ambition. It has not only to claim to be the Party of Wales, but to act as such.

Anonymous said...

You have to hand it to Leanne - she seems to have got a lot of people talking about her - not just the usual political anoraks but ordinary people down the pub! That didnt happen with IWJ (other than to mock Ieuan Air) and I couldnt see it happening with Elin. But Leanne has people talking - mostly postive - which vindicates her election.

Penddu

Anonymous said...

Although I voted Leanne, I think Elin is in many respects a more capable politician. It's just that my hunch is that so much of Welsh politics is based on a 'cultural' vote. Given the 'pepsi challenge' most Labour voters would chose Plaid, but they vote Labour 'cos they feel more culturally comfortable with them. So, Leanne get's that 'cultural' vote as being nonWelsh speaking, Rhondda, left wing etc.

I don't see any point in having a Deputy Leader. Best give Elin a chuncky rôle - economy. Her more cautious style, whilst didn't win her the leadership election, would go down well in discussing what is the biggest challenge and battle ground of this Assembly (with consitutional issues).

Elin can articulate radical economic solutions but in a practical farmer's daughter (and that's not a slur but a plus) manner. She gives the impression of being sensible and cautious when dealing with other people's money ... something Leanne doesn't do as she appears to want to spend other people's money at any given opportunity.


Ci Du

Anonymous said...

When we've gained independence, will we follow a uk/england pay policy or have a Welsh pay policy?

Anonymous said...

Independent Wales would have a Welsh pay policy, Scotland would have a Scottish pay policy, England an English pay policy. We wouldn't have a UK regional pay policy if we were independent countries and what each state could afford to pay would probably be based on the strength of their economies.

Siônnyn said...

First of all, I like the idea of Llyr as Deputy, though AFJ has a lot going for him too. I'm afraid Simon's conduct during the election, appointing himself Elin's deputy, rules him out for me. Many people have still not forgiven him for losing Ceredigion, which should have been a safe seat by now.

I think it will be most unjust for a party that prides itself on equality were to appoint a woman to this role, unless she is clearly the outstanding choice - and I can't think of anyone that fits that bill.

I think it is worth noting that the very nature and future of the union is being plunged into question, not only by the SNP - but more importantly by the actions of the Tory led government in London, who have shed all pretence of consensus politics, and defending the 'shared values' that they cite to defend the importance of the union.

They are seen to be attacking the poor and vulnerable, to pay favours to their rich friends. In England they are privatising the NHS, education, roads, and even the Police. Things which Even mrs Thatcher would not have dreamed possible. As Bella Calledonia says today, they are turning England into a foreign, rather unappealing country, which will become increasingly obvious to even the most obstinate Welsh unionist. Differential regional public service pay could be the clincher in Wales, especially with Ed Balls prevaricating over the issue as he has (mostly because it was first raised by his party).

So, it appears to me that Leanne's role could well become pivotal, not so much in continuing the gradual progression towards independence that has been assumed so far, but rather to guide the party and Wales through tempestuous times not of our making to an independence that may well be trust upon us, especially when Scotland vote to dissolve the union.

MH said...

I think that Dafydd will get his shots in irrespective of whether he's on the front or back bench, Anon 16:08. I think we saw that on the Sunday Politics this weekend. That's why it's important for Leanne to be able to demote AMs ... it's the only real way of being able to show that a renegade AM is not speaking on behalf of the party.

One thing that did surprise me was that Ieuan said yesterday that he wanted a role in the shadow cabinet, here, with the economy portfolio. I thought his retirement as leader would mean he had no appetite for a front bench role. Ieuan is obviously very talented, but I wonder if it's the right post for him. He found it difficult to grasp what Build for Wales was about. I think one of his strengths as Deputy First Minister was transport; so if he got a post, it should include that. It would be nice to contrast a "fully Plaid" transport strategy with the version that Labour would have watered down when he was in office.

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Siônnyn, I don't think it's fair to say that Simon "appointed himself" as prospective deputy leader under Elin. I think Elin has to take responsibility for that. Ultimately, I think it is what cost her the campaign. First, it showed a measure of uncertainty that she needed his support, and specifically that she needed to "pay a price" for his support. It also did her damage to align herself with one of the weaker, more unpopular candidates. I think that a lot of the membership saw it as a "stitch up", especially when the last undeclared AMs finally limped across to support them. If there was one thing guaranteed to annoy the membership, it was the idea of another deal being done behind closed doors in which the leaders of the party might once again come out with compromised policies that didn't reflect what the membership wanted. We'd had our fill of that before.

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Penddu, that's very encouraging. I've seen too many TV programmes in which people on the streets are shown pictures of politicians, but fewer than one in ten has any clue who they are. We need to work on getting everybody in Wales to know who Leanne is. She might be reluctant to see her face everywhere, but she is a huge asset.

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