A Political Liability

Rhun ap Iorwerth hasn't excelled himself on the matter of whether a new nuclear power station should be built at Wylfa.

His first public statement about it was in this interview with the Daily Post, in which he said he had a long-held opinion, but didn't actually say what it was. I called this statement "tortuously ambiguous" in my comment about it in this post. However in that same post I went on say what I thought he should have said about it.

A few days later Rhun made another statement about Wylfa, this time on his election blog, in which he answered some of the points I'd made. Some of those answers were very welcome but he still wouldn't answer the most fundamental question, which was whether he supports or opposes Wylfa B. Instead, he said that he will listen to the people of Môn. In response, I wrote this post, which reminded him that if he really did want to listen to the people of Ynys Môn, he should look at the survey conducted by the University of Bangor which showed that only a minority (35%) of local people wanted to jobs to be created in the nuclear sector, but that 74% wanted energy jobs on the island to be created in the alternative/renewable energy sector instead.

I also made it very clear that listening only to views that you are predisposed to agree with, and then claiming your position is based on what that group is saying while ignoring what the majority is saying is a shameful way of doing politics.

I was content to leave it at that. This by-election is a contest between Labour and Plaid Cymru, and it is better for Ynys Môn to have a Plaid AM who is ambiguous about whether he supports or opposes nuclear energy than a Labour AM who unambiguously supports it.

     

But thanks to this post on Ifan Morgan Jones' blog, it appears that Rhun wasn't content to leave it at that. This is a message that he tweeted yesterday:

As he can hardly have been tired or drunk at the time of day he tweeted it, it seems that Rhun's lack of political experience and maturity is starting to show through. He had gone out of his way to make two carefully crafted statements in which he managed to avoid saying whether he supported Wylfa B or not, presumably (and rightly) concerned that if he spoke out in favour of it he would alienate not only the majority of members in Plaid Cymru, but at the same time—and perhaps more importantly—alienate the majority of people in Môn who do not want jobs in the form of a new nuclear power station, but want them created in producing electricity cleanly instead.

If Rhun was a person of political principle or character, why had he been afraid to make it clear that he supported Wylfa B in his previous statements to the Daily Post and on his own blog? Carefully constructed deviousness is the only explanation for it ... which has now been exposed by a careless tweet. Perhaps someone with more political sense wrote those statements for him, but when left to his own devices he lost all semblance of that previous wisdom.

So it looks like Rhun is going to be a political liability for Plaid Cymru. He hid behind the line that he was going to listen to what people on Môn want, but it now seems clear that he had already decided he would ignore them in order to pursue a private political agenda of his own. We might well have hung another Dafydd Elis-Thomas round our necks.

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18 comments:

welshnotbritish said...

I believe the appropriate response in this nuclear age is 'BOOM!'


kp said...

Doubtless he also sends his kids to private schools, has private medical insurance for the whole family and owns a holiday home in the south of France, despite none of the family having any interest whatsoever in the language and culture of France.

Duplicitous in the extreme. Steer well clear!

Lyndon said...

There are plenty of us in Plaid who would like to overturn the unscientific, Luddite nonsense of the antinuclear policy.

It's great to welcome Rhun into the fold.

MH said...

You're welcome to your views on nuclear power, Lyndon. You've held them openly for a long time. And there are some others in Plaid who share your view, but you are in a small minority. All the votes on the principle of being against nuclear power have been won by large margins at conference, it is only the votes on whether we should try and get local employment if new nuclear power stations were built that have been close.

Rhun's case is different. Up until this tweet his public statements on whether he is for or against nuclear power have been tortuously ambiguous. In the hustings in which he was selected I was told (by Cai Larsen, who I trust and have great respect for) that the position Rhun presented on nuclear power was "more or less identical" to that of Heledd Fychan and Ann Griffith. However Heledd made it clear in the hustings that she was opposed to nuclear power. Therefore it is clear that Rhun either intimated that he agreed with Plaid's policy at the hustings or (perhaps more likely given the statements he made after) was deliberately ambiguous about it.

It is that lack of openness and honesty which makes Rhun a political liability for us. Who knows what else is likely to crawl out of the woodwork? He might well be a cuckoo in our nest: someone who is only interested in using Plaid Cymru as a meal ticket for his own political ends rather than because he supports our policies.

We as a party have form on this: look at Mohammad Ashgar. Accepting candidates because they look good on the surface, but without taking the time and effort to find out what political views they hold, is a weakness that we should have addressed.

Cai Larsen said...

Looks like kp wants to have your babies Michael. If I were in your place I'd resist by all legal means - & if that doesn't work illegal ones.

Anyway - http://oclmenai.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/syniadau-wylfa-b.html

MH said...

I'll post Cai's comment here, in two parts because of the length.

The initial thing to say is that I have a certain amount of sympathy with some of the points Michael has raised - especially the inappropriateness of elected Plaid representatives attacking the concept of independence. Independence is a core nationalist principle.

However the exact method by which electricity is generated isn't a core nationalist principle or indeed a nationalist principle of any description. A blanket refusal to countenance the production of energy with a nuclear reactor might be party policy, but the party is made up of human beings & humans don't agree on everything. The party isn't a bee hive, & a hive mentality isn't healthy for any organization. Attitudes to independence & electricity production shouldn't be conflated.

If you live in the North Western corner of Wales - as perhaps 40% of Plaid members do, the nuclear issue is problematic. On the one hand there's party policy, &on the other there's real politics - and real life. Quality employment is scarce & our base is made up of the ordinary working people who live around us - friends, neighbours, acquaintances - real people with real families to keep, with real mortgages to pay with real household budgets to manage. Our base, our people - the people we need to protect & look after. Incidentally - & it is incidental - there's an real election to fight in a real constituency which has for a number of generations had a nuclear facility as one of its main sources of employment. This might not be satisfying from the point of view of an ideologue, but that's how it is.

Now most people on the ground understand this. There isn't uniformity within Plaid ranks in the North West regarding WylfaB, but people from both sides of the argument understand the lay of the land. Now I hesitate to outline Rhun's position for him, but he probably believes that WylfaB presents Ynys Mon & the wider North West region with economic opportunities, but recognizes that questions need to be answered before the development goes ahead - questions about future costs, waste, linguistic & community impact etc. He also believes that any benefits that accrue from any development should impact locally. This is a logical position as well as a principled one.

MH said...

This is the second part of Cai's comment.

As I've suggested before I find it regrettable that the Syniadau blog is intent on focusing a far wider campaign on the one issue Labour wants to fight the campaign on. This is the sole area they are able to gain any traction - having a parachuted candidate who's got the thankless task of defending a decade & a half of Labour ennui, failure & incompetence. Yet the author of the blog spends his time looking for press interpretations of something or other that Rhun said or something written on a 140 character format to indicate that he's rabidly pro nuclear - & on finding what he wants to find having an almighty public strop about it.

The personal nature of some of the latest comments is even more regrettable. Rubbishing the views of the candidate on a specific issue is one thing, rubbishing the candidate personally is quite another - & it's very difficult to imagine why any party member would do such a thing in the middle of an important election campaign. Everybody who knows the man understands him to be decent, intelligent, principled & hard working. At no point during this debate has anybody made vicious personal comments about the author of Syniadau, & I very much hope that situation continues.

Now there are various side issues which are relevant to this argument - the failure of the very large Northern membership to fully engage in internal party debates & make it's numerical superiority count, the appropriateness of having an old fashioned blanket anti nuclear stance in an environment where dependence on fossil fuels needs to be cut & renewable sources are unpopular being just two.

But the issue I'd like to touch on is this - there's little we can learn from Labour, but discipline is an exception. They have their arguments in a room & they pull together in public. Some of us have a great deal to learn from that.

MH said...

KP will take any opportunity to say anything against Plaid Cymru, Cai. When I criticize my party or anyone in it, I will always try to explain exactly why I am doing it, and always do so because I believe it is in our best interests as a party and the interests of Wales as a nation.

The issue here is not about whether Rhun or anyone else in Plaid Cymru is opposed to or supports a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. The issue is one of transparency and honesty. Up until now, Rhun has not said (at least not in public) whether he supports the construction of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa or not. The public statements he has made have been carefully crafted to avoid giving a direct answer to that question.

You accuse me of "looking for press interpretations of something or other that Rhun said". That's clearly not true. I have only commented on what Rhun himself has said. He had plenty of opportunity to make his position clear, but he didn't. Instead he tortuously avoided giving a straight answer to a straight question. Perhaps some will say that this character flaw makes him ideally suited to be a politician; I just call it a character flaw. One advantage of saying something in 140 characters is that you can't use convoluted language, so in the heat of the moment he let the cat out of the bag.

What was the point of Rhun's previous obfuscation? Whatever it is, I find it suspicious. Perhaps Rhun intended to be another Ieuan Wyn Jones and keep up the obfuscation indefinitely. Perhaps he intended to make it clear where he stood, but only after he was safely selected and elected. Now we'll never know. But I will again remind you, Cai, that you said the position Rhun presented on nuclear power in the selection hustings was "more or less identical" to that of Heledd Fychan and Ann Griffith. If it was, then Rhun was clearly being less than honest during the selection procedure. You might well call that a vicious personal attack on Rhun; and I agree that it is an attack, but honesty is personal. It is Rhun's character that I am calling into question, not whether or not he is opposed to or supports nuclear power.*

You say that "everybody" who knows him understands him to be decent, intelligent, principled & hard-working. My answer to you is that very few people have had the chance to make any assessment of him, particularly when it comes to politics. He is an unknown quantity with no track record. How can you or any other member of the public make that sort of blanket judgement about him after only a few weeks? At best, it is wishful thinking on your part; at worse, it is blind electioneering.

You say that there are things we can learn from Labour. I agree, but I disagree with you about what it is we should learn from them. Labour would not dream of selecting a candidate for a national seat, and especially a safe seat, without knowing exactly where their loyalties lie and where they stand on political issues. Most of the time a candidate will have served a good few years as a member of the Labour party; certainly as an active party member, probably as a town or county councillor, perhaps as a candidate who has cut their teeth fighting one or two unwinnable seats at national level. This means that Labour do not select unknown quantities.


* I will address that point, but in a later comment, because I don't want to distract attention from what I see as the main issue.

Cai Larsen said...

Do you seriously believe that had somebody opposed to nuclear power been selected to fight Ynys Mon that their public position would have been different to Rhun's? Seriously?

In these parts it's counter cultural to personally attack your own. That's why you haven't been dished out the same treatement as you gave Rhun. Please remember that.

Cai Larsen said...

BTW - when you make your comments about Labour ensuring the ideological purity of their candidates, does this apply to Shaun Woodward & his butler being selected to fight St Helen's South?

kp said...

Mr Larsen, there are many residents of Anglesey, me included, that wanted at least one of the prospective candidates to run on a 'no nuclear' ticket.

The fact that I paid good money to Join Plaid Cymru to cast my vote for Leanne Wood is one such example of the strength of feeling against nuclear on this island.

You can imagine how I now feel about the selection and subsequent duplicity of Mr Iowerth.

As for your statement about it being 'counter cultural to personally attack your own ...' I wonder who's culture you are really talking about. Certainly this is not a statement that can be backed up by any intellectual argument.

You do the cause of Anglesey, Welsh nationalism and independence for Wales no favours whatsoever.

Hogyn o Rachub said...

I'm really very shocked at the negative attention you've given to Rhun ap Iorwerth over the past few weeks. I mean, genuinely - it actually comes over as petty and quite, dare I say, sulky that your preferred candidates haven't been nominated.

I'm not a member of Plaid Cymru, but I can tell you now, there's no doubt that Rhun ap, if elected, will be a boost to Plaid Cymru especially in the north-west. He seems to be in the mold of a traditional cultural nationalist politician, which is something Plaid Cymru has lacked over recent years and - in the west at least - will be of benefit to them.

The comparison to Dafydd Êl is stupid and wrong. It is quite obvious that Rhun ap Iorwerth is an out-and-out Welsh nationalist that happens to disagree with the party's stance on nuclear energy. Most people outside of the political bubble won't see that as some glaring mismatch in his choice of party membership. I'd be somewhat sickened if Plaid Cymru's attitude has really become that members' views on nuclear energy is more important that their nationalism.

And also, in the north-west Wales context, nuclear isn't the prickly issue that people make out - I think Cai has explained that quite well. Truth is, most people in north-west Wales are generally supportive of Wylfa B (a lot are strongly against and a few stronly in favour but the concensus is mildly pro-Wylfa).

I imagine RhapI's stance is generally in tune with not only people in Ynys Môn and Gwynedd but with most party members in the area as well.

Basically, two things. Firstly, you're making a mountain out of a molehill - although I fully understand and appreciate that nuclear energy may well be an important issue for you and many within the party. However, in the context of everything Plaid is supposed to believe in, Rhun ap's support of nuclear isn't very significant.

Secondly, it surprises me that any one from a political party would write so much negative material on one of their candidates in an important election for that party. If you have criticisms to make of Rhun ap Iorwerth that's understandable, but at least wait until the results are in before you stick the boot in - you may well regret not doing so!

MH said...

Having addressed the primary issue of Rhun's honesty and openness, I'll now try to answer some of the points about nuclear power in Cai's comment.

I'll start by repeating what I've said before, but I think it probably needs repeating. Plaid Cymru is a party that has room for a range of differing opinions on all sorts of policies. I certainly don't think that everyone should have the same opinions on everything, and I don't think that someone whose opinion differs from party policy should not be allowed to stand as a candidate. I spelt that out in a number of comments in the discussion on this post, particularly this one.

The picture Cai paints (and HoR too, in his comment) is of people in Môn and Gwynedd having a markedly different view of nuclear power than people elsewhere. The evidence shows that this just isn't true. The University of Bangor survey (here shows that local people want investment and the jobs that come from that investment; but only a minority wants those jobs to be in nuclear energy, the majority wants that investment to be in renewable/alternative energy. The same is true on a wider, more general level. Only last week the survey in this article showed something very similar: high levels of public support for solar (85%) and wind energy (75%), but with a majority of 54% opposed to a new nuclear power station being built in their area.

Now I will accept it is possible that Plaid Cymru members in Môn and Gwynedd might be more in favour of nuclear power than the rest of the population in those two counties, but if they are they are very clearly out of step with local opinion. My fear is that narrow interest groups within Plaid Cymru are more concerned about those narrow interests than about what people as a whole say when asked about it in a properly conducted opinion poll.

In some ways, this reminds me of Arthur Scargill and the miners' strike. I remember Hywel Francis, the Labour MP for Aberafan and someone who knows more about it than most, saying there was a big difference in attitude between the Yorkshire miners and the south Wales miners during the miners' strike. In Yorkshire, miners wanted to keep the industry alive so that their sons and grandsons would have jobs in the future; but in south Wales, miners were more concerned their sons and grandsons would have better opportunities than them and never need to do a dirty, dangerous job like mining coal.

Working in nuclear power is certainly less dangerous than mining coal, but the waste products of nuclear are very much more dirty and will remain so for many, many generations. Those who are involved in the nuclear industry on Môn seem to me to be rather like the Yorkshire miners: trying to hold on to an old, outdated industry because they are familiar with it, and therefore afraid to embrace the new opportunities to work in a renewable energy industry that doesn't produce any dangerous waste products and will provide us with an endless source of power.

Continued in next comment

MH said...

Continued form previous comment

Politicians are very prone to lose sight of the big picture for what they perceive to be short-term gain. Politicians without principles will swing one way, then swing another way according to which interest group happens to be shouting loudest at any particular time. Just look at the way politicians in all parties are now swinging away from renewables, and in particular wind, in the face of a concerted right-wing media campaign against them. Then look again at what the survey evidence shows: I am on safe ground when I say that opposition to Wylfa will win more votes in Ynys Môn than being pro-Wylfa.

We should also remember that Labour In Wales have done a complete U-turn on nuclear power. In the highly unlikely event of Tal Michael being elected as an AM, he would in fact be the only Labour AM elected on a platform of support for nuclear energy. All the others were elected on a manifesto that said nuclear power was unnecessary in Wales because we can produce more electricity than we consume through renewables. The details are here and here, but these are the relevant words:

Our approach to nuclear power in Wales is ... we remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations.

What happened to that manifesto commitment? Simple. Labour AMs elected in 2011 had adopted a position on energy that was different from that of Labour MPs in Westminster in the 2010 manifesto. When Peter Hain realized that they'd done it, the AMs were told by Westminster that they had to change their minds. So that's what they did ... and the manifesto they were elected on was quietly ripped up and thrown out of the window. Carwyn Jones' spineless government gave in like a pussycat.

However Plaid couldn't expose Labour's double standards as we should have because we were hamstrung by our own double standards: Ieuan Wyn Jones' indecisiveness and ambivalence on nuclear, coupled with Dafydd Elis-Thomas' outspoken support for it, diluted the consistent opposition of our other AMs and the party as a whole. Mae'n cymryd aderyn glan i ganu. Therefore I think I must do all I can to stop Plaid being compromised in the same way again.

That is why it is so important for me to speak out against what Rhun has said now. Sitting on the fence and giving evasive answers about nuclear was bad enough, but Rhun has now completely overstepped the mark by saying that he is pro-Wylfa B. If I don't criticize him for doing this, Labour will be able to say that we in Plaid threw away our principles just to win an election in one small corner of Wales ... although the tragedy is that we never needed to because at Assembly level Ynys Môn is a safe seat. I and others in Plaid need to stand up and say that this is not being done in our name. It is the only way that we can go into the 2016 election with a hope of winning it.

MH said...

Thanks for your comment, HoR. You might well be shocked about what I've said, but I have only done it in response to behaviour that I think is unacceptable in a political party that hopes to lead the next Welsh government. My criticism has been directed at Plaid's National Executive (or, to be more specific, a majority on it) for waiving the rules to allow Rhun to put his name forward as a candidate; to Ieuan Wyn Jones for immediately changing his mind about when he would stand down, forcing the local party to make an instant decision without here being any time to properly consider who our candidate for Ynys Môn should be; and now to Rhun for misleading the party at the hustings, with what he really thought about Wylfa B only coming out in a careless tweet.

You say that it is "quite obvious that Rhun ap Iorwerth is an out-and-out Welsh nationalist that happens to disagree with the party's stance on nuclear energy." With regard to nuclear energy, it is only because of Rhun's tweet on Friday that any member of the general public knows that he is pro-Wylfa B. He certainly wasn't selected as Plaid's candidate on that platform. As Cai has said, what Rhun said in the hustings was more or less identical to what Heledd and Ann said, and Heledd said she was opposed to nuclear power.

The reason that it was such a bad idea to select Rhun is that he was an unknown quantity. So I would suggest that you have no way of knowing whether Rhun is "an out-and-out Welsh nationalist", it will only become clear what he is in the fulness of time, just as it only became clear that he is pro-Wlyfa B on Friday. He could well prove to be a cuckoo in Plaid's nest in more ways than being pro-nuclear.

And I find it very odd that you close by saying that I "may well regret" not leaving it until after the election before criticizing Rhun. It would be the height of hypocrisy. If no-one in Plaid criticizes him for this now, our political opponents will be able to say that we in Plaid threw away our principles just to win an election. That's not the way I want to do politics.

MH said...

Over on Blog Menai, Gareth Clubb posted a link to the full report on attitudes to energy in the UK conducted by Cardiff University for UKERC that was mentioned in WalesOnline last week. It can be downloaded from this page.

Lyndon said...

Seriously, why on earth are we arguing about this? Nuclear policy is not devolved, and by the time the Assembly gets any say over Wylfa (if ever) the decision will have been made one way or another.

Let's argue about things we can actually have some influence on, shall we?

MH said...

I've no time for that attitude, Lyndon. It's wrong on so many levels.

First, how can we not talk about anything which matters to Wales? Second, we do have influence. It is always worth reminding people who are against nuclear power in Wales that we are the majority. It is always worth reminding people that all parties in Wales acknowledge that we can generate the electricity we need without it.

So I'll always be ready to talk about energy policy, though perhaps elsewhere. This post was primarily about Rhun, not about the pros and cons of any aspect of how we generate electricity.

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