Repairing the damage

Now is the time to look back at the Ynys Môn by-election and take a hard look at what went wrong for Plaid Cymru. Went wrong? Of course there will be some people who think nothing went wrong: that it was a spectacular victory for the party with a huge winning margin. But when the euphoria dies down and the empty bottles of champagne get put into the recycling bin, I think people will realize that this victory is one that will cause the party problems for years into the future.

We might think we can get away with throwing away our principles for a single by-election in a seat that was always going to be safe at Assembly level, but we won't be able to do that in a general election, either for the Assembly or for Westminster. To do well across Wales we will need to find our principles again and stick to a coherent set of policies for the whole of Wales.


A flawed selection process

I've already addressed this in previous posts, particularly this one. In a nutshell, the first problem was the decision to allow Rhun to put himself forward for selection, even though nobody apart from those in his immediate circle could have any idea about his opinion on political issues or his qualities as a candidate. It was a needless gamble, and we've paid the price for our lack of due diligence. Someone who looked plausible has in fact turned out to be a conman who has shafted us.

Of course there were some people in the party who knew exactly what Rhun was going to do, but I suspect there were only a few. The rest were duped. They took things on trust that they should have taken the time to test. In our party constitution there is a rule that no one can stand as a candidate at national level unless they have been a member for a year. That rule is there for a good reason, it gives us time to see what that person is made of; what their political beliefs are and how they will behave in different situations. The National Executive, though by no means everyone on it, decided to waive that rule. They were wrong to do so.

But that bad decision was immediately made worse by Ieuan Wyn Jones reneging on what he had said he would do. I'm sure the original statement he made would have been discussed and agreed with other members of the Plaid Group in the Assembly, namely that he would continue to do both jobs for a while and step down as a AM at some time before 2016. That breathing space could have been a factor in the decision to allow Rhun to be a candidate. Those on the National Executive who were unsure about Rhun might have felt that an election some time between now and 2016 would have provided enough opportunity for people to assess whether Rhun would be a suitable Plaid Cymru candidate. But Ieuan's immediate U-turn meant that there was no time for anyone in the party to properly scrutinize potential candidates for the seat. Local members were forced into making an instant decision at one hustings meeting.

However, as I made clear in this comment, my criticism at that point in time was aimed at the National Executive of the party and at Ieuan Wyn Jones. Some people assumed I was attacking Rhun and trying to undermine him, but the only criticism I made of Rhun at the time was that he was being presumptuous and that he was not doing enough to tell us where he stood on the issues. Presumptuousness is not an especially bad thing for an ambitious man who wants a career in politics. But I also said it would be very different if it ever came to light that Rhun was involved in arranging what happened.

Immediately after Rhun's selection

As I was not at the hustings, I cannot know for sure what Rhun said. However I was told by someone who I have every reason to trust that what Rhun said about Wylfa B was "more or less identical" to what Ann Griffiths and Heledd Fychan said about it. As Heledd said she was opposed to nuclear power, it seems clear that Rhun did not say that he supported it in the hustings. But I don't need to rely on that alone. It was confirmed in two public statements Rhun made immediately after he had been selected: first in the Daily Post, then on his own blog.

In this post I described what he said in the Daily Post as "tortuously ambiguous". He had accurately expressed half of Plaid Cymru's position on nuclear power, but had not mentioned the other half. Yet the approach I took was not to condemn him for it, but to explain why it would be much better if he took the trouble to present a more balanced picture of party policy.

Fair play to him, Rhun responded by making a more detailed statement in his blog a couple of days later, which I wrote about in this post. I warmly welcomed the things that Rhun added, but I also noted that he had still not given a straight answer to the fundamental question of whether he supported or opposed Wylfa B.

He said he would "listen to the people", and I told him exactly where he could find a survey of what local people thought about it. I was content to leave it at that. It seemed clear to me that he was trying to take the same line as Ieuan Wyn Jones had taken before him. It was painful to listen to and cringingly embarrassing but, as I said later, 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.

At that time Rhun had my support and I was completely confident he would win. Any candidate we had selected would win, not because of their media profile, but because of the hard work done by members of the party over many years. That's why we had done so well in the local elections in May. It was so obvious that we would win that I make jokes about the rather corny graphics that had just appeared on Plaid T-shirts. Yet some people, Cai Larsen in particular, had already got it into their heads that I was trying to undermine Rhun and engineer a Labour victory ... just read the comments that he wrote.

What then changed

On 20 July, I found out from Ifan Morgan Jones' blog that Rhun had tweeted this message:

As I said in this post, Rhun had suddenly shifted from his previous position of not saying whether he supported Wylfa B to a position of actively supporting it. He had moved from a position of supporting some aspects of Plaid's policy on nuclear power to a position where he was now openly and actively opposing Plaid's policy. Rhun had only been a potential liability before then; now he had become a real liability.

With hindsight I think Rhun might have done this for one of two reasons, but both of them are bad. One explanation is that he was being goaded by Labour, who were making all sorts of silly accusations to try and catch him off balance. At one time they were saying that his ambivalence about whether or not he supported Wylfa B was a sign that he secretly supported it; but when another Labour goon suggested that it was a sign that he was secretly against Wylfa B it proved so offensive to him that he felt he had to say he supported it. If this is what happened it was a result of his political immaturity and lack of experience in fighting election campaigns. I can imagine Ieuan putting his head in his hands in despair, muttering, "I managed to be ambiguous for thirty years, but the boy can't even manage thirty days."

The other explanation is that Rhun had now realized that he was so far in front in the election campaign that he could afford to say what he really thought about nuclear power. He'd already been selected; he'd already got endorsements from party leaders; so he could now dispense with the carefully prepared ambiguity he had used to get selected and say whatever he liked.


It doesn't really matter which of these explanations is true. All that actually matters is the fact that he had now moved from a position that was compromised but at least reflected some parts of Plaid's policy to one that openly opposed Plaid's policy. He was now undermining the party he was meant to be standing for.

If it had been a careless slip there was a chance that he could at least try to get back on the fence again. He could perhaps say that the tweet had been sent in the heat of the moment during a hectic campaign and that what he really meant, if he had had more than 140 characters in which to say it, was ...

Or he could have come clean and said, "Sorry I misled you before, but I don't in fact agree with Plaid Cymru's policy on this issue." That would at least have been honest. But instead of doing that he decided to try and justify himself by resorting to blatant lies. Instead of acknowledging that Plaid's policy is to be totally opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power station, including Wylfa B, he started repeating the cock and bull story that Plaid's policy was only to be opposed to power stations on new sites, not existing ones. When he said it on Sunday Supplement, Vaughan Roderick—who, like any journalist, can't be expected to know every detail of Plaid Cymru's policy—was only able to say that it was having our cake in Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Ynys Môn and eating it elsewhere, details here. But Rhun then went on to repeat the same lie on Pawb a'i Farn on Monday. This time Dewi Llwyd—probably because he had read Syniadau—was able to take him to task and point out in no uncertain terms that Rhun was lying. Rhun's reaction was to start throwing mud at every other party, but doing that can neither hide nor justify Rhun's dishonesty.

On Sunday Supplement he also said that he would vote against Plaid Cymru if the matter of nuclear power ever came up at the Assembly. Odd, isn't it, that Rhun's supporters accuse me of being disloyal to the party, when it was Rhun who was now openly admitting that he would be disloyal to the party.


Plaid Cymru's policy

At this point I think it is worth taking a detour to look in more detail at what Plaid Cymru's policies are and how we formulate them. Plaid Cymru is actually quite bad at making policy. I have lost count of the number of times I have asked what Plaid's policy on this or that subject is, expecting to be directed to a definitive policy paper that had been written this year, last year or five years ago ... often to be told there wasn't one. Making policy and explaining to members what our policies are was one of the weaknesses addressed in Eurfyl ap Gwilym's review, and we had responded by appointing a very good Director of Policy and Education to coordinate it. It's a shame that this has now gone to waste.

However, because nuclear power had been such a contentious issue, we had already spent a lot of time and trouble (and perhaps shed a few drops of blood along the way) to define exactly what our policy on nuclear power is. We voted on every aspect of it at conference so that our policy reflected the views of the majority of the party. There are some clauses in it that I would prefer not to be in it; some clauses were excluded that I would have wanted to be included; but in the end we reached agreement. There is therefore no room for any doubt at all about what our policy is, and I have on many occasions referred to it in full, being careful not only to focus on the parts I fully agree with, but also on the parts that I didn't fully agree with [click to display].

As I see it, accepting the decisions reached by a majority in a democratic process is the mark of political maturity, and it is the collective responsibility of every member of the party to accept what we as a party decide. That's what party discipline is about, and without it we will never be an effective party. Yet we have some recalcitrant party members who point-blank refuse to accept decisions we make that they don't like. John Dixon, who knew much more than me about the petty factions and infighting that takes behind the scenes when he was Chairman of the party, explained that very well in this post on Wednesday.

Some things therefore need to be said very clearly, because it is obvious that quite a few people need to be firmly reminded about them:

First, that the majority of people in Plaid are totally opposed to building any new nuclear power stations in Wales, including Wylfa B.

Second, that even though there is a minority in the party who support Wylfa B, most of them are mature enough to acknowledge that our anti-nuclear policy has been put together in a democratic way, and accept it for that reason. Only a small core of recalcitrants have resorted to telling lies about it and misrepresenting it, but as a result of them doing it others have unwittingly repeated those lies.

Third, that anyone in the party who is pro-nuclear is free to try and change party policy, providing they realize that the only way to change the decision is to bring the matter before conference again and make their case there. If their arguments convince a majority, our policy will change. But until or unless that happens, party policy is going to remain firmly anti-nuclear.

Back to Rhun

Having shown what Plaid Cymru policy on nuclear power actually is, and having explained that there is no way of changing it except by raising the matter again at conference, it is time to return to Rhun's character and behaviour.

Rhun told blatant lies about Plaid's policy and he fully deserves to be criticized for it. The double standards of those who have criticized me for undermining the party are breathtaking. I have consistently stood up for Plaid Cymru and our policies. It is Rhun who has undermined the party and brought it into disrepute by using deceit.

John Dixon is wrong about only one thing: I have not singled-out Rhun for criticism. I have treated Rhun in exactly the same way as I have treated others who have tried to mislead the public about Plaid's nuclear policy. When Elfyn Llwyd did it on Question Time in June 2011, I criticized him for it here. When Bob Parry, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Ynys Môn, did it in Golwg in October 2011, I criticized him for it here. When Dafydd Elis-Thomas did it in the campaign to be leader of Plaid Cymru on Sharp End in February last year, I criticized him for it here. They were telling barefaced lies, and I was not afraid to tell anyone who reads Syniadau that this is what they were doing.

My motive throughout is that I care about Plaid Cymru and am not prepared to see our party being misrepresented though their lies. I have been completely consistent in criticizing those in the party who are clearly too afraid to try and change Plaid's policy by arguing their position in an open and democratic way, but instead try to do it by subterfuge and manipulation. I had my suspicions about Rhun from the start, but I only turned my fire on him when he proved that my suspicions about him were justified. Rhun has shown himself to be another member of that narrow-interest clique, and he has received exactly the same treatment from me as the others did. He has only himself to blame for that.


What Plaid Cymru should do now

The spinelessness of people in the party who should have spoken out and reaffirmed Plaid Cymru's total opposition to Wylfa B is very disappointing. Senior figures who have in the past not been afraid to say that Plaid is opposed to Wylfa B now need to make their voices heard again. If you don't—for I am now talking to you directly—public perception that we are a party that will throw away any of our principles for short-term gain will only grow stronger. We will be thought of as nothing more than a bunch of cynical hypocrites who would sell our own mothers if we thought it would give us an electoral advantage.

Rhun, by suddenly shifting his position half way through the campaign, after he had been allowed to stand, after he had been selected, and only when it was clear to him that he would win the seat, went off like a loose cannon and has done immense damage to the reputation of our party. Don't kid yourselves about the scale of the victory. It was a safe seat and our main opposition had all but crumbled. We would have won it just as easily if we had selected a better candidate with the strength of character not to use deceit. Winning seats across Wales will be much harder. We won't be able to get away with having 40 different, contradictory sets of policies for 40 seats. We will need one coherent policy package that works for all parts of Wales.

So don't bury your heads and imagine this will all blow over. The grass-roots majority that has consistently reaffirmed our opposition to nuclear power will not let you get away with it. Trech gwlad nag arglwydd. The people of the land are more important than its leaders.

This damage needs to be repaired rather than ignored. It will be an uphill task. You need to go back and find your principles, give voice to them, and learn not to throw them away so easily next time. It is the only way to stop the party being a laughing stock outside our heartlands. It is the only way we will break the perception that we care about pork-barrel politics for a few Welsh-speaking areas rather than policies for the whole of Wales. And it is the only way we will make enough electoral headway to have any hope of leading a future Welsh Government.

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Jac o' the North, said...

Aren't you worried that some will think you're more concerned with nuclear power than you are about Plaid Cymru?

Lyndon said...

I believe there is already a political party set up for people who endlessly obsess over such issues. Green something or other.....

Hogyn o Rachub said...

I give up.

Dylan said...

I will agree only that Plaid Cymru's politicians need to be more honest about the party's policy regarding nuclear power. A majority of members voted to oppose it unambiguously at conference, and that ought to be acknowledged. The policy is what it is, and it ought to be changed in the proper way.

Personally, I think this whole problem could be an indication that the whole system that the party uses to decide policy might not be sustainable in the long-term. There will always be differences of opinion between any given elected politician and that of the membership as a whole. Collective responsibility is an useful concept within a governing cabinet, but I don't think it's sensible or even desirable within an entire party.

I'm getting tired of the complaint about the manner in which Rhun was selected. A mechanism existed with exceptional circumstances like this in mind. It's obvious that local members could have done with more time to assess his stance on various topics, but that was a factor for them to bear in mind while they made their decision. They did so, and they still chose him overwhelmingly. Had you had your way you would have denied them the chance to select their preferred candidate. You should be able to imagine that this would not have gone down well.

MH said...

Quite the opposite, Royston (Jac). I am more concerned about nuclear power than I am about Plaid Cymru, and I want everyone to know it.

But I am also more concerned about independence for Wales than I am about Plaid Cymru. I am more concerned for the state of Wales' economy than I am about Plaid Cymru. I am more concerned about jobs, about education, about the health service, about the environment, about sport, about the arts, about police and the justice system, about pensions, about welfare and benefits, about foreign policy, and about the language than I am about Plaid Cymru.

In fact I am more concerned about every single aspect of what matters to Wales than I am about Plaid Cymru. I support Plaid Cymru because I believe we have better policies about these things than other political parties. But if we throw them away we are no better than any other party and not worth voting for.

I am not someone who believes their party must be right whatever it does. I believe in demonstrating and arguing for policies that are right for Wales, and in encouraging us as a party to pursue them for the sake of Wales.

Anonymous said...

As a non member I quite like the new Plaid. For too long they've tried to be different and brought press releases to the knife fight whilst Labour bring their tanks, kill their voters and then blame the Tories.

And given the stick MH has had over "old fashioned principles" I'm sure everyone agrees with me.

UKIP are going to be a problem for the unionist parties so if Plaid can continue saying whatever it takes to win seats in the rest of Wales then the next election can be a real break through for them.

MH said...

Picking up on your last paragraph, Dylan. What Rhun said to the local party when he was selected is not the same as what he started to say from 19 July onwards. He changed his tune after he had been selected.


To Stu (WnB) Yes, of course it's nice to see Labour get defeated, but Labour were never going to win this seat at Assembly level, so this is hardly some great breakthrough against Labour.

Maybe if every Assembly seat was contested separately, Plaid could change policies 40 times and have a good shot at winning every one. I'm sure if we had a candidate that said Wales and England were permanently united, that devolution should be reversed, and that David TC Davies was the one true voice of Wales (and if the Plaid endorsed and supported that candidate) we would be able to win Monmouthshire. Then, after a fortnight, we could reverse all that, endorse a candidate with completely different policies, and have a good chance of winning Llanelli. Then we could advocate that north east Wales should be sold to England so that politicians in Chester can build their empire without that pesky little international border getting in their way. Carl Sargeant would soon be out of a job. A couple of weeks after that we could adopt a policy of closing all hospitals in Swansea and Newport to made Cardiff a centre of excellence for the whole of south Wales, and say we'd cut off investment in infrastructure everywhere else in Wales to put all the money into Cardiff instead. We'd probably win Cardiff Central if we did.

The difference between a by-election and a general election is that we will have to fight all the seats at the same time on the same policy platform.

Anonymous said...

I think they can keep the north east but if Plaid adopted an anti-European attitude they could make a lot of headway up there.

Jac o' the North, said...

" . . . and say we'd cut off investment in infrastructure everywhere else in Wales to put all the money into Cardiff . . ." But that wouldn't be a radical or new policy, that's what Labour's been doing since 1999.

Ifan Morgan Jones said...

Your arguments are all sound MH but that's not how politics actually works is it? Either you're naive or I'm cynical, I'm not sure.

Politics has always been a game of compromise. Come election time you need to compromise between what your grassroots believe and what is likely to get you elected. We see Ed Miliband going through the exact same process at the moment, angering his supporters on the left of the party so as to position himself for 2015. David Cameron did the same thing at the last election. Every politician must get the balance right.

Leanne Wood just took the gamble that letting Rhun declare his support for Wylfa B would win him more votes amongst the undecided that it would cost the party in loss of support from the grassroots. (Remember that Rhun publicly stated on Newyddion 9 that Leanne was OK with this.) At the end of the day it obviously didn't lose the party any support (beyond this blog) as Plaid activists converged on Môn as if it was Mecca. Whether it will be worth the hassle in the long run seeing as ge won by a landslide anyway is another matter.

Come the Assembly Election Wylfa B is going to be somewhere around the X, Z and Y mark in the list of subject the voters in Plaid's target seats will actually care about so there's no real damage done in the long term.

Cai Larsen said...

As a matter of interest when you claim Ynys Mon to be a safe Plaid seat are you on about the one that's held by Labour on a Westminster level, where all elections bar 1999 have been closely fought for donkeys' years, where Plaid has never won an election without IWJ's name on the ticket, where the Plaid percentage of the vote in the last three Assembly elections was 41.2%, 39.7% & 37.4% - or is there another one?

MH said...

Ifan, one of the things that you have floated a few times now is the idea that Plaid Cymru allowed Rhun to do what he has done. I would be absolutely astounded if "Leanne Wood just took the gamble [of] letting Rhun declare his support for Wylfa B ... "

Rhun's position had been to say nothing about whether he supported or opposed Wylfa B, to say that it was a decision that the UK government would take, and to say that he would fight to secure the best local opportunities if it went ahead. That broadly fits with what people have reported from the hustings and with the statements he made in the Daily Post and in his blog. My guess is that this is probably the position he took in any discussions he had with the party when he became a member and was allowed onto the national list. Too many people accepted what he said at face value, and that's how Rhun wormed his way in. Those people will now be embarrassed that they were duped, but haven't yet found the voice to say so, because it is understandably hard to admit to making a mistake. To them, I would say that it is better to admit you were fooled by a plausible conman than let him get away with wrecking our principles. If you report a conman to the police, there's a good chance that he will be found guilty and we will be able to get our principles back.

However it is likely that a few people in the party knew he had other views and engineered things so that he would get through the selection process on the basis of appearing neutral about Wlyfa B, but with the understanding that he would come out in favour of Wylfa B afterwards, when it was too late to stop him. It is likely that those in this group fully intended Rhun to undermine the party's position on nuclear power by doing this.

In order to impose a baby cuckoo on an unsuspecting party, adult cuckoos need to lay the egg ... knowing that once lumbered with the new chick, the party will have little choice but to devote time, energy and effort to feeding him.

MH said...

Cai, Cai, read what I've written. I've said that Ynys Môn is safe at Assembly level. We have won every election at Assembly level, and the percentages you mention are quite sufficient to provide comfortable victories in contests where is a choice between four main parties.

Cai Larsen said...

I see, so in your world a 12% majority is huge, which means that we can aspire to virtually nothing.

Have you noticed that your take on this election is diametrically opposed to that of everybody else - even Labour sympathising commentators? If so, why do you think this is?

MH said...

Cai, Cai, you are working yourself into a frenzy. I didn't say "huge" at all. 12% is a comfortable margin in a seat contested by four candidates.

But why this should mean "we can aspire to virtually nothing" is beyond me. Do you think that by increasing our share of the vote by 17% in one seat, it must mean that we increase our share of the vote in by that much in every other seat in Wales?

Leaving to one side the matter of deception and dishonesty, for me, the crux of the issue is this. If we were standing on a coherent set of policies for the whole of Wales, then doing well in one seat would be a positive sign that we could do well in the others too. But that isn't the case if we abandon our policies to make a special case of one seat at the expense of the rest of Wales. It's something that might work in a by-election, but it can't work in a general election.

And no, I haven't noticed that my take on this by-election is "diametrically opposed" to that of "everybody" else, for the rather obvious reason that it isn't true. I'm pleased that a number of people have agreed with a number of the things I've said, and I thank them for it. Yet I must say that I would still say what I've said even if no-one agreed with me. I am only disappointed if the way I've said things has detracted from what I've said to the extent that others haven't been able to agree with me.

I can only call things as I see them. If what I write is held in any esteem by others, I believe it is because people know I will always do this rather than tailor what I write to only include good things about my party and bad things about every other party.

Cai Larsen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cai Larsen said...

I'm not working myself into a frenzy Michael, in fact I find it mildly amusing that your take on the election is so totally at variance with everybody elses' & that you believe 40 odd percent to be in donkey & rossette territory. You haven't had much to do with elections in the past have you?

You've been suggesting that people in positions of leadership were on your side, but they were mostly in Ynys Mon campaigning for Rhun. You've been telling us that ordinary members are on your side, but many of them were flocking to Ynys Mon to campaign for Rhun (while you were undermining their efforts from a great distance). Have you actually talked to an ordinary member or someone in the leadership and asked them? I've talked to plenty from both groups & I haven't found a single person who has any sympathy with your month long strop.

It's really you, your arrogance & your computer against the world I'm afraid.

Der said...

As a non Plaid member I was still over the moon about the result and I'm sure that Rhap will be an excellent AM for Mon and Wales in future. I'm thinking about joining. Although I think that nuclear energy is a side issue.....the Assembly doesn't even have the power to decide upon it and such large scale energy projects....I am a little confused as to what Plaid's stance is on it. It needs to be cleared up or explained a little better.

Beard said...

oh dear

Ifan Morgan Jones said...

'I would be absolutely astounded if "Leanne Wood just took the gamble [of] letting Rhun declare his support for Wylfa B ... "'

He declared on national television that they she knew what his stance was and that she was OK with it. Either he is lying about his own leader, or she allowed him to take his current stance on the issue.

MH said...

He's lied about other things on national television and radio, Ifan, so he might well be trying to put words into her mouth.

Or, looked at another way, these may be weasel words. Everyone now knows what his stance is. The real question is when they knew.

There's no escaping the fact that even after he had been selected, Rhun wasn't telling people whether he supported Wylfa B or not. He was being deliberately ambiguous about it.

I don't need to remind you of what you yourself said here when you saw his tweet of 19 July. Translated for the sake of others reading this it was:

"It looks like Rhun ap Iorwerth does support the construction of Wylfa B after all ... This answer is much less ambiguous than the one he gave to the Daily Post at the beginning of the campaign ...

In fact if it wasn't for your blog I might not have found out at all. Yes, he is now trying to make out that his support for Wylfa B was always clear, but it wasn't.

Cai Larsen said...

Did you get round to asking anybody in a leadership position or ordinary members if they agree with your accacks on the Plaid Cymru campaign in Ynys Mon Michael?

Anonymous said...

MH-Any dispassionate observer would have to concede this was a sensational victory for Plaid Cymru with implications way beyond the usual by-election considerations. To win the seat with 58% of the vote, adding a full 26% to the total won by PC at the recent council elections, was a fantastic achievement by any standards. As someone who took part in the campaign in the south of Ynys Mon, I felt it invoked the "spirit of 87" (when IWJ first won the seat for PC on a wave of hope and optimism), and the positive response of electors to the old-fashioned street campaigning which was at the heart of the operation was simply heart warming.

I also think it was hugely significant that UKIP won 3,000 votes here and almost beat Labour into second place. The usual nationalist line is to dismiss any notion that UKIP have a foothold in Wales, but that just flies in the face of Wales's demographic reality with some 25% of the population born in England, and indeed I would argue that PC paradoxically need UKIP to grow if we are to win/share power in 2016. I can only see UKIP continuing to cannibalise the unionist vote all over Wales, especially after the Euro elections next summer, and that will open the door for PC to win a host of new constituencies in 2016.

But the result also has implications as to the Ynys Mon/rest of Wales conundrum that PC have had to wrestle with over recent years, and this is where I generally concur with your views that Ynys Mon cannot be allowed a stand alone policy on nuclear power, and that a national policy has to prevail, albeit with some realpolitik in the mix. The key point here is that this by-election was won so convincingly with the help of Plaid Cymru in the rest of Wales( mainly members from Arfon, but also many members from other parts of Wales) who presented the Plaid Cymru argument to people all over the island- the level of support provided has in effect torpedoed the notion that Ynys Mon can somehow go it alone on this issue in future. Whatever strong local connections Rhun was able to tap into during his campaign, the "national" dimension was also crucial to his success, and that will now have to be acknowledged.

Maybe one way ahead is for Rhun to build upon the momentum that has been built up over the past few months by convening a special meeting of Ynys Mon members to hammer out a coherent message that can be shared concerning Wylfa B-
with perhaps a "national" dimension introduced with an invitation for members from Arfon as well. I really think there is a huge desire for this type of participatory politics within Plaid Cymru, beyond the old "leave it to the judegement of our elected member" approach.

I for one would hope that such an approach would result in a much stronger nationalist and member driven narrative on Wylfa B: e.g to demand the devolving of all powers over energy to Wales, to insist upon a reasoned debate about potential dangers and nuclear clear up costs for Wales for generations to come, and even insist that it should be the people of Wales who should have the final say on any development. There is no reason at all why such a message should not resonate with the voters of Ynys Mon and beyond.

This could then prepare the way for the process of choosing an Ynys Mon candidate for the Westminster Elections in 2015 in the Autumn, which is now genuinely winnable with Labour in meltdown on the island.

MH said...

I'd agree with the dispassionate observers, Aled. This was a sensational victory. As I've said on numerous occasions now, the organization, hard work and commitment of party supporters in Môn was the major factor in this win, just has it had been in the local elections in May. The "well-oiled machine" that resulted in Plaid being the biggest party on the Council, beating Labour by 2:1 in share of vote and 4:1 in seats, was able to wheel into action again to secure this win. However Labour also put themselves at a disadvantage by choosing a non-local candidate. Those two factors alone would have resulted in a big victory.

The point I've made is that the party would have put just as much effort into securing the win, and we would still have won comfortably, if we had chosen a different Plaid candidate. But Rhun being "the local boy on the telly who came back home" undoubtedly played a part too, to turn what would otherwise be a big victory into a spectacular victory.


You're also right about UKIP being a factor. It's worth remembering that the Tories came second last time with 29% of the vote. On the right-of-centre side of the political spectrum, I think UKIP hoovered-up because Nathan Gill is articulate and local as opposed to the inarticulate and local Neil Fairlamb. He had more drive and carried more punch. But UKIP won votes from past Labour supporters too. Less than from the right, I suspect, but some. If UKIP hadn't stood, I'd guess that two-thirds or three-quarters of the vote they got would have reverted to the Tories and one-third or one-quarter to Labour.

I'd agree that this will play a part in 2016, and that we in Plaid shouldn't be afraid of UKIP gaining ground because UKIP's growth will never take votes from us, but only from our unionist opponents. I have to say I am uncomfortable with you equating this with where people were born, though. Some of UKIP's staunchest supporters are Welsh-born people, but they have typically been those who have always opposed devolution. I highlighted the dilemma UKIP faced here, and it remains to be seen whether the votes UKIP lose in Wales by now being pro-devolution will be compensated by any increase in anti-EU sentiment.

I would sound a note of caution and say that Labour will be wise to this, particularly in the more urban areas of Wales. Yet if Labour does move to the right to address it, it will mean that Labour supporters who lean more to the left will be more likely to switch to Plaid. I don't think we should rely too much on UKIP eating into Labour's vote (although every little helps). We need to concentrate much more on getting Labour voters to switch to Plaid.

MH said...

Getting back to policy, Aled, the point at issue is that we have achieved a spectacular victory in Môn, but at the expense of being able to do well in the rest of Wales. By paying too much attention to Rhun's media profile and not enough attention to his political opinions and character, we have damaged our credibility as a national party. The only thing that can be said in defence of the party is that it was not entirely our fault. What Rhun said before 19 July was different from what he is now saying.

The way forward is hard; for whether it was our fault or not, we as a party are the ones who have to pay the price. Rhun has not lost anything. He is now sitting pretty as a pro-Wylfa AM in an anti-Wylfa party. He has got what he wants, and those who have consistently tried to undermine Plaid's policy of being opposed to Wylfa (people like Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Bob Parry and Elfyn Llwyd) have got what they want. The cuckoos have got one of their offspring into our nest.

I must stress, however, that I am not talking about those in Plaid who are pro-nuclear but accept that we as a party have made a democratic decision on what our policy should be. Nor am I talking about those who want to raise the issue again in the hope of getting us to adopt a different policy on Wylfa B at a future conference. The cuckoos are the ones who refuse to accept our decision as a party, and deliberately misrepresent what we have decided in the hope that repeating the same lie over and over again will bludgeon others (both inside and outside the party) into thinking our policy is different. This is what undermines the party.

So while I would welcome initiatives to talk about and hammer out this policy and any other policy, I fear that it will be pointless if the same cuckoos show the same recalcitrance as they have shown before. As John Dixon said, those who consider themselves as elite because they have been elected (due to the hard work of the membership, of course) can safely ignore the membership once they have been elected. That is why it is so important to point out that what Rhun was saying even after he had been selected (which is almost certainly what he would have said in order to be allowed to stand and be selected) was different from what he is now saying. On Good Morning Wales on Friday, Rhun told Bethan Rhys-Roberts that he wasn't now going to change his mind, and he said on last week's Sunday Supplement that he would vote against Plaid if the issue came up at the Assembly. So it appears there is no compromise to be found there. He's 100% cuckoo.

Therefore the only way forward for us as a party is to restate, as many times as it is necessary to do so, that Plaid's policy is to be totally opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power stations, including Wylfa B, and to expose those who say that our policy is different as the liars they are, whoever they are. We hold the high ground and we must hold firm. If they want to change our policy, they must do it by an open, democratic process rather than by subterfuge.

Ian Titherington said...

MH. To claim that your attacks on Rhun have not been personal but are just based on policy differences, is frankly a joke. It has clearly been personal from as soon as he was considered.

As for your attack on the NEC, you once again are completely out of line. The NEC has the clear right to allow an individual who has been a member for less than 12 months to stand. This was included specifically for individuals who could not stand due to their politically restricted jobs. This rule is not treated lightly, but is there to enable individuals to stand for Plaid from such roles as journalists. Do you really expect people to resign, live on nothing for 12 months then put their names forward? Get real.

You have every right to raise the nuclear issue, but your very personal attacks on Rhun have gone well beyond this. Whatever your personal grudge, it clearly runs deep.

Gareth said...

I posted a comment on OggyBloggyOgwr on 2 August that supports your viewpoint MH

MH said...

I read it at the time, Gareth. Thanks.


And to Ian, I would simply repeat that I do not know Rhun and have nothing personal against him.

The point is that no-one else, outside of his immediate circle of friends, knew anything about him or his political views either ... and for that reason it was stupid to allow him to stand as a candidate.

I warned people in the party of the risk they were running and I have been shown to be right. Rhun deceived the party about his political views in order to be allowed to stand and get selected, and after that told blatant lies about party policy in order to try and justify himself.

And that's just on one issue ... who knows what else will come out of the woodwork?

Gareth said...

And here's the consequence of us supporting new nuclear in Wales.
At some point in time, when no community 'volunteers' to absorb high activity nuclear waste, it will be forced upon one. Chances of that happening to a community in Scotland? Nil, because the government can point to its track record of opposition to nuclear.

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