Question marks over Plaid's policies

A couple of weeks ago, Leanne Wood was on a BBC3 programme called Free Speech, facing an audience of people aged 16-34. The full programme is here, but I want to concentrate on this question about badgers:

     

It might be worth reminding people about the context of the question. The badger cull was a key part of the policy to control Bovine TB introduced by Elin Jones as Minister for Rural Affairs during the One Wales Labour-Plaid coalition between 2007 and 2011.

A number of legal challenges were made, but Elin was determined to press ahead with the cull. After several legal hurdles were overcome, the policy was eventually declared lawful in a judicial review in April 2010, but the Badger Trust was given leave to appeal a few months later, and uncertainty over the outcome coupled with the looming Assembly elections meant that although plans were made for it to go ahead, the cull was never implemented.

The election in 2011 resulted in Labour being able to govern Wales without having to rely on Plaid Cymru support. One of the first things they did was put the cull on hold pending a review of the scientific evidence. Plaid's criticism of this decision was fierce. Elin Jones called the decision a "slap in the face" for farmers, and said to John Griffiths, the new minister: "In your first act you've let farmers down."

Towards the end of 2011, following the announcement that the Tory-led government in Westminster was to go ahead with a badger cull in England, Plaid's new spokesperson on Rural Affairs, Llyr Huws Gruffydd, again re-iterated that Plaid's policy in favour of a badger cull had not changed, saying:

“This announcement is another severe embarrassment for the Labour Welsh Government and highlights its policy of inactivity.

“With a Plaid Cymru Minister in the previous Welsh Government, Wales had a comprehensive Bovine TB eradication plan. Now under Labour, eradication plans are on hold and the Minister is refusing to say what, if anything, he intends to do about this massive problem for our rural areas."

Plaid Cymru Statement, 14 December 2011

The scientific review concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling, and John Griffiths announced that the cull would not go ahead in March 2012. But, even so, Plaid Cymru still maintained that culling was necessary. This was Llyr Huws Gruffydd's response:

"The Labour minister has displayed blind ignorance by disregarding the scientific evidence, and all because he has to fall in line with Labour's new policy in London. Wales is now swimming against the tide of scientific evidence that has seen England adopt a culling policy, with Northern Ireland also moving in that direction."

Guardian, 20 March 2012

Elin Jones' response was even more revealing: it was personal, petulant and irresponsible. In fact, it would probably be construed as an incitement for farmers to break the law:

"Farmers will now have to decide how best to protect their cattle and I for one would not blame them for anything they do."

BBC, 20 March 2012

So it should be perfectly clear that Plaid Cymru's policy has been to cull badgers, even after a review of the scientific evidence had concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling.

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So how is it possible to reconcile these facts with what Leanne Wood has just said in the video clip above?

She said that Plaid had "moved on" because there were now better alternatives to culling. But, as we can see from the evidence above, even after the scientific review had concluded that vaccination was a better option than culling, Plaid was still in favour of culling.

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I think this highlights how deep-rooted Plaid Cymru's problems are when it comes to formulating what their policy on any issue is, and then how to communicate that policy to the public at large.

An anecdote might help. A few years ago I attended the Plaid Cymru Summer School at Bala. One of the sessions was on tricky policy issues and was headed by Nerys Evans, who was Plaid's Director of Policy. The emphasis was not on stating, let alone explaining, what party policy was. In fact, it was often far from clear what Plaid's policy was even to the hard-core activists who go to an event like a Summer School. Instead the emphasis seemed to be on being able to give what I can only call a "sweet" answer to the interviewer or member of the public who might ask an awkward question. Something that showed you understood their concern and agreed with it, rather than run the risk of alienating them by giving an answer that they might not like.

As I got to move among the leadership over my years in Plaid, I came to realize that this attitude pervades the leadership of the party; and I think this, more than anything else, explains why Plaid are so inconsistent when it comes to tricky policy issues. The answer that anyone in a position of leadership gives at any time is tailored to suit the people they are addressing. In extreme cases, it results in people giving two different and opposite answers to the same question depending on who they are talking to – but more usually it results in people giving an answer that suits them and which they personally feel comfortable with, simply because they would find it too awkward to go out on a limb and defend a policy they might not agree with or which they thought the people they were talking to might not agree with.

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I found this attitude disappointing and increasingly annoying. For me, what is important is what Plaid Cymru's policy on any issue actually is, and why it is what it is. So, on the particular issue of badger culling, I'd want to know whether they are for or against it. Any straight question deserves an objective, and consistent, answer.

I've now done some fairly thorough research, and I cannot find anything that would indicate that Plaid Cymru had or has changed its policy on culling badgers. It may well be the case that Plaid has now reversed its policy, but if the party has indeed made a U-turn of such magnitude (bearing in mind how fervently they were once in favour of culling and how viciously they castigated Labour for cancelling the cull) they owed it to their membership and, more importantly, to the public at large to first say that they had changed their policy and then explain why they had done so. A professional party would surely have issued a statement or press release to that effect. It would have been headline news.

But they didn't. What Leanne said in the video clip above is, so far as I can ascertain, the first indication of any change.

And this raises a rather disturbing possibility. Given Plaid's track record on tricky policy issues, I have to say that it is just as likely that the party's policy on culling badgers was never changed, and that Leanne was simply giving an answer that she thought would go down well with the audience she happened to be addressing. To put it bluntly, that she thought giving a "sweet" answer was more important for Plaid's electoral chances at this election than telling the truth.

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22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bitter old fool.

Anonymous said...

Plaid Cymru all over the place, as per usual.

Anonymous said...

Fair do's, in this time of austerity and hardship, of a fundamental choice between progress and neo-liberal cuts, it is disgusting that Plaid seem to have a muddled policy on badgers. Thanks Syniadau for bringing this to our attention. I am just glad the party has clear policies on unimportant things like the economy, education, health and the constitutional future of our country, but of course it all seems pointless now you've pointed out inconsistencies in badger policy.

Anonymous said...

anon 22:10, can you just remind what Plaid's policy is on nuclear power, the Welsh language and independence?

Trivial issues, perhaps. But every time I ask I seem to get a different answer.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Plaid Cymru's level of support hasn't changed during the election campaign, the New Statesman has a great article on Plaid's lack of traction which should be compulsory reading for Leanne's online groupies http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/04/why-arent-plaid-cymru-surging

Anonymous said...
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MH said...

You should know the basic rules by now, 00:13.

If you quote figures to support a point you want to make, you must provide a link to the source. You're welcome to re-post your comment if you do that.

Anonymous said...

MH - I have a lot of time for your policies re independence and all things Welsh. But I think your timing on this is just wrong - verging on vindictive. Plaid are in the middle of what could be a landmark election - with Leanne Wood's profile higher in a UK GE than any previous Plaid leader, and realistic hopes of winning 5 seats and their highest ever vote share (in UK GE). Yet you choose to bicker about badgers.

I think you need to refocus and get back to what you are good at - making this blog one of the widest read and respected Welsh blogs.

Penddu

Robert Llewellyn Tyler said...

Agree with Penddu. This is a valued blog and has been much missed, but the words "timing" and "vindictive" more than spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

Agree entirely MH. Words matter, and when they stop mattering to people, integrity is lost. This is not about the moral high ground, if I understand it rightly; it's about the simple observation that if a party can't get the small things right (i.e. clear, consistent and reasoned through) then how can they be trusted with the bigger things?
So, carry on as you are MH - the analysis is valuable, and someone must (hopefully) be listening somewhere!

Anonymous said...

I think the article is a nitpicking post the timing of which seems to be vindictive and unhelpful.

Disappointed.

Anonymous said...

O Diar, O Diar! What a dilemma.

Does Plaid say it's against culling.......and lose votes to the Tories and Lib Dems? Or does Plaid say it's for culling.......and lose votes to Labour and the Greens?

St Paul of Caersws said...

To the badger cullers I became a badger culler so that I might gain the votes of those who want to cull badgers. To non-badger cullers I became a non-badger culler so that I might gain the votes of those who don't want to cull badgers. I have become all things to all men so that I might by all means gain their votes.

I Cardiffians Ch 9 vv 20-22

Anonymous said...

I suspect the Plaid bubble burst some years ago and the only way it remains in people's consciousness is by encouraging the BBC to give over air time.

Not sure it'll last much longer, neither the air time nor the party.

Welsh not British said...

Agree with Penddu on all the points he raised. The Welsh blogosphere has been a much poorer place without Syniadau and as a fellow blogmonger myself I can honestly say that the number one referrer, by a staggering margin, to my site has been this one.

If you had continued blogging after the very public falling out with Plaid then this wouldn't be that big a deal. But this is only your fifth post of the year (the archive link to the right shows this). It's a couple of weeks away from a general election which looks set to redefine the politics of this island (thanks to the Scots) and Plaid might just make some headway at this poll.

I suspect that there will be a second general election this year and if there is the people of Wales will have seen the people of Scotland grow a massive set of balls and may be encouraged. Your blog has been a valuable source of ammo in the past, it'd be a shame if that ammo is to be made specifically for the enemy.

As for the topic at hand, killing badgers is a devolved issue so it can't be of any surprise that there hasn't been a huge mention of it ahead of the London elections, perhaps ahead of the Welsh elections there will be some mention of it.

One final point, you pulled an anon up on posting things without citation, yet a major part of this post was about the summer school and giving sweet answers. Without citation this is merely just an anecdote that may or may not be true. As a reader I have no way of knowing if this is true without some sort of evidence.

MH said...

Thanks for the comments.

To those who, like 22:10, think that badger culling is unimportant compared with other issues, I would say that different issues are important to different people. It certainly isn't unimportant if you're a farmer in a bTB area, or if you care about the environment and wildlife without being a farmer.

For what it's worth, I plan to deal with other policy issues between now and the election, including some of the areas 22:10 and 22:30 have mentioned. However I suspect that this issue's supposed "unimportance" and "triviality" is more linked to the embarrassment of Plaid Cymru being shown, on yet another issue, to be at best inconsistent and at worst dishonest.

The simple and obvious thing for Plaid's leadership to have done in response to this post was to give a straight piece of clarification. Something like, "Yes we did change our badger-culling policy on [insert date] because [insert reason]. The fact that no-one has done this rather suggests that what Leanne said was a surprise to the rest of the leadership, that Plaid's policy had never been changed, and therefore that Leanne was not telling the truth.

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As for the comments by Penddu, Robert and Stu I would say that in terms of timing, I am responding to what Leanne said only a couple of weeks ago. This is an election campaign. Plaid are looking for votes in this election, therefore the consistency and honesty of their leadership (and the candidates who are standing) are subject to scrutiny now. This is exactly the right time to talk about it.

It certainly isn't my intention to be vindictive, but it is my intention to tell the truth. I have tried for a long time to persuade the party leadership, privately, that their inconsistency and lies would damage their reputation in the eyes of the electorate. They did everything they could to shut me up, but I made it perfectly clear that telling the truth was more important than Plaid Cymru would ever be. I am simply doing what I have always done: which is to tell the truth without fear or favour. If Syniadau is indeed a widely read and respected blog, I think it's because those who read what I write know that I will always put the truth first.

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As for the fact that I haven't blogged much over the past few months, it has nothing to do with Plaid. If you look back, you'll see that I carried on blogging for quite a while after my series exposing how Plaid Cymru works, up until the Scottish independence referendum. After that defeat, I didn't have the heart to continue, for I believe it is a much more major setback to the cause of independence for stateless nations that the current euphoria over the SNP's surge in the polls might suggest. I am primarily interested in countries like Scotland, Catalunya and Wales becoming independent. I am much less interested in whether the SNP, ERC or Plaid Cymru form the government of these countries. The next big thing is the election in Catalunya on 27 September this year.

I don't believe in tribalism when it comes to politics. I believe in good ideas which will make Wales a better place, and would want to give credit to those who come up with good ideas, irrespective of the political party (if any) which they support. I certainly don't regard people from other parties as "the enemy", Stu. If that word is at all appropriate in politics, I'd use it only to describe those who are hypocrites and liars ... and Plaid Cymru has its share of those too.

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As for why Plaid aren't surging like the SNP (thanks for the link, 00:13) and the outcome and ramifications of this election, I hope to touch on these points in future posts.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The question isn't "badgers" it's integrity and duplicity. Plaid is all things to all people whereas the SNP is and always has been a solid and consistent political party that, when it was not popular, just waited for the Scottish people to catch up with their thinking. There never was confusion over WHAT they thought.

Plaid just look slippery.

Robert Tyler said...

Plaid's failings do not hold the proverbial candle to the mendacity, duplicity etc of the major parties with which Plaid is in opposition. The mainstream media overwhelmingly support the status quo (witness the recent smearing of a decent bloke like Mike Parker) and criticizing Plaid at this stage merely serves to strengthen their arm. There are so many targets for you to attack which are in direct opposition to your stated aim of independence. I still regards Plaid as the best available vehicle towards independence, and to damage its electoral prospects at this point seems, at best, unwise. Might I add, Michael, that I have always been a great fan of the blog and it will be great to have you back.

Tyler said...

For "opposition" read "competition"
Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Now it seems that Plaid are advocating Home Rule and the means of making the government of Wales more effective for the people of Wales rather than outright independence (Liz Saville Roberts on Radio 5 Live). I wonder how this will go down with the party faithful?

Why, even I might have to start voting for them soon.

green dragon said...

Agree with all those posters whove said regular posts from this blog have been much missed in the welsh blogosphere. Michael has given his reasons for this and we should accept them. But im sure we'd all be delighted if he is able to start blogging more regularly again.

As for those who've criticised the 'timing' of this post well it's a real shame those individuals werent so vocal when this blog's author was effectively kicked out of plaid over his justifiable criticisms of the party's embarrassing contortions on nuclear power. further if an election campaign isnt the right 'time' to challenge a party on any of its policies then when is?

And in this post we apparently see the same embarrassing contortions in plaid on the matter of the badger cull as we have sadly seen over nuclear power. And is especially disappointing to see this continuing under leanne.

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