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Greed, betrayal and realism

Betsan Powys | 11:36 UK time, Saturday, 13 September 2008

So come on then, let's answer the studio presenter's staple question at this time of year:
"What's the mood of the conference, Betsan?"

Only this time I get more than 30" to tell you about it.

The mood? Quiet confidence, growing pragmatism.

The Plaid of the past few days is a party that's at ease with being government, at ease with itself, at ease with where it's heading. The lanyard-wearing grassroots have confidence in Plaid Ministers, confidence in Ieuan Wyn Jones, confidence that the next leader will take them along the path of further electoral success.

And despite the spectacular knocks inflicted by Llais Gwynedd in the local elections, despite the collapse of the Welsh language daily that never was - such a cherished commitment by many of those who are here this week - I've spotted little bitterness or disillusionment for that matter. A great dollop of realism, yes but that's a very different animal.

It's as though delegates have got the T-shirt of political disappointment early on and decided to put it away in a drawer rather than bring it with them. They know that governing in coalition means compromising and frankly, they're up for it as long as they retain that belief that in the end, a fully self-governing Wales is at least somewhere on the cards.

Until this morning I'd heard little mention of the promised referendum on further powers - barely a mention on the official stage or in the cafes and bars. Isn't this the one pledge in the One Wales Agreement that for some, made it worth signing?

Then along comes Plaid President, Dafydd Iwan and kicks off his speech with a reference to the "all-important referendum on further powers on or before 2011". It went something like this:

"Whatever compromises we have to make in the everyday business of government, we must never forget what we set out as a party to achieve 83 years ago - a fully self-governing Wales, where the Welsh and English languages are equal in status, where the people are sovereign and social justice and equality is paramount".

He talked of full membership of the European Union, full official status for the language in the EU and of how Plaid must make the running on the referendum, "showing the huge advantages of increased powers for the Assembly" - a call for a Yes campaign?

The applause was thunderous but how many of those applauding in the hall genuinely believe that the Labour/Plaid government will hold that referendum on or before 2011?

As it happens I'd already asked some 15 random delegates that very question this morning before the President got to his feet. Twelve said no/no way/sadly not/of course not. Three said yes, though one wife changed her mind a bit when her husband shook his head ("well my heart says yes anyway") and another would only bet a fiver on it.

A straw poll that means nothing very much but is interesting to me in this respect: not one of the twelve who said no thought that there ought to be a referendum by 2011 but think Labour will stall, or fail to deliver. They just don't think you want one, let alone want to vote 'yes' in one. In other words they think the referendum would be lost and so don't want one on or before 2011.

Ask Ieuan Wyn Jones about it and he reiterates the pledge that is in the Agreement, caveat and all. Perhaps for Plaid members that particular clause in the agreement is becoming more like the Good Friday agreement every day - the crucial word is agreement; ultimate delivery matters much more than sticking to deadlines.

So where does the 'greed and betrayal' fit in?

That was Adam Price MP in his speech: gentle delivery, venomous lines, the same targets:

Gordon Brown: "the so-called socialist son of the manse who has ... sold his soul", leader of a party "that's been brought by vested interests and the super-rich Labour was founded to counter". A challenge to Welsh Labour to forge their own way "rather than commit political suicide" and this on the Conservatives: "They talk about a broken society. They should know. They broke it".

The laughs came from his questioning of David Cameron's fondness for Gavin and Stacey and Nessa - the jokes owing more than a bit to another one time Barry girl as it happens.

And an unusal final line: "I'll see you on the streets of Gwauncaegurwen" delivered (not in real anticipation surely?) to Peter Hain.

What does Plaid want? A more progressive tax system, a windfall tax on energy companies and a reintroduction of retail price controls. He alluded to rolling out the Glas Cymru model to other areas such as railways. There must be a joke there somewhere about Adam Price wanting to turn Wales blue. I'll work on it.

Good conference? For pragmatic Plaid, yes.


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