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Betsan Powys | 16:38 UK time, Thursday, 27 August 2009

Given this story confirming the rumours that have been rife for quite some time, I found myself playing a guessing game over lunch.

Call it Assembly Risk.

If you were Adam Price, would you make sure you went for an Assembly seat in 2011 rather than risk others overtaking you as shoo-in for party leader? If so, where would you stand?

I think our counters eventually landed on Neath.

The discussion as to how many more years Ieuan Wyn Jones will want to lead the party ... or the party will want Mr Jones to lead it prompted a look back through the archives. For what it's worth this was how I saw the Assembly Risk board back in April 2007.

Ieuan Wyn Jones

The timing could not have been better.

I was searching for the right words to capture Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones without falling back on tired phrases like "steadfast solicitor" or "meticulous manager".

Then one of his own MPs came to the rescue. "He's punctual, he's a good negotiator, a good man and woman manager," said Adam Price.

"He's a good country solicitor, that is the way he comes across".

With friends like these...?

It did get better, though: "He gets the job done".

And there you have it. His own party knows that to sell him to the voters as a charismatic, exciting prospect as first minister would get nowhere.

It's just not his style and so for now, it cannot be theirs. But if those very same voters have lost their trust in the charismatic Tony Blair, have had enough of the far better known First Minister Rhodri Morgan, then Plaid may well be hoping that a man who gets the job done quietly is just what they're looking for.

So does he get the job done? A plus point to start: he's held on to the tricky seat of Ynys Mon since 1987 as MP, then as AM. That's no mean feat, and his voters must think he's doing a decent job.

But he has led Plaid since 2000, and in that time its assembly seats have fallen significantly from 17 in 1999 to 12 in 2003.

He may have delivered as campaign director in the first assembly election but under his leadership, the party lost precious, crucial ground four years later, and lost its Westminster seat of Ceredigion in the 2005 election.

The promise from his supporters was that he would grow into the job of leader. He was, after all, taking over from Dafydd Wigley, a politician who lacked neither charisma nor that magic ability to appeal to voters across Wales.

The party's 2003 manifesto, he said, offered voters "nothing short of a blueprint for the transformation of our country".

It didn't work. Voters who had taken a punt on Plaid in 1999 decided against a second flutter. They didn't like the blueprint, and perhaps the boss didn't do it for them.

Every constituency seat Plaid lost in May 2003 went to Labour. On the morning after the night before Mr Jones stood outside his party's Cardiff headquarters and read out his resignation statement.

The man who had been MP, AM and party president had lost the confidence of too many of his colleagues. He would continue to represent Ynys Mon in the assembly but that was it.

Or at least, that was it for a couple of months.

On 15 September 2003, Mr Jones made a swift comeback as leader of the party in the assembly, and folk singer Dafydd Iwan became party president, as the roles were split.

A tick in the charisma box there. But even that win was a close-run thing, with a small majority over rival Helen Mary Jones.

There was no point pretending that anything like all those people who had lost confidence in him had regained it over their summer holidays - but he survived.

The qualities that won him tough battles in Ynys Mon over the years - determination, a genuine belief that Plaid must represent the whole of Wales - won him a few tussles in Cardiff Bay too.

And now he faces the next big test.

Plaid will be disappointed not to add at least two - perhaps three - seats. It's not exactly heady stuff.

But remember those pictures of Rhodri Morgan at the Senedd with Mr Jones before Christmas? They were cutting a deal which led to Plaid agreeing not to vote down the Labour assembly government's budget.

Much as some Labour supporters hated it, Mr Jones was saving Mr Morgan's skin. Only hours after Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne had said the opposition parties would unite to form a government if the budget fell, Mr Jones offered Labour an escape.

Responsible politics and grown-up leadership? He thinks so.

There was more than one Plaid supporter wondering what on earth he was playing at but crucially, his AMs stood firmly by his side.

As he left the building that evening, he clutched a plastic carrier bag. "Isn't it amazing what you can buy with £13m?" he grinned.

Will there be more deals struck by him after 3 May? Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has ruled it out, and Rhodri Morgan's spokeswoman says there's little appetite for deal-making amongst Labour AMs.

Let's see what the voters and the complex maths of assembly elections bring the "good negotiator".


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