How Leanne left others trailing
- 15 March 2012
- From the section Wales politics
So now we know. It was decisive victory for Leanne Wood - not quite the Leanne-slide perhaps that one pundit tweeted in the immediate aftermath - but kudos on the gag anyway.
In the crowded lobby of the St David's Hotel in Cardiff Bay after the announcement, there were two principal questions on people's lips - how did she win and what does it mean?
First up - how did she win? Well, she did very very well on the first preference votes, which meant she didn't need many of the third place candidate Dafydd Elis Thomas' second preferences to push her over the magic 50 per cent figure.
During her acceptance speech, Leanne Wood thanked the "tweeters and texters" of her campaign - for a long time during the campaign (and it was a long campaign) the great debate was whether her increased visibility on social media was a reflection of broad support across the party or amongst a tech-savvy minority.
Looking at the figures, it's inescapable that her support went much deeper than those with Twitter accounts. I was chatting to a friend of mine during the campaign, who said her 70-something Welsh speaking mother had cast her vote for Leanne. It should have been a canary in the mine that for every tweet in favour, there were lots more first preferences being inked on to ballot papers.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's a little easier to postulate why the votes went the way they were. Dafydd Elis Thomas, who declared his intention to stand in the immediate aftermath of last May's election drubbing, was the maverick candidate. Not every politician makes two bids to lead their party three decades apart. In fact, there's probably only one. He had his followers, sure, but in the end, they weren't nearly enough.
Former minister Elin Jones was the establishment candidate, appealing to those Plaid members who felt that things were going on an ok track under Ieuan Wyn Jones, that perhaps the election that she had been Director of Communications hadn't been great, but that things were fixable without a major change in tack and tone for the party. There were those who hailed the announcement by initial leadership candidate Simon Thomas to drop out and throw his weight behind her as a gamechanger that would stop Leanne Wood's momentum in its tracks.
What it probably did was reinforce the perception in many Plaid members minds that the party establishment were concerned that a Leanne victory would really shake things up and had to be stopped. Shades of stitch ups past in other parties maybe. True or not, it probably didn't deliver anything like the support that some thought it would.
Which left - and left she is - Leanne Wood. If you weren't a maverick or continuity member, then in the end, that's where your vote had to go. Those in the know say her votes came from right across Wales, from Caernarfon as well as Caerphilly. She entered the race late, but she mobilised the party's youth, as well as Cymdeithas yr Iaith - the latter important in convincing Welsh speaking members that this Welsh learner was one of them and on their side. Others in the know also discount the effect of former MP Adam Price' transatlantic interventions on her behalf.
In the last resort, she ran a smart campaign and reaped the benefits.
So what does it mean? For Plaid - there will certainly be that change of tack and tone now. In her initial interviews, there's been little evidence that she'll soften the republican rhetoric or the socialist slogans. But they'll only take her so far. If she really wants to change the party in her own image, she'll need to work very hard from within to remake this notoriously broad church in her own image.
As our calculators were whirring in the St Davids Hotel, the other parties political calculators were whirring too. For Welsh Labour, it's probably the worst result of the three. She'll take her party's tanks on to their lawn without a doubt, and fight hard for the many votes available from Wales' substantially left leaning electorate. Either of the other candidates would have been far less of a potential threat to them. If they're looking for a silver lining, it's the new leader's lack of political experience which they can contrast with Carwyn Jones' decade at or around the top of Welsh politics. And boy they will.
For the Conservatives, this will be seen as unalloyed good news, I would say. It gives them plenty to kick against, as the party seeks to take a more aggressive approach to carving out the centre right agenda in Wales. Elin Jones could have eaten into their support in rural and agricultural areas, and Lord Elis Thomas may not be Plaid establishment, but he's Welsh establishment through and through.
The Liberal Democrats, on balance, will also see this as better news for them than a victory for either of the other two candidates for broadly similar reasons - however, Kirsty Williams' USP as a feisty female Welsh political leader is not quite as unique any more, perhaps.
So what will Leanne Wood's emotions be tonight? Elation, yes. Pride in a well run campaign which has well and truly put the cat among the pigeons within her party and beyond too.
But as she told us in her speech - the real work starts now.