State of Play 2 - Plaid Cymru


@TobyMasonBBC here again, with the second of our detailed looks at the state of play for the four main political parties to keep you in reading over the summer break.

Today it's Plaid Cymru - a party with the newest leader on the block in Leanne Wood, and the party that's done the most thinking about its future over the past year.

Leanne Wood's election came as a surprise, perhaps to her as much as anyone. There were many within the party who could not quite believe that its members had gone for the candidate who represented by far the biggest break with its past, and arguably the biggest risk to its future in terms of her experience thus far.

A few months on, what's the verdict? All the virtues that the Plaid leader played up during her election have been in evidence since - approachability, plain speaking, a non-metropolitan, unspun approach to politics, even a refreshing (some might say) aversion to overt political strategising. In that sense, the party has got what it voted for.

However - and there's always a however - up till now the membership and voters alike might also be scratching their heads as they try and work out exactly what the new Plaid leader's political strategy actually is. Yes, there was the danger that she could be quickly pigeonholed by voters and her opponents as the leftie Valleys republican firebrand. But the last few months have seen some, well, diverse approaches adopted.

The big hope was that the election of the new leader would provide Plaid with a much needed bounce at the ballot box at the local elections in May. The outcome, in particular Caerphilly, dashed that hope, with Labour conclusively retaking control. But even during the campaign, there was confusion about who the real opponents were.

On the one hand, Ms Wood laid into Labour with gusto. And then, at around the half way point of the campaign, came her call for what she dubbed "the United Welsh Alternative" a grand alliance of left-wing, anti-cuts parties and organisations - principal among them, Plaid Cymru and Labour, working together to oppose the UK Government.

Then an even odder juxtaposition just a few weeks ago - in the space of the same week, the new leader made the decision to join the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the Assembly for the vote of no confidence in the Health Minister, and also wrote a warm letter of support to the First Minister, offering him her and her party's full backing in his call for a constitutional convention on the future of the UK ahead of the 2014 Scottish referendum.

Her approach at First Minister's Questions too is confusing. The preferred strategy seems to be to open by asking Carwyn Jones whether he would agree with her about opposing some policy of the UK Government affecting Wales. The First Minister normally agrees politely that he would. Ms Wood then proceeds to ask him what he is doing about it, to which the reply is generally that he is raising it with the Prime Minister / Chancellor / another UK Government minister - sometimes gently pointing out that it's something he doesn't necessarily require her support to do, thank you very much.

This has the effect of making Plaid Cymru sound as though they are dead keen to do a coalition deal with Labour, and Labour sound if they have no need whatsoever to do a coalition deal with Plaid Cymru. It's also an oddly consensual approach for a political firebrand, carrying the additional danger of appearing timid in the face of the First Minister's decade of ministerial experience.

One Plaid Cymru AM who would certainly not qualify for the adjective "timid" is the third placed candidate in the leadership runoff - Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Summoned back from degree ceremonies at Bangor University by party whips to vote in the confidence motion against Lesley Griffiths, he not only declined to make the journey south, thereby guaranteeing Labour would win the vote comfortably, but was also happy to go in front of the cameras to denounce the decision, calling his Assembly group "Tory poodles" for voting alongside them.

Some Plaid Cymru members we spoke to in the aftermath of the vote that evening were spitting feathers - already angered by the refusal to return to the Bay, they were frankly incensed by the comments. The decision by the group to temporarily withdraw the whip and set up a disciplinary panel, which (by chance) contained three members not noted for their goodwill towards Lord Elis-Thomas, then triggered a standoff that threatened to get out of control.

The immediate response to Ms Wood's statement a couple of days later that she was effectively dropping all charges against his Lordship was that it was a move born of desperation and weakness in equal measure. He had faced her down and won, in effect.

With the benefit of a few weeks hindsight, I'm not so sure. It avoided a saga that would have dragged on for weeks, potentially - not so much washing the party's dirty linen in public as opening a Chinese laundry on the steps of the Senedd. Crucially too, it meant any future decision by Lord Elis-Thomas to resign the party whip permanently and sit as an Independent or even Labour member, however unlikely the latter, could not be seen as the party, and his leader, pushing him out.

While the statement headed off the short term crisis, it's not clear that the Dafydd El problem has been resolved. All three opposition parties are likely to use their allocated time in the chamber to press for near weekly votes on health reconfiguration plans up and down Wales once the Assembly returns in September. Plaid in particular feel somewhat bruised about the way they were dismissed as scaremongering on health changes in the runup to the 2011 elections, which is one of the reasons why they were willing to vote with the Tories on the confidence motion.

But there will be close scrutiny of the way Lord Elis-Thomas casts his vote on all matters health from September onwards, which always has the potential to produce another flashpoint. And could his call for "constructive" opposition in the wake of the confidence vote extend to lending Labour the one vote they need to get their Budget passed in December, whatever the fallout from his party? I'll leave that question dangling there.

Away from the chamber, Plaid have been working hard on sharpening up their campaigning machine on the ground after the Assembly and local election losses, including learning lessons from the SNP's victories in Scotland. Taking the Buttrills council ward in Barry in a by-election from Labour with a 12 per cent swing earlier this month has given them some heart that they're on the right track.

But all the campaigning techniques in the world are no substitute for a clear, unified national strategy and an unequivocal offer to the voters - this is who we are, and this is where we stand.

Tomorrow - the Liberal Democrats.

Betsan Powys, Political editor, Wales Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Mabion @ 79 says:

    "Devolution has started the healing but the cancer's still there and must be cut out!"

    Old Plaidian habits of insult die hard.

    The 'C' word flourishes with Plaid.

    I wonder how Mabion would describe English pensioners who choose to relocate to Wales on retirement.

    Honoured visitors? Welcome guests?

    Come on Mabion let us know where we stand with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    #73 - As I've always counted Ireland as part of Britain your initial statement that Welsh is the ancient language of all Britain still does not hold, neither does your argument that Cornish is a descendent of Welsh. Welsh and Cornish etc. are siblings, all derived from an ancient source, Welsh in it's current form has not existed for ever, it's an evolution like Cornish...

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    #72 - I'm not sure what the point of your post is... is it possibly to indicate that I have no knowledge and just look things up... It may surprise you to know I had a rather good education in which I learnt the history, and current form, of my own mother tongue... but of course I may be wrong...

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Well comoffitIt.
    God said to the Welsh: 'I am going to give you this glorious land of lakes and mountains.' So where's the catch, asked the Welsh? 'Wait until you see the neighbours,' replied God.
    He speaks to the Welsh you see in their own language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    #85 I haven't a clue on the statistics. My point is that it is the perception of a bias to Welsh speakers (and if it is irrelevant, why is it included on HR forms?) that causes parents to sign up for 'bilingual' education.
    Of course, some switched-on parents switch their kids from bilingual primaries to 'top-ranking' 2y schools to enhance chances to Oxbridge & Russell unis but that's parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The incident with DET demonstrated her weakness within the Party so it will be interesting to see how things develop after the summer. Plaid always seem to be a Party confused about what it wants to be. Clearly they are no SNP and as Welsh nationalists they are appealing to an ever smaller section of the population. Wood's leadership has the potential to change that, but there are few signs so far

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    "Language of Heaven"

    Oh deary me... pass the sick bucket. No wonder Welsh language fanatics can never be reasoned with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    ... so you agree with me alf, the debilitating discussions of language (in the context of the various rants hereabouts) prevents the more pressing need for political debate.

    The question uppermost in my mind, with regard to Plaid and the other party's, is ...

    What would they do that is so different to what exists now, and how exactly would that improve my life ?

    Not a rhetorical question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Then what does that say about the language of Heaven John. Welsh that is of course. If you could only understand the poetic language of the Hymns and Poetry. I don't profess to mind, only some. Then you would fully realise what the beauty of language is. It is not just me saying that.
    All languages are work in progress as each of the localities have dialects as well. Which add to the richness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    ... alf, mighty oaks from little acorns grow !

    ... your #84 alf, I have a translation of the foundation work (some say) of poetry in English, without Seamus Heaney's triumphant translation from Old English I could not have enjoyed Beowulf.

    I think the English language has always been work in progress, that would be, in part, its beauty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    John that is good for those 70+ people but what about the thousands of others who have no hope of perhaps ever finding meaningful employment in Wales. You know Politicians don't do long term planning. Only enough to get them through the next election especially in marginal places. So don't place too much of you're money on the good news for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The news this morning of the Labour administration kick starting training in north west Wales is the way to change things, long term planning versus the short term sound-bites of the centre, the right and Plaids politics of "meandering of minds".

    Hart seems to have got something right for a change, the future is getting brighter ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Boxer your 69. Now you are being a teeny bit silly. Please give us the evidence, not assertions on how many people not front line, in BBC Wales, The upper echelons and lower of the Civil Service in the Assembly and the Civil Service and Council Employees in General here in Wales. I would hazard a guess that 80% to 90% of all Public Workers don't speak Welsh. So don't say you have to, to gain work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Boxer, even Exam Boards and Teachers are complaining about text and Social Media language becoming more prominent in English exam answers. Even the Oxford English Dictionary is bring them into the language. Start learning it is the language of the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Here we go again.

    Normal business is resumed. Mabion congratulates his mate Lyndon. Dissenters are name as racists,and bigots. Mabion is the 'Great Protector'. The English are blamed for everything and life goes on.

    Welsh clings desperately to life, whilst English just adapts on a daily basis, thereby further increasing its usage. Meanwhile, the Welsh language zealots cry into their cwrw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Celticace @ 59.

    As I live in a rather large house which some may deem to be under-occupied, then Adam Price's incitement is a clear threat to me.

    He suggests that I may be subject to unlawful occupation by others, against my will. This is surely illegal.

    This seems to be the level to which Plaid has sunk.

    If they think that they can just occupy my home, then resistance is inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    #78 The Mondragon model is obviously a third way, and superficially attractive. The problem is to know how far its success was due to Spanish autarky under Franco. Spain (+Portugal, a fellow outcast dictatorship) was surrounded by water and the Pyrenees, allowing economic isolation. Wales,even after total independence, has a porous border with England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    #77 'you’ll cry fowl that your English language is under threat'

    Or possibly cry 'Foul'.

    I believe this is what they call chickens coming home to roost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    78: It's pleasant reading a poster with sense not hatred against anything Welsh who uses common sense language and intelligence. Yes, London's failed Wales but more importantly the people of Wales have failed themselves by allowing our nation to become a fractured basket case. Devolution has started the healing but the cancer's still there and must be cut out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The UK government seem to have no regional policy and concentrate all their support for the City of London. They have failed Wales utterly. The Welsh government have very few economic powers. Leanne is promoting a growth of cooperative efforts to improve our economy - all very sensible in my view and the model of Mondragon and our own Tower Coop provide a third way, neither state or private.


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