Wales politics

Plaid Cymru leadership contest - a pivotal moment

Rhun ap Iorwerth
Image caption Rhun ap Iorwerth declared his candidacy on Wednesday

Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth announced their candidacy for the Plaid Cymru leadership on Wednesday, taking on Leanne Wood.

I predicted a three-way battle for the job three weeks ago and this is why.

There is no doubt that Ms Wood is very popular - popular amongst her own and those outside the Plaid ranks.

The fact that she has nearly 15,000 more Twitter followers than the first minister tells you something about her ability to connect.

But something struck me about a conversation I had in a theatre recently with a complete stranger; a Labour Party member and die-hard Corbyn supporter.

He really liked Leanne he told me and praised her enormously - but said he couldn't vote for her.

Nearly a year ago today she said on Twitter: "You can't vote for Corbyn's policies in Wales unless you vote Plaid Cymru."

But as the theatregoer proved, it seems you can.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leanne Wood has vowed to fight on

Fewer people voted Plaid in the 2017 general election compared to 2015, when Plaid came fourth behind UKIP.

More people voted Plaid in the 2016 assembly election than in 2011 but there was no increase in seat numbers.

Indeed, internal strife has led to Neil McEvoy and Lord Dafydd-Elis Thomas depleting the numbers.

So something is not connecting - we have not seen the electoral earthquake predicted by Adam Price, the tectonic plates haven't shifted to any degree.

That's led to a growing sense of malaise in the Plaid Cymru assembly group. Some wanted Leanne Wood to move away from niche issues, others think the only way to power is to extend a hand to the Tories.

It just became apparent that people wanted different things and the leader couldn't accommodate.

My sense is that both rival candidates would rather it hadn't come to this.

Image caption Adam Price was the second to declare for the leadership on Wednesday

Adam Price and Leanne Wood are close, very close. His offer not to challenge if she agreed to share the job has been described, including by me, as an ultimatum.

It could also of course be interpreted as a friend giving a friend a stay of execution or a dignified way out.

Rhun ap Iorwerth has also been talking to Leanne Wood - and he's also been talking to us.

Three weeks ago he had "no plans" to challenge and backed the leader. It's often code for "yes I'm going for it" but in this instance I'm not sure that's the case.

The decision seemed to weigh heavily, the enormity of what he would be taking on needed serious consideration.

The game changing moment came when Leanne Wood said she'd welcome a challenge.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Leanne Wood said in the past that the only way to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's policies was to vote Plaid Cymru

This is a pivotal moment for Plaid. The real story is not who becomes leader but what does the leader stand for and who is he or she courting.

Leanne Wood is accused of being cosy with Corbyn, Rhun ap Iorwerth is said by some to be willing to test the Tory waters.

Adam Price has used the term "equidistance", meaning Plaid would distance itself from Labour and the Conservatives in equal measure.

Some kind of relationship with a right of centre party would I suspect be an easier sell to members if coalitions or co-operation were more seen as the norm in our politics.

So who's going to win? That's one prediction I'll leave alone.

'Humdinger'

We have a handle on Leanne Wood's popularity, Adam Price's team have been crunching the numbers and Rhun ap Iorwerth says he has support from across Wales.

All three however will have to work with what they have. From midnight tonight new members joining Plaid Cymru won't have a vote in the leadership election.

Having fought and won such a contest does that give Leanne Wood a head start? I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that today's news will be greeted with relief by Plaid AMs.

In the words of one: "Hallelujah, it will be a humdinger, bring it on."

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