Thursday 19 May 2011

... and The Ugly.

I don’t recall precisely how and when Plaid spokespeople started to use the phrase ‘Plaid-driven’ to describe the government, but I felt from the outset that it was a mistake.  I don’t recall it ever being discussed with party officers outside the Bay, but it somehow slipped into widespread use.  It seriously compromised the party later though - to spend four years talking about the government being driven by Plaid, and supporting all government motions, and then start rubbishing the decisions of the Labour ministers looked, and was, disingenuous to put it politely. 
It was simply not a credible approach.  Dafydd Elis Thomas has recently talked about the negative campaign; more specifically, he talked about exactly this point – supporting government decisions for four years and then attacking those same decisions.  On this point, I agree with him.
But it goes further than that.  During the 2007 Assembly election, I was critical of the local Labour AM for having supported government decisions in vote after vote in the Assembly and then claiming to be leading the campaign against those same policies in the constituency.  I took a similar line with the Labour MP over post office closures.  I thought – and still think - that it was fair criticism. 
But what we’ve seen this year is some Plaid AMs doing exactly the same thing.  Spending four years voting through One Wales policies and then claiming to be campaigning against those same policies is simply not a credible or principled way of operating.  It looked as though Plaid had simply been sucked into the system and was trying to operate in the same way as the other parties, when what was needed was either more determination to oppose the policies in the Assembly itself, or else a more robust defence of them outside.  And I’d have greatly preferred the former.
Simplistic sloganeering is no substitute for critical analysis.  It felt at times as though there was an expectation that all Plaid members would say that everything the government did was good and everything the opposition said was bad.  That’s nonsense.  It led, for instance, to the embarrassing interlude when Plaid spokespeople were claiming that ProAct and ReAct had somehow protected Wales from recession, on the basis of a single month’s employment figures.  Pure folly.  And it was exposed as such by subsequent months’ figures.
If Plaid is to be credible in the future, it needs to regain its ability to cast a critical eye over what government is doing – and subject its own government’s policies to the same level of scrutiny, however uncomfortable that might be at times.  The idea that government backbenchers are on committees to ensure that the government’s views prevail rather than to provide genuine scrutiny must be abandoned, and rapidly.  And those outside the Assembly should be less afraid to voice discordant views from time to time, particularly if they are merely reiterating agreed party policy.
Perhaps worst of all was the inability of some to accept that the party might sometimes say something different from the government.  Making and supporting a compromise is one thing; making out that that compromise is actually the right policy in principle is quite another.  Expecting the party to trim its policies to match those of the government is to deliberately lower horizons, and it’s a major part of the attitude which led to this year’s bland programme.
A party like Plaid, if it is to have any unique relevance, needs to have, and retain, a sense of vision about its purpose, as a context within which compromises can and must be made to drive things forward.  Seeing some members failing to hold to that vision and seeking to amend the party’s position to fit with that of the government was a depressing sight.
The rush of some to get back into government as quickly as possible looks from the outside as a failure to learn the key lessons.  I remain as convinced as ever that Plaid must always be willing to take on the responsibility of governing our nation, but it must do so from a position which is about rather more than simplistic and persistent pragmatism.  If that lesson is not learned, the party’s distinctiveness and mission will simply be further eroded.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say in your final paragraph.

I don't think that Plaid's negativity - its attacks on Labour - late in the campaign was the prime reason for its slide in the polls.

Regrettably, uncharismatic leadership, and having been a junior partner in bolstering Labour lay at the heart of it. Why bother to vote Plaid to put Labour in power, when you can vote for Labour directly?

A further alliance with Labour during this term will be a disaster for Plaid, and for Wales, in the longer term.

I didn't accept the concept of pragmatism last time. IWJ and elements in the party were hypnotised by the carrot of a referendum dangled by Labour, as if it were the gift of eternal life. Labour passed the Act, Labour would have initiated the referendum when it suited its purposes - this coming term would have been the ideal time for CJ to bring it in.

All Plaid achieved, at huge cost to its electoral support, representation in the Assembly, and its image, was to bring forward the move to Part 4 somewhat sooner. Labour has those powers at its disposal now, to use as further 'carrots'.

Wales needs Plaid for its vision, and drive for a far far better future that the unionists can ever offer. It must not continue on the path of being Labour's nodding donkey.

Anonymous said...

"Labour passed the Act, Labour would have initiated the referendum when it suited its purposes "

Quite. When it suited New Labour's purpose, not Wales' purpose. When do you think New Labour would have got around to it on their own? It's pretty clear that when pushing the Government of Wales Act through parliament the new Labour ministers were telling devo-sceptics that a referendum would be years away and this was a means of kicking the issue to the long grass.

You say that "this coming term would have been the ideal time for CJ to bring it in.".

Yes it may well be perfect. Would he do it? Would he hell.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 11.16

Labour AMs voted unanimously for the referendum, including CJ, as did all the parties, including the Tories. Labour's opposition came not from its AMs, but its MPs.

That devo-sceptic opposition has been significantly weakened by the impending cut in their numbers, Touhig's move to the Lords, and by the existence of a Tory-led government.

In the event, the opposition was negligible, as it would be now were Labour to initiate the referendum.

For Plaid to overestimate its achievement is dangerous. Self-justification leads to further errors of judgement.

Some things were achieved by Plaid in coalition, but far too little to sway public perception, especially given Plaid's lack of access to the media.

That error can be all too readily repeated. Senior figures in the party seem hell-bent on shoring up Labour again. Plaid will gain peanuts out of it electorally.

It must face reality. It has had a serious setback and has to get to grips with the fundamental issues, including an honest appraisal of what it achieved during the last four years.

Spirit of BME said...

The One Wales Agreement is a clear exercise of members of a party moving from collaboration to fraternization.
Sleeping with the enemy always ends in tears.

Unknown said...

It appears that the junior partner in a coalition is the party that receives the blame and oppobrium of the public and suffers the decline in votes whereas the stronger party benefits. This is true of Lib Dems in Westminster (and knock-on effects in Scotland and Wales) and of Plaid in the Assembly elections. From now on, Plaid must go it alone, in opposition, until it rebuilds the trust of the electorate.

Anonymous said...

"Labour AMs voted unanimously for the referendum, including CJ,"

(sighs)Yes, but they wouldn't have had cause to unless it was in One Wales. No-one else was pressing for it before One Wales, certainly not New Labour AMs.

Anonymous said...

Anon@19 May 2011 19:29

'No-one else was pressing for it before One Wales'

The Act was passed in July 2006, the OWA was only eleven months later, in June 2007.

Labour commissioned Lord Richard, but its MPs balked at his recommendations. Labour AMs didn't do so. The Act was a compromise. If there was no desire from Labour for legislative powers in the Assembly or at Westminster, there would have been no compromise. There would have been no Act, and no Part 4. Plaid played no direct part in it.

If you want to credit Plaid with achieving legislative powers for Wales, you’re free to do so. But remember that those powers were coming incrementally anyway, but at Labour’s pace.

Do you really believe that the Act was passed with no intention of ever moving to Part 4? IWJ’s achievement was in bringing Part 4 in sooner, rather than later.

Even then, the electoral support for the move was far greater than anything Plaid had ever achieved. The 2:1 majority reflected the support of voters across the political spectrum, but particularly Labour voters, who looked for some protection from the Assembly against the harshness of the Tory cuts.

Only a few weeks later, which party did the electorate turn to for that protection? The implication is that many of them voted Yes because Labour supported it.

I suggest, with respect, you turn your frustration (directed at me) into getting the party to face up to those fundamental issues which have led to its decline over the past decade – sighs.

John Dixon said...

The problem with 'Anons' is that I never know how many of you there are in any discussion! And the problem with history is that we only ever live it once, so can never be certain what would have happened had different decisions been taken.

For what it's worth, I believe that a referendum on Part 4 would have been invoked at some point anyway by Labour. Not during the last term, though; and whether during the current term is a matter for conjecture. Personally I suspect that after the reduction in the number of MPs (and therefore probably in the next term) would have been more likely. I have two reasons for saying that - firstly a reduction in the number of Labour MPs would potentially lessen the opposition to the move within the Labour Party, and secondly, it would at the same time give the Labour Party another reason to go for it.

If that's true, then, on this particular issue, the benefit of One Wales was to advance the date, possibly by as much as a decade. From a nationalist perspective, that's a good outcome, but it isn't the same as saying 'Plaid achieved Part 4'.

One of the challenges which needs to be faced is to try and be as objective as possible in assessing what was or was not achieved rather than to either praise everything or rubbish everything. Such oversimplistic analysis means that the real issues don't get addressed. This series of posts was trying to contribute to that more objective process.

Spirit of BME said...

Puppet Governments always leave a bad taste in the mouth.
HMG in Wales ( HMGiW) also known as WAG ,although puny and small is no exception, as they are all established for the defence and/or the benefit of the State that creates them.
What they sell is the illusion of power and those who have a light political grasp; they are enthralled by the titles, nameplates, cosmetics and the potential to be employed. The darker side is that they dominate the political agenda and for a time defuse the call for liberation and freedom and create a new class of collaborators. Eventually most are swept away like those created under the rule of the Great White Mother ( Victoria) in London or those established by National Socialist Germany – which came with a very smart uniform!!
In your blog your views on the “ugly” of HMGiW rings very true ,but all good Nationalists see no legitimacy in Puppet governments as they operate for Powers outside ones country, no matter how nice they sound they are there to deny the restoration of Rights ,Freedom and Dignity to a people.