Monday 9 May 2011

To knife, or not to knife...

That I was less than enthusiastic about Plaid’s programme for the Assembly elections will have been obvious in recent weeks and months.  But there is a bigger question underlying that lack of enthusiasm, and it is this.  How can a party which started out with such a far-ranging vision for Wales have gone into an election claiming that its four biggest ideas are:
·                that schools should teach almost all pupils to read, write, and count;
·                that people should be able to see a doctor or dentist when they want to;
·                that physical and electronic communications within Wales should be improved; and
·                that we should be able to borrow the equivalent of 6 months’ capital spending?
The above are all good and sensible policies; there’s nothing to disagree with in any of them.  But overall, it’s the most timid programme which Plaid have ever put forward at an election, and trying to present any of the above as being ‘bold’ or ‘ambitious’ - let alone ‘transformational’ – is to elevate presentation and style above substance.
Perhaps from the perspective of those who inhabit the Bay Bubble, the ideas actually looked bolder and more ambitious than they look from outside; I certainly suspect that to be a part of the problem.  It’s something that can happen when people become institutionalised.  I’ve seen it elsewhere, when people become so steeped in the culture of an organisation that they simply cannot see how constrained they are by it.
But Plaid, of all parties, was supposed to be the one that wouldn’t get sucked into the system, the one that had a wider view of politics than machinations and intrigues in the Siambr, the one that was a campaigning party, not just an electoral party.
Some are calling for Ieuan’s head in the light of the poor results; others are pointing out that a few hundred people voting differently in the right places would have made the result look very different.  MH at Syniadau has hosted a debate about whether or not Ieuan should be knifed now.  Certainly, Ieuan has to bear a significant degree of responsibility for the bland managerial style of the party’s programme, but there is a danger in blaming one man - after all, the party agreed to his approach to the election - or in jumping straight into a leadership contest.
Perhaps there is something in the Welsh character which leads us to think that all can be solved if only we have the right leadership.  From the myth about Arthur waiting for the call in his cave, through the hailing of Graham Henry as the Great Redeemer (until he failed), to the wistful hoping for the return of the prodigal son across the water (or even the prodigal daughter closer to home), we’re always looking for a saviour, even though we know, in our heart of hearts, that idols usually turn out to have feet of clay.
The more important debate which Plaid needs to have is the one it hasn’t really had since the advent of devolution – what is Plaid for?  Does it want to be simply a party of government within the devolved structures, allowing further devolution to take its natural course, or does it want to regain a sense of mission, either around its old aims, or around some newer vision of Wales?
If Plaid wants to pursue the first course, then Ieuan might as well stay on.  But if it wants to choose the second, there is little point in selecting another leader in the same mould.  Rushing to choose a new leader simply avoids facing up to the question.


Anonymous said...

Spot on and perceptive as ever, John. You are not the only person with connections to the party (past or present) that is hugely fed up with this endless search for the next Messiah (or should that be Moses..?)

One thing I disagree with. There's a lot of talk of the managerial style. That's not my experience of the party. You usually have to throw a rope in to retrieve any policy or piece of work. And the internal communication is appalling.

Perhaps if the top-down approach came with processes, many members would be far more willing to bear the current deafening silence without anger and frustration.

Anonymous said...

Bit rich too of Dafydd Elis Thomas slagging off his own party's election strategy ... where was he to give us words of wisdom?!

Dafydd El wanting his cake and eating it - wanting Plaid votes to be AM and then dumping Plaid to be Llywydd. Typical.

On your more general point I think what has happened in Scotland will move Plaid (and Wales) to debate independence. In that respect we'll become mainstream European - that's what's happening in an arc from the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Flanders, Bsaque Country and Catalonia now.

ex pat plaid said...

There was no opportunity for any one to feed anything to the process. It was open and shut within the small Bay band
Plaid has innovators and thinkers and sadly they weren't involved .Small ideas come from small minds and that has nothing to do with intelligence it has to do with vision. Plaids vision has been held back by being sidekicks in a non visionary government. It does rub off.
Get radical, get some edge, get a new leader.

Anonymous said...

IMO too much arsing around with building a 'brand' with a nice flower and some colours.

Also too much playing around with 'social media' on Twitter and Facebook. I use those websites for light matters, not things to be taken seriously. All messages morph into an amalgamation, and I can't remember anything anyone says.

Plaid should make some real statements

e.g. become a scientific and manufacturing powerhouse with a reputation matching that of Germany's

or demand that money from off-shore windfarms goes to Wales, insisting on a constitutional debate. Plaid are too polite to be a nationalistic party.

Spirit of BME said...

The blame for this election outcome is clearly down to one event.
The ordinary Party members who raised their right arm when asked to approve the very flawed “One Wales Agreement”. This document set the limited expectation, killed off any activity and debate about Plaid Cymru `s Mission and Aims and triggered the over throwing of the lifelong policy the Party had about access to the Lords (whoops sorry “Second Chamber) in order that their limited measures could have life, rather than hold true to our principles and seeing the madness of the system as a propaganda gift.
I hope that policy will be reversed and we will avoid the Lord`s and all its feudal flummery and undemocratic ways.
As to Iron Whine Jones ,he alone is not responsible, but the question has to be put –why after ten years of electoral failure in all elections ,the ordinary members/Branches could not get control ,of our Westminster Warriors ,Assembly Barons and Chamber chicks and bring them to book for their poor performance? – What a shower!!

Anonymous said...

Plaid lacking in vision, lost its direction.. boring... to what extent is Ieuan responsible for that?

Sad to say, my feeling is that a lot of it lies at his door.

I felt a little sick listening to Dafydd Ellis Thomas yesterday on the Politics Show Wales. Talk about complacency! He chimes on about his expertise on being the guardian of Wales' 'constitution' whilst his party has scraped an iceberg and is sinking by the head. And he wants to keep the same captain at the helm.

Anonymous said...

am I right that nerys wrote the manifesto, almost on her own?

John Dixon said...

Anon 18:41,

I don't know; I'd gone by then, but I'd be very surprised if it were true. From past experience, the Director of Policy oversees the work, and presents the final document for approval, but there are usually a number of hands and minds at work to get to that point, including during the production of the first drafts.

Anonymous said...

John, have you any thoughts on Plaid having a second term in coalition or some kind of deal with Labour?

Anonymous said...

thanks for your comment John. after meeting Nerys recently i was very much under the impression it was a solo effort

Anonymous said...

I doubt that there is an active Plaid member on here, just a bunch of egos who cannot cope with compromise to move Wales forward.

How very sad.

Glyndo said...

ex pat plaid said...

There was no opportunity for any one to feed anything to the process. It was open and shut within the small Bay band

As an Ex Pat, I assume you were very close to the activity involved?

John Dixon said...

Anon 19:25, and Anon 23:16,

I've always been ready to compromise when necessary in order to move Wales forward, and that should also be the key in considering whether to form a coalition or not. The key question though is 'how much compromise for how much forward movement?' And the secondary question is whether the compromise is presented as being such, or whether people try to sell the compromise as being good 'in itself'. Vision is an essential element of compromise, enabling that compromise to be placed into a context.

Unknown said...

John - you say that "a number of hands and minds at work " (on the manifest - in this case it honestly looked as though there were far too many hands, and not enough mind!

Plaid has lost its intellectual thrust, and needs to regain it quickly or die in the new, post unionist Britain that dawned on Friday.

John Dixon said...


My comment about a "number of hands and minds" related to my experience of previous manifestos - as I said in the comment, I cannot speak for what happened this time around.

"Plaid has lost its intellectual thrust"

Absolutely agree - and Plaid was the party which for decades did the most detailed and careful thinking about policy and the future for Wales.