Thursday, 14 April 2011

Spotting the difference

Putting a title on a manifesto can be harder than writing the content sometimes.  The titles of the two that I’ve seen so far (For a Better Wales, and Wales Can Do Better) remind me of the competitions that they used to run on the back of cereal packets – combine the words ‘Wales’ and ‘Better’ into a phrase of 6 words or less to describe why you would choose X.  We could then disqualify any party which failed to meet the set criteria.
Perhaps when I’ve seen them all I’ll be better placed to identify the differences of substance rather than of rhetoric, but to date there is a large degree of overlap.  For me, a genuine USP isn’t just about saying something that no-one else is saying; it’s about saying something that no-one else could say, because it’s based on a different set of values or aims.
Alternatively, maybe we should just use the approach to differentiation which Betsan and Vaughan seem to be pioneering – count the spelling, grammar, and typographical errors in the manifestos and associated press releases and rank the parties accordingly.  The question is, though – what do we vote for, the highest score, or the lowest?


Anonymous said...

john, theior is no substance in politics, rhetoric is far superior

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I'm a bit irritated with Vaughan and Betsan on this.

Yes, we could all find typos etc in any document - including blogs written by BBC reporters, but what's it worth?

In 2 or 3 years time when the new WAG (what ever party/ies it will include) will be implementing policies based on their manifesto. Unfortunately, rather than discussing their manifestos now so that voters have an idea of what's in them - hell, for other AMs to have an idea what's in them - the whole day of Plaid's manifesto was wasted on this quote. The LibDem's manifesto was wasted on another story about typos with Vaughan. So, now, in the interest of balance, they'll have to find a typo in the Labour and Tory one and if not, hey the story is 'no typo in Lab/Tory manifesto!'


You're right about the USP John - that's why, despite the bland title, I found the Content of the Plaid manifesto surprisingly radical and achievable. As one who's become a little bored with Plaid's bid for the banal, I was pleasantly surprised. It's a good document and surprisingly nationalist too in advocating things which the Assembly can actually do and pushing it to its constitutional limits.

It's a pity Vaughan and Betsan didn't discuss that as much as they did some pointless title.

Vaughan - get a life and do your job.

Adam said...

To be fair John.

In Plaid Cymru's manifesto it discusses devolution of police and criminal justice, the coastguard, broadcasting, natural resources, teachers pay and conditions, various stuff regarding rail and of course it speaks independence (albeit not as prominently as I nor you I imagine would like). Still those are things that other parties COULD not talk about. That does give Plaid a USB.

In addition, although of course I haven't seen Labour or the Tories manifestos, the big ideas such as Build for Wales does seem to be the most ambitious and creative.

John Dixon said...

Anon 09:56,

I'll comment on the detail of the manifestos when I've had a chance to read them all and compare.


"Still those are things that other parties COULD not talk about."

Really? Arguably true for some of the things you list, but definitely not for all of them. Just to give one example, devolution of policing and criminal justice is in the Lib Dem manifesto as well (Page 40).

"Build for Wales does seem to be the most ambitious and creative"

Build for Wales is a good attempt to work within the existing system and find a creative way of adapting PFI to provide more socially-oriented (rather then privately-oriented) benefit. It deserves credit for that, even if it is something which could (and should) be taken up by the other parties. I'm rather less convinced about the wild claims that it will create 'up to 50,000 jobs' (which at least one person has turned into a definite 50,000 jobs). I don't think that claim stands up, and it's a pity that a good idea is being over-hyped.

Adam said...

Fair enough John.

Of the list, police and criminal justice, the coastguard, broadcasting, natural resources, teachers pay and conditions, various stuff regarding rail and of course independence, I am not sure what other than the Lib Dems on policing the other parties have committed to. Even then with the Lib Dems their party leadership, i.e Clegg, opposes that so it is only Plaid Cymru that can say their leaders support the aim.

Personally whilst I agree there is less of a selling point to a party like Plaid that must, to a certain degree be to the credit of Palid making Welsh nationalism and the devolution question more an issue for other parties. Is that not the epitome of winning the argument that you spoke about recently?

John Dixon said...

"I am not sure what other than the Lib Dems on policing the other parties have committed to."

Nor am I, yet. I'll see what they have to say. The point, however, is not just about what they do say, but what they could say, and I think that shortens the list further.

"making Welsh nationalism and the devolution question more an issue for other parties."

Don't conflate the two things; they are very different. The argument for further devolution is clearly being put; the argument for Independence is not.

Adam said...

I didn't say it was. I don't think it is right to confuse Welsh nationalism and independance.

John Dixon said...


Then I misunderstood your previous comment. I now take it that you intended to say that nationalism and devolution are more of an issue for other parties than for Plaid. That's very different.

BTW - referring back to your previous comment, I'd be a bit careful about highlighting differences between what the leader of the Lib Dems thinks and what his party is saying in Wales. It might possibly prompt questions about the extent to which other party leaders actually agree with what's in their manifestos.

Spirit of BME said...

As a Plaid member ,I have to say that – leaving aside the issue of the timidity and total mediocrity of the current leadership, they have got one thing right,- not having a USP.
The PR system creates what I call Blender Parties and Blender Policies, as you throw everything in and when the election kicks off you flick the switch and instead of getting parties of different colours you get a grey mush in its place, as you are appealing for the 2nd 3rd 4th preferences.
Historically Plaid Cymru`s message has been that Wales should not be governed by the English Parliament (or its sub offices), but the Manifesto claims that Plaid Cymru, can govern Wales better than any of the English Parties even under English Rule. This is clearly flawed, as unlike the English Parties, Plaid Cymru does not have the access to the “power table” of the English State, where the real and structural decisions are taken, and those that govern this State regard Cardiff as a Regional Assembly and simply a play pen for regional politicians.

Adam said...

Maybe I have been unclear. Sorry John.

What I am suggesting is that cultural nationalism and devolution are now issues for other parties because Plaid Cymru has forced them to adopt them. Would Labour really be proposing reform to Barnett for example if it was not for Plaid? Would the Tories have backed the referendum as much as they did was it not for Plaid? Just as an example. I am suggesting that if Plaid has lost an element of their USP on the issue of devolution and/or nationalism it is as a result of their success in winning the argument that it is what is beneficial to the people of Wales.

I still think looking at the manifestos I have seen so far that Plaid has a unique selling point in that they will go further on more policy areas than any other parties, including certain areas that no one else will touch. However the more successful Plaid is in winning these arguments the closer other parties get to them. That is a fact that Plaid have an end game as a political party that no other does in Wales. In many ways they are the victims of their own success in that end but if you are Plaid Cymru you have to accept that.

My point about the lib dems isn’t just that their leader doesn’t agree with it but their UK manifesto wouldn’t support it. Not all leaders will agree with everything in their manifesto but the Welsh Lib Dems are still associated and essentially part of the UK lib dems. As a party as a whole they do not therefore support the devolution of policing.

John Dixon said...


You make some very valid points, and they touch on some of the things that I've been saying for months. We might be closer to each other's views than you might think. But take the next step in the thinking...

Plaid Cymru has achieved a great deal in recent decades (and I'm actually arrogant enough to think that I've made at least a small contribution over that period). The centre of gravity in Welsh politics - on the constitutional question as on a number of other issues, such as Barnett - has shifted dramatically towards the position taken by Plaid, to the extent that the other parties are now saying similar things on a number of issues.

In my view, that leaves the party with two choices. It can either seek to shift the goalposts ever further in the direction of its aims, or it can declare that its historic aim has, to all intents and purposes, been achieved and that it now seeks first and foremost to lead the government of Wales for the next period, in order to build on the foundations which it has done so much to create.

Now, in my analysis, what has happened has not been anything as formal or public as a declaration of a change of direction towards the second of those options; but by default that is the option which the party's leadership has effectively selected, to the point where much of what the party says could be said by any of the other parties, even if it isn't actually being said by them.

In the process of seeking to win votes and elections in order to provide that leadership in government, the party has also abandoned - or sidelined, if you prefer - many of its more radical policy positions; and I'm not just talking about the constitutional position. Rather than placing 'what can be achieved now' in the context of 'what we really want to see', the 'what we can achieve now' is, in general terms, getting presented as an end in itself.

Whether that is because of a limited vision on the part of some, or simply a fear that the voters won't like the wider context is an interesting question for debate, but not immediately relevant here. The effect is that the party has swapped thought leadership on what a free Wales could be and achieve for an aspiration to provide the best programme largely within the constraints of the current structures.

I find that deeply unsatisfactory. It's been obvious to me for many years that my ideological position is very different from that of the current leadership. Where there is a greater goal which transcends those differences it's possible to work for that goal - take away that goal and...

Boncath said...


Like you I and many others are for the greater goal.

Anonymous said...


As a Plaid member, I recognise your frustrations and concerns about the direction of the party, but I also question your lack of recogniton for what it has achieved since devolution. Plaid is very much a victim of its own success and from my position, you strive to continually push the boundaries towards independence, when there would be a real danger in doing so of isolating the party form the electorate-outside the core areas.

Perhaps it could be argued that in the current Welsh political climate with Labour riding on the back of an anti Tory feeling, what difference would it make?

From reading your articles and responses on this blog, your dislike of the current Plaid leadership is clear but what is not so clear is your feelings about Plaid going into coalition in the first place. You tend to give the impression that you would have preferred to have stayed in a principled opposition; a situation that would not have delivered a yes vote in March.

In conclusion, I like many in Plaid fail to understand your despair with the party that you have contributed so much to. Your personal feelings towards the leadership is one thing, but your frustration goes much deeper than that. Whatever happens in this election, the party will change and adapt after it, repositioning to face up to the needs of the next challenge. I see no demand whatsoever for the 'let's be like the rest' position within the future activists, politicians and leaders of the party and frankly scratch my head when contemplating your leaving.

Within the fold you had huge influnece but outside? You know more than anyone the influence of Welsh political journalism on the masses, which is all you now have.

John Dixon said...


"you strive to continually push the boundaries towards independence, when there would be a real danger in doing so of isolating the party form the electorate"

It isn't simply about independence; one thing that I am not is a constitutional fundamentalist. But I never got involved in politics just to run things better than anyone else either. It would take longer than the space on a comment to adequately expand on that here. It certainly is true, though, that I believe that a political movement which wants to change things has to lead, not follow, public opinion. There is a question about how far in advance of the thinking of the wider population a party can be, and some have argued that Plaid was at times too far ahead. But when everyone else starts to catch up - that is the time for taking a step further ahead.

"You tend to give the impression that you would have preferred to have stayed in a principled opposition; a situation that would not have delivered a yes vote in March."

I might say that the preferred option of many - the rainbow coalition - would also not have delivered the referendum; we should be grateful to the Lib Dems for delivering us from that. It isn't about "principled opposition"; I've talked before about the concept of the 'objective alliance'. And unlike some former colleagues, I was even open to working with the Tories - I never understood why there should be any huge issue of principle against doing so. There are caveats, however (aren't there always?). The biggest caveat is the need to enter any such arrangement with a clear understanding of why you are doing so and what the outcomes will be. Bluntly, the party never really did that thinking at the time, and never had that degree of clarity. Such clarity as does exist owes more to post-event rationalisation than to advance analysis.

"Within the fold you had huge influnece"

I don't think that the membership yet fully understands the degree to which the direction and policy of the party is now being set by the leadership rather than by the membership. Such influence as I had was diminishing even before I resigned as Chair, after which it was zero.