Thursday, 9 June 2011

French leave

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I really don’t see any excuse for AMs (or MPs, come to that) from any party to be taking their holidays during the period when the institution is formally sitting.  There are enough weeks when it is not sitting for that to be unnecessary.  So, unless there are circumstances which have not been made public, criticism of Ieuan Wyn Jones for being absent is not without justification.  But he isn’t the only one to have done it, and any fair criticism would acknowledge that as well.
The attempt by some, though, to deliberately confuse that issue with the royal visit is utterly without justification.  To suggest that Ieuan would deliberately snub the monarch, or absent himself out of some sort of sympathy with the republican cause, is plainly ridiculous to anyone who knows him.  Neither are things that he is ever likely to do (and yes, I’m aware that some would see that as part of the problem, but that isn’t the point here).
This piece on WalesHome was typical of the Labour approach on this, but I thought that it said more about the author than his target.  It’s a case of trying to turn anything and everything into an attack on an individual, with no room to allow facts to get in the way.  It’s a poor substitute for proper politics.
It’s no surprise to me that Plaid’s “senior sources” are at it again, always prepared to say what they think as long as they think that no-one knows who they are.  It’s a problem which all parties suffer from at times, when rivalries are played out in public, but anonymously.  The most sensible comment I’ve seen on that was at Syniadau, who rightly questions whether those doing the briefing are in fact pushing personal agendas.
Turning the real issues into simply a question of a change of leadership, or, worse, an even less substantial debate about the timing of that change, looks like an avoidance mechanism rather than a strategy.  But it is probably what some people want.  It's the 'why' which is more important.


Anonymous said...

the worst damage Ieuan's absence has done is to let Labour off the hook on its tardiness since the election. The rest is politicking and will be forgotten soon.

Plaid's line was working well with lots of people starting to question what was happening, Jocelyn didn't do her self any favours but Carwyn's reaction to her first question in the Chamber was telling.

Within 48 hours that has been blown off course and Labour is doing what they always do, deflecting attention from its own problems of Carwyn's impotence in relation to the other First Ministers in affecting meaningful change and the Welsh media as usual is lapping it up.

Im not convinced all the briefing is being done by Plaid Cymru sources, certain journalists like to stir and certain politicians would like nothing better than to neuter the nationalist threat permanently.

Syd Morgan said...

The Labour AM you quote is such a British nationalist. I heard him on Radio Wales this week refer to us as a region and the UK as a 'nation'. Which century is he in?

Duncan Higgitt said...

"It’s a poor substitute for proper politics."

Hear, hear.

John Dixon said...


"Im not convinced all the briefing is being done by Plaid Cymru sources,"

Based on my own experience, sadly, I am convinced. The journalist may well have an agenda, and may well tend to exaggerate the importance of those he quotes, but I have never had any reason to believe that he simply makes up the quotes.

Anonymous said...

not saying that certain members of Plaid Cymru have their own agenda, or that quotes are being made up, but it's naive to think there aren't other forces at play especially when there is more than one big political story around in Wales at present.

John Dixon said...


Put that way, I can agree with you.

Anonymous said...

'certain politicians would like nothing better than to neuter the nationalist threat permanently'

Such as Ieuan Wyn Jones and Dafydd Elis Thomas, for instance?

Anonymous said...

IWJ deserves credit for steering plaid thru some difficult times in recent years, beginning with the enforced loss of dafydd wigley as leader _ from which i would argue plaid has never really recovered - and culminating in the one wales agreement...which at least delivered the referendum on lawmaking powers for wales.

Personally - and speaking as a plaid member - i find these off the record briefings against him disgraceful and cowardly. If there are such senior people in plaid who feel this way about IWJ - and we have to trust the journalist in question on this - they should have the bottle to say so publicly instead of cowering behind a journalist's pen!

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

'IWJ deserves credit for steering plaid thru some difficult times in recent years, beginning with the enforced loss of dafydd wigley as leader' - Hold on, who 'forced' Wigley out? You seem to want to give IWJ the credit for taking years to dig the party out of a hole that he himself created.

Anonymous said...

anon perhaps you are better informed than have to say i know nothing of any such moves against wigley by IWJ

Leigh Richards

maen_tramgwydd said...


Yes, Wales has these limited legislative powers, delivered in 2011 because of the OWA negotiated with Labour. All four party leaders supported a Yes vote. The scale of the victory was beyond anything which Plaid has achieved nationally in any election, which indicates that the vote was won with Labour (& other parties') electoral support.

It is to Plaid's credit, but it's dangerous to overstate the party's achievement, for a number of reasons.

The first is that it might lead to a repeat of the initial error (imo) of being a junior partner with Labour (or any party for that matter) in coalition. It has left Plaid in the wilderness for at least five years, and tarnished its brand image when it was conceivable it would make inroads into Labour territory.

The second is who now has those legislative powers at their command, and what use is likely to be made of them? Labour.. and very little.. seems to be the answer.

True, we have a National Assembly, and a Welsh Government, sitting in a Senedd (unfortunately it looks like a giant bus shelter) which would greatly astound time travellers from the 70s or earlier.

How much credit should Plaid get for these developments? Bearing in mind that devolution since 1997 has been Labour's project, though half-hearted.

Has it been rather a wasted decade for Plaid given the surge in support it got in 1999, and if so why has it turned out this way?

The Party has to honestly face those questions and get to grips with turning its fortunes around. It can't afford to waste any time in so-doing.

It has a lame-duck leader, who has shot himself in the foot when there was no need to do so, with no outstanding successor waiting in the wings.

Oh dear... as the Irishman said when asked for directions... 'If I were going to Dublin, I wouldn't want to be starting from here'.

Unknown said...

Playing down Plaid's role in advancing devolution is revisionist in my opinion, because at the time of the recent referendum taking place nobody would have had any credibility if they suggested anyone other than Plaid was responsible for that particular gain. In fact there were serious attempts from anti-Plaid forces to stop the referendum going ahead.

Facing the questions maen_tramgwydd identifies is vital, but when a statement like "Bearing in mind that devolution since 1997 has been Labour's project, though half-hearted" is taken as fact, it follows that the analysis will be flawed.

John Dixon's own writing in the past has identified that considerable forces within Labour have tried to give entrenched resistance, weighted by realpolitik, to the development of devolution since 1997. And that resistance continues today. Saying "it's Labour's project" is irrelevant seeing as Labour has at least 3 different camps of opinion with regards to what devolution actually is. Also, I don't think a party that has no consensus on the final destination (as John has pointed out) can claim devolution to be "its project". So that stands for both Labour and Plaid.

Additionally, I am convinced that no credible commentator would support the suggestion that Plaid's participation in the One Wales coalition was an "error".

If and when Plaid deals with all of those questions and reflects on them, it's extremely likely that all sections of the party would recognise One Wales as being a step towards the fulfilment of the party's aims, rather than a step away from them.

maen_tramgwydd said...


'...all sections of the party would recognise One Wales as being a step towards the fulfilment of the party's aims, rather than a step away from them.'

Nowhere am I denying that.

Unfortunately it's not just been a step forward, it's been more than a couple of steps back, which is the point I'm trying to make.

I'm not being revisionist, I held this viewpoint at the time of IWJ's decision to enter the coalition, and believed then that the outcome would be something like it is today. It's not quite a disaster, but rather a shambles. To be fair, one has to admit that the party's fortunes had begun to decline prior to 2006.

It's also not helpful to belittle the views of others by claiming the high-ground of the opinions of 'serious commentators'. Wales is as lacking in those, as it is in having serious politicians, and a serious press or media presence.

Even the BBC can't be described as a serious 'Welsh' broadcaster, even though it's virtually the only one that provides news about Wales to all of Wales.

Do your comments imply support for Plaid continuing a relationship in government with Labour? If so, where do you think Plaid will be electorally after the next Assembly elections in 2015?

John Dixon said...

Whilst I wouldn't have put it in these terms ("Unfortunately it's not just been a step forward, it's been more than a couple of steps back, which is the point I'm trying to make."), I think that Maen-tramgwydd has a point. There is no question at all that the March referendum was a major step forward for Wales, or that it would not have happened without Plaid entering the One Wales coalition.

However, a more rounded and complete analysis must also look at whether One Wales was good for Plaid - and thus consider the longer term effects as well as the huge leap forward in the short term. One of the effects on the party was to strengthen the position of those who have always been unwilling, or perhaps unconfident, about presenting the party's longer term aims; in that sense, I agree with maen_tramgwydd that there were some backward steps as well.

That really isn't being 'revisionist', and I really don't think that the national movement (which is wider than a political party) will benefit from taking a one-eyed view of One Wales and seeing only the good. If at times it appears that I'm seeing only the bad, that's unintentional, but when some see only the good, there can be a tendency to over-emphasise the other side.

Unknown said...

maen_tramgwydd, you make your case cogently and I don't mean to sound belittling at all, but I think it's flawed. I agree with you on the paucity of media and commentary in Wales but there are plenty of good commentators, it always helps any case if you can find journalists and writers that would support it, this applies to any country or political situation in the world surely? Jonathan Edwards has some comments in the past few days on the constitutional agenda that support this kind of analysis.

If you opposed One Wales at the time of its formation though you are being consistent and I respect that. However if Plaid had gone into the Rainbow coalition instead, what do you think the outcome would be today? In all likelihood, a similar electoral reversal without the progress on the constitutional agenda.

"Do your comments imply support for Plaid continuing a relationship in government with Labour? If so, where do you think Plaid will be electorally after the next Assembly elections in 2015?"

Not at all. As Jonathan Edwards said today the focus on the next stage of advancing the national cause is at Westminster under these conditions. Electorally, I think it largely depends on who is in government at Westminster. Your own diagnosis of Wales' media weakness supports this. Westminster casts a huge shadow over our politics. Even when Plaid made gains in 2007 a big factor was Blair being unpopular.

maen_tramgwydd said...

I wouldn't have favoured a Plaid-led rainbow coalition either.

As I've stated elsewhere, I think on John's blog, that the circumstances weren't favourable for the party to be in government in 2006.

Fifteen AMs weren't enough for Plaid to have been dominant in a rainbow alliance, especially considering the apparent fickleness of the LibDems. Indeed, any alliance with the Tories at any time could prove disastrous for Plaid - it would have been a very risky strategy.

Junior partners in coalition usually suffer electorally. That had been demonstrated by the LibDems previously in Cardiff. They are now proving it at Westminster, and especially north of the border.

In my opinion Plaid would have been wise to stay in opposition until the circumstances were more auspicious. I didn't accept IWJ's arguments on this point, that Plaid had been a party of protest and opposition for too long, or that support for Labour was necessary to provide stable government for Wales. After all, Labour had 27 AMs, not far short of a majority.

Salmond has demonstrated that it's perfectly feasible to govern effectively with a much smaller number proportionately.

As for the OWA - Yes, there were successes there, mainly the referendum, achieved against a divided Labour party. Unfortunately Plaid didn't get an electoral dividend out of it. I think IWJ (if he expected it) was doomed to disappointment on that score. Neither was Plaid able to put across its other successes in the Agreement.

Yes, Labour was (and is) divided on devolution. But one can't deny that it enacted on the Assembly under Blair and Ron Davies, commissioned Lord Richard, and enacted the 2006 Act, bringing in legislative devolution piecemeal but without a referendum, and including the mechanism to move to direct legislative powers.

Sooner or later, Labour would have, given the right circumstances, called the referendum, and won it, despite opposition from within. Favourable circumstances for so-doing would be as now... a majority (or near) in the Assembly, and a hostile right-wing Tory administration at Westminster. Thereafter Carwyn Jones could claim that Labour is the party of Wales, and that Plaid was an unnecessary distraction. A win-win for Labour.

Of course we have the benefit of hindsight, which, as you rightly say, can lead to revisionism.

Plaid's actions in the coming months are crucial - hopefully it will have learned some valuable lessons. It must get the best leader available.

Salmond has demonstrated that the electorate can be persuaded to support a nationalist party - with startling success - that his party can be trusted better than Labour to deliver for the people of Scotland. However, as others have pointed out, Wales isn't Scotland, but there are lessons to be learned from the SNP's success, even so.

To misquote Wilde's Lady Bracknell,

'To lose one capable leader may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two sounds like carelessness'.

Plaid needs to ensure that its selection mechanisms don't deny those who have most to contribute to its success in terms of leadership skills, experience, and charisma.

The party hasn't prepared for the situation it now faces, which can only be described as carelessness, inexperience or naiveté.

Unfortunately it’s a matter of closing the stable door after....

John Dixon said...


Your analysis of why Plaid should not have entered coalition in 2007 is remarkably similar to my own - made me start to wonder whether I'd been writing under a pseudonym in my sleep. For me, the question was always a pragmatic one - and that applied to both options - of looking at numbers, programmes, and probable outcomes rather than a huge issue of principle. For various reasons, and this is not the place to go into those, that analysis and thinking was not only not done, it was actively obstructed by those who'd already decided that the party 'must' go into government.

It was only when you got to the part about Lady Bracknell that we started to part company.

As Anon 11:19 above reminded us, although I wouldn't have put it as simplistically as (s)he did, Plaid didn't exactly 'lose' the previous leader by accident. The party outside the Assembly was presented with a fait accompli after some AMs took matters into their own hands and told him to go. Lessons should have been learned from that, but hankering after what might have been is pointless.

What's important now is that nationalists do the thinking now that should have been done years ago, learn the lessons that have not been learned and develop a strategy for moving forward.


I think maen_tramgwydd has responded to most of the points in your comment, but there's one other thing I'd like to add, and it's something on which I disagree fundamentally with both you and Jonathan.

"As Jonathan Edwards said today the focus on the next stage of advancing the national cause is at Westminster under these conditions. "

Absolutely not. The next stage, as every previous stage, depends on what happens on the ground in Wales, and on having a national movement which puts the case unfailingly before the people of Wales. It is, ultimately, the people who will decide on progress, not the institutions. Seeing things in terms primarily of what happens in the institutions is pretty central to my critique of where things went wrong. It's perhaps a result of having so many elected members since 1999; but it isn't inevitable, and can be rolled back.

maen_tramgwydd said...


I used the quote simply to make a point. It wasn't meant to accurately describe a sequence of events, of which I certainly had no insider knowledge.

I agree with vour view about Westminster too.

Unknown said...

John- respectfully, I think you misunderstand what Edwards is saying. He wasn't, as far as I can see, talking about the national movement as a whole but was saying that Plaid doesn't need to go into government in the way they did in 2007. As if I or he would believe in institutions rather than people.