Friday 16 March 2012

New leader, new start?

The election of a straight-talking leader, who is a committed nationalist, socialist, and republican marks, in every one of those aspects, the most decisive break with the last 12 years which Plaid Cymru could have made, and I’ll admit that the clarity of that decision came as something of a surprise to me.  In electing Leanne, the party has chosen the candidate who was furthest away from Ieuan Wyn Jones in her thinking. 
I was surprised to see Elin described during the campaign as the ‘continuity candidate’.  If there was a continuity candidate (i.e. someone likely to continue along the route set by Ieuan) in the race, it was surely Dafydd Elis-Thomas.  I rather suspect that Elin’s inability to articulate successfully the extent of the difference between her position and that of her predecessor owes more to a natural sense of loyalty than to any intention to simply carry on along the same route.
I have no doubt that Leanne will be courageous and honest in putting forward a clear alternative vision for Wales, and in attempting to lead rather than follow public opinion.  And I have long been convinced that that is the proper role for a nationalist party in Wales.  
Leanne does face a number of problems however.  Not the least of them is a raised, and probably unrealistic, level of expectation.  The idea that some seem to have that merely setting out a route forward and articulating her party’s objectives with a great deal more clarity will be enough to grow support for those objectives is over simplistic.  And the idea that there is a great groundswell of radical left-leaning voters in industrial South Wales just waiting for the right leader owes more to a romantic view of the past than to any analysis of harsh reality.
In that context, one of the most important things that the party needs to do is to define what ‘success’ means.  And it needs to self-define that, rather than have it defined for it by others, because others will define it solely in terms of electoral progress, whereas the real measure of success for a national party is in terms of progress towards its objectives.  Sometimes the two coincide; but they don’t necessarily do so at all times.  Conflating the two - or rather allowing success to be defined solely in terms of the one - has been a part of the problem.


You mean there's more??? said...

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party...


Chris Paul said...

I think gains under Leanne could well be modest, but none the less significant. We could make real headway in seats where we already have solid support- such as Llanelli, Islwyn, and Caerphilly. We can also further erode weak Labour support on a regional basis in the north and west. This in itself would reduce Labour's capacity to govern as a majority and therefore drive labour further from Westminster- and also into firmer pro-devolution territory.

Boncath said...

15th March The Glen Haverfordwest
There was a successful meeting of candidates for the May County Council Election for Pembs County Council.
The manifesto for Plaid in Pembrokeshire was released into the public domain. it certainly breaks new ground for us and certainly marks the changes from the days not that long ago when we stuggled to get a three line paid for advertisement in the Tenby Observer classifieds and that only English permitted
Membership in South Pembrokeshire continues to grow and there is evidence that a more positive voice to drive Plaid and Wales forward is being well received.
Your Tv appearance was as usual spot on and I trust that it is the first of many more.
If you dont rejoin Plaid then a future in the media as a political correspondence would be the way to go and I am sure that there are many out there who share my views

Anonymous said...

Time to come back in from the cold, John.

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon,
Spot on, your last two para`s says it all.
I hope she will be brave to the end and not become a victim of events or short term priorities, as I witnessed with Dafydd Iwan, whose first speech as President was unforgettable and brilliant and his last was sad and pathetic.

Glyndo said...

"And the idea that there is a great groundswell of radical left-leaning voters in industrial South Wales just waiting for the right leader owes more to a romantic view of the past than to any analysis of harsh reality."

Spot on.

maen_tramgwydd said...

My perception is slightly different, John. Whilst I agree with your remark about no groundswell of left-wing voters, I don't think that it will be Leanne's socialist views which will appeal in the urban areas of Wales, but rather her background and the type of person she is.

She is a woman with whom a large section of the population can identify, even if they don't understand or think much about her politics. For me, she typifies, and speaks for much of Wales today. The parts of Wales which have been particularly exploited, deprived and ignored for generations.

Whether or not that can be harnessed electorally by Plaid is another matter. Her clear cut victory is a sign that the party membership has instinctively realised her potential in that respect. Neither of the other candidates possess those qualities.

It is largely absent too in the three other party leaders, with perhaps the exception of Carwyn Jones. Leanne's personality, though, counteracts his blandness.

Her critics rightly point out that she has hitherto failed to markedly improve Plaid's share of the vote in the Valley communities. However, it is one thing to select Leanne as a list candidate and quite another to elect her as party leader. Her massively raised profile, and the signal it gives to the people of Wales, has the potential to bring a huge electoral dividend.

As someone commented on Syniadau, people are talking about her in the pubs.

I am under no illusion that success will follow automatically or that it will be easy. A great deal of thought, preparation, and effort has to be put into the project. It will be a real test for the Party.

Anonymous said...

With regional candidates their presence doesn't really affect the list that much, as any personal appeal they might have is diluted across a pretty large region. it is much more about the constituency candidates being able to raise the vote. It'd be a bit like blaming Eluned Parrott AM for the Lib Dems doing badly in south Wales central. The best way to raise the vote across a region is to have good constituency candidates and for the regional candidates to drop in and support the key areas.

Trefjon said...

I am surprised that little has been said about the nature of this election which in effect was an AV inspired American primary. People could join ( the cash strapped party) and vote immediately ( for £1 as a student?)and therefore you had a facebook inspired election which I'm afraid older politicians including myself have been sidestepped neatly.

Personally, I doubt whether she has the intellectual baggage to cope after the initial honeymoon and will quite quickly be exposed. It is very interesting that none of the commentators have commented on her intelligence with Vaughan Roderick easily the most astute in saying that her personality is her most potent weapon.

Unfortunately in a world of soundbites will this be enough?

John Dixon said...


The problem with using words and phrases like 'intellectual baggage' and 'intelligence' is that they're not easy to either define or measure. Any assessment made is likely to be somewhat subjective. It seems to me that Leanne has shown a willingness and an ability to get involved in policy discussions in a way that many politicians choose not to do; but I'd accept that any assessment of the 'weightiness' of such contributions is likely to depend on a range of factors, not least the extent to which the listener/reader does or does not agree. Time will tell.

But if people are going to judge politicians mostly on the quality of their soundbites - which is what your final sentence suggests - then we will end up with the style of politics which we deserve.

Anonymous said...

Choosing party leaders can be problematic, not just for Plaid Cymru:

Michael Foot (an intellectual)
Neil Kinnock (not an intellectual)
Ian Duncan Smith (not charismatic)
Gordon Brown (definitely not charismatic)

Margaret Thatcher gained a second class honours degree and needed coaching to become an effective speaker and to lose her Lincolnshire accent. She qualified as a barrister because her husband funded her through the course.

Leanne's accent will be a definite advantage in the Welsh political arena.

Alex Salmond has not always been the towering political figure he is today.

I believe that Plaid's members chose the candidate with the most potential. I think most would agree that the choice was limited - it usually is in most political parties.

Anonymous said...

Anon 17:12 makes a good point. Alot of parties much bigger than Plaid Cymru have made terrible leadership decisions.

The Tories as the official UK opposition saw fit to elect not only IDS but Michael Howard, against fields that included much more credible.

You don't have to like David Miliband's politics to accept he was the "right" choice for Labour in terms of beating the Tories. They mistakenly chose Ed who in fairness is now doing ok but should be streets ahead.

Likewise the SNP once had the idea that John Swinney would be an ideal leader. Great finance minister, awful leader. Salmond also used to be seen as too left-wing, not serious, and nasty.

Leanne Wood was simply the "best" choice in terms of presenting a leading face for the party at the community level and at campaigning in elections. How will she be "exposed" intellectually? She is one of the few Welsh politicians who does policy work. You can say it's wrong but it is intellectual. People really don't care about the Assembly chamber. Carwyn Jones often gets exposed in that chamber but it really doesn't matter because he is likeable and sounds like he believes in himself and his party. What happens in the Assembly is a set piece but it doesn't count that much.

As for people joining the party to vote the biggest rise was in Ceredigion. Leanne's meetings across Wales would have gotten more votes in than her facebook campaign. She simply used social media as one weapon and used face to face meetings as another.