Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Plaid Leadership Candidates

Before I'm asked why I didn't pay as close attention to the Welsh Conservative leadership election last year, I'd say that it was because it was debated largely internally within the Tories and predictable. Obviously I'm going to have a keener interest in who runs Plaid than any of the other parties. That doesn't mean that if the other parties were in a similar situation with such a wide field of candidates I wouldn't be covering it in the same detail.

It's also important from a general political standpoint. With constitutional wrangling likely to rumble on through 2012 in the form of Scotland's independence debate and the Silk Commission, Plaid's role is more important than a third-placed party otherwise would be.

I have to reiterate. I'm not a Plaid member. I'm not a member of any political party and for the time being I have no desire to join a party. I'm not presumptuous enough to "endorse" any one particular candidate and I'm not egotistical to think my opinion could persuade people one way or another. The choice is for Plaid's membership alone. Obviously I do have a favourite but I'll give opinion from as neutral a perspective as possible. Over the next few weeks I'll post on what each leader could offer Plaid as a party in terms of vision and policy and what they could do for Welsh nationalism as a whole.

If there are any Plaid members (or anyone else) who want to leave comments endorsing a candidate or discuss the leadership election then go ahead.

The deadline for applications closes in a few hours. Barring any dramatic last minute announcements these are four candidates for the Plaid leadership in alphabetical order by surname:

Dafydd Elis-Thomas

(Pic : National Assembly)

Age : 65
From : Carmarthen, brought up in Ceredigion and Conwy
Alumnus : Bangor (PhD , President)
Constituency : Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Occupation : University lecturer, chair of multiple organisations, company director, life peer
Political Experience: MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy 1974-1992, President of Plaid Cymru 1984-1991, Presiding Officer of National Assembly 1999-2011, AM since 1999
Campaign Website

He might have damaged his chances by being lukewarm on Plaid's constitutional goals but Dafydd is still a candidate with gravitas. He's charismatic, recognisable, has green credentials and a wide range of public and private sector experience. Not only that he has a safe first past the post seat in Plaid's heartland. In many respects he's the ideal candidate.

I don't think it's his ambiguous views on independence or monarchism that could cost him a second run at the leadership. He's mentioned his desire for Plaid to "return to government", presumably in a One Wales II. There's a danger that Dafydd could lock Plaid in as a "nationalist Cooperative Party" - forever affiliated and associated with Labour.

That doesn't mean Plaid's membership shouldn't hear him out, he just has to be careful he doesn't create traps for himself or the party.

Elin Jones

(Pic: National Assembly)
Age : 45
From : Lampeter, Ceredigion
Alumnus : Cardiff (BSc Economics), Aberystwyth (MSc Agricultural Economics)
Constituency : Ceredigion
Occupation : Director of Radio Ceredigion and television production company, economic development officer
Political Experience : Town Councillor 1992-1999, AM since 1999, Rural Affairs Minister 2007-2011
Campaign Website

Elin has long been considered the front-runner, but I'm not sure that's as assured as it might have been a few months ago due to the momentum building for Leanne Wood.

Elin has an advantage in being the only candidate with experience in government, and by and large doing a good job too. The badger cull might be a black mark, stoking the wrath of animal rights campaigners and "good lifers" in rural Wales, but Elin comes across as someone willing to graft. Her background in economics is also a massive professional advantage.

A hardworking, perhaps a little "mumsy", safe pair of hands but someone who's also down to earth, warm and approachable. Elin is the "Sali Mali" candidate - and I mean that as a compliment. If you had a problem she looks like she would listen to you, would actually care and go on and do something about it – not resort to rhetoric. However Elin isn't the best public speaker and probably not that well known outside of the Bay Bubble, Plaid or the farming community. Would Elin be too safe a choice?

Elin's obviously for independence and a republican, but she's not as vociferous as other candidates might be (until recently anyway). A nice balance. Elin has a relatively safe first past the post seat and there's no real chance of her being unseated.

Simon Thomas

(Pic: National Assembly)

Age : 48
From : Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf
Alumnus : Aberystwyth (BA Welsh & PgD Librarianship)
Constituency : Mid & West Wales
Occupation: Library curator, local government researcher, rural development manager
Political Experience : Local Councillor, MP for Ceredigion 2000-2005, special adviser to Plaid Cymru in the Assembly, AM since 2011
No campaign website as yet

It's timing that's Simon's problem here. If he had been in the Assembly 4 years earlier he might have been a shoo-in. I once thought it was pretentious that a recently elected AM stands for a leadership. However, Simon has qualities that would make him a good leader.

Like Dafydd Elis Thomas he has parliamentary experience, and by all accounts stood out in London as a pretty good MP. He's obviously used to "rough and tumble" politics and he has impressed in the Senedd so far, seemingly keen to focus on "bread and butter" issues.

His stance on independence as a gradualist is sensible, but he's in danger of treading in too many of Dafydd Elis-Thomas' footsteps. He also seems to have more centrist views on matters Plaid have been to the left of Labour on. Whether that could divide the "Hwntw" socialist-republicans and the "Gog" cultural/green-nationalists or open up a third sect of technocratic "functional nationalists" (probably what I would describe myself as) is an issue. Nobody in Plaid apart from Simon seems keen to target that "centre ground" or the "ordinary voter".

Simon's arguably the closest thing Plaid in the Assembly has to an Alex Salmond type figure if that's what they want. However, of all the candidates, Simon's probably the most likely to "do a Nick Bourne" and lose his seat if Plaid did particularly well in FPTP seats.

Leanne Wood

(Pic : National Assembly)

Age: 40
From : Penygraig, Rhondda Cynon Taf
Alumnus : Cardiff (MA Social Work, lecturer)
Constituency : South Wales Central
Occupation : University lecturer, probation officer, Women's Aid support worker
Political Experience : Local councillor 1995-1999, AM since 2003
Campaign Website

Leanne Wood is one of the most consistently impressive and formidable AMs, and right this moment some bookies are saying she's the favourite - and I'd agree with that. We all know Leanne has become the standard bearer for the southern socialist-republicans. However, at a time when Welsh politicians in general need to be reaching out to the Welsh private sector, do Plaid want a leader who is - perhaps deep down - hostile to free-market economics?

She's by no means a "wet" on independence or republicanism. She's galvanised Plaid's younger members (and many older socialists). Good. But she wouldn't get away with, for example, boycotting a royal visit as a party leader compared to being a backbencher. I would hate to see Leanne lose her "edge" by becoming a party leader - something she might have to do - even if the likes of Bethan Jenkins are already there to fulfil Leanne's "niche" as a campaigner, rabble-rouser and digger of dirt.

Leanne's supporters might be over-estimating how progressive the Welsh electorate actually is. From anecdotal evidence, the Welsh are left-leaning but small-c conservatives to the point of pig-headedness. That's an incredibly frustrating combination for any politician of any colour, but a particular problem for a "radical".

Leanne is saying a lot of the right things and I'm more impressed with her leadership campaign than I was expecting. She would obviously be a choice outside of Plaid's "comfort zone" of a first-language Welsh-speaker, Bro Cymraeg, FPTP candidate – a big, big plus - and she should be safe in her regional list seat.


  1. If Plaid are serious about winning government - and independence for Wales, we have to break through in the valley. Quickly. Leanne is the only one who has any chance at all of helping us dot that. Although she is a passionate supporter of the Welsh language, I think her no-Welsh background will be crucial in this, and her ability to reach out to the communities and relate to Labour voters.

    This is becoming extremely urgent now, with Scotland steaming ahead to independence, we have to be ready in Wales to take up the reigns, and salvage a viable state from the wreckage - either that or watch Wales become assimilated into Greater England. For me, only Leanne is astute enough, and bold enough to hep us plot a safe path through this difficult terrain.

  2. Leanne for me also, very impressed with her campaigning right across Wales and the sheer hard graft she's doing ;-) right person at the right moment imho.

  3. You forgot to mention DET is a 'Lord', a good enough reason for him not only to be dumped out of the leadership election race but also have his membership relinquished. The man is a sham!

  4. I know it's a bit rich to be leaving Anonymous comments supporting a candidate in an internal election, but it is impressive that Leanne Wood has said according to Martin Shipton she would be willing to meet Mrs Windsor if she had to at a function or event. Whilst retaining her republican principles in the same way she would meet dignitaries or guests who are visiting Wales from any countries. This is a masterstroke. We accept the UK is a monarchy and will meet her but will also campaign for Wales to no longer be a monarchy in the future. It's a case of picking which battles are worth fighting. Martin McGuinness has said something similar that if he were to be elected Irish President he would meet Mrs Windsor. At one time he would not have, and neither would Leanne. It is a sign of growing maturity and Wales growing in confidence that Mrs Windsor now recognises the permanence of devolution. It also contributes to depoliticising the monarchy as an obstacle in the way of independence or constitutional advancement.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Sionnyn & Elyboy - Somehow I was expecting you two to be amongst the first to comment. I wonder why. Leanne is fortunate to have people as committed as yourselves supporting her.

    Informer - I have no time for feudal titles. I don't think we should be too harsh on DET and I'll post some reasons why in the next couple of weeks.

    Anon 03:26 - As I've said I'm impressed with how Leanne has carried herself and her campaign so far, so I wasn't surprised to read that she's taken a "more mature/pragmatic" approach to the monarchy. Leanne's got the makings of a potentially fantastic leader..............not that I would presume to "endorse" a candidate ;)

    1. Too late! I think we all get your drift.

      Dafydd Iwan endorsing her today should be the clincher - and the news that she had 14 nominations from branches and constituencies - 3 more than the other three put together! Exciting times for Wales.

  6. I'm starting to wonder whether Leanne Wood might be some sort of Welsh Tony Blair.

    He gained the leadership from a position of relative obscurity and remade it in his image, adopting the policies and ethos of the Conservatives. As such he was seen as a safe pair of hands by the elite, and the media allowed him to win the next three elections. I'm sure the elite would have preferred a Tory government but were pragmatic enough to realise that the UK is not a one party state, and that in order to preserve their position they would need the alternative to be under their influence.

    In Wales the elite is closely associated to the Labour party, but is broader than that also running the public and third sectors. Maybe they have determined that even Wales can't be a one party Labour state for ever, and that they would like an 'alternative' who also serves their interests.

    Like Tony Blair's leadership campaign in 1994, Leanne Wood's seems to be largely media (including new social media) driven and she has already seen to support Labour establishment organisations such as the Bevan Foundation and WalesHome.

    1. Anon - I'm afraid I can't take your comment seriously. Tony Blair was never a conviction politician, but rather made his way by patronage and within the party machine. Leanne, on the other hand, is all passion and conviction, and has made her way despite the old guard in the party. And to say she is media driven, like blair, is to ignore the very real work she does on the ground,the tireless campaigning for often unpopular causes, for the real people, regardless of whether there are cameras around.

      Now if you want to look for a Blair type candidate, look no further than DET, who is only in it for personal glory, much like Blair was.

      If this was your attempt at a slur against Leanne, then it has missed by several miles.

  7. Anon 06:02 - I do think Leanne, if she becomes leader, is going to soften her more radical views. All party leaders have to tone themselves down at some point.

    She might be the WM's favourite, and getting good press in the leftie media and think tanks, but she should be wary of that. They're probably just glad that there could be a credible challenge to Labour's hegemony in south Wales to give them (Labour) a kick up the backside. When push comes to shove they'll be backing Labour in the end.

    If I had to make a comparison with a British politician I'd say Leanne is a Welsh Caroline Lucas or Ken Livingstone. But I don't think we should ever compare our politicians to British ones and start thinking of them on their own merits. Leanne Wood is our Leanne Wood, it's down to future politicians whether they'll be compared to her (or anyone else).

    1. Leanne only became the WM favourite when Paddy Power had her neck and neck with Elin.

      I don't think becoming leader will soften her views, or her passion for equality, but I do think she has the skill and professionalism to realise that she will be representing a wide range of political views within the party, and she will no doubt choose her team to reflect that.

  8. You mention that Leanne is safe in her regional list seat, but how well would they have to do for her to lose it?

    I believe that the best Plaid have ever done in SWC was to get 3 AM's in 1999 (1 FPTP and 2 list) If they are really going to get their breakthrough in the valleys/south and become the largest party, then surely that would entail getting at least 3 FPTP seats (probably including Cynon and Rhondda) in the region, in which Leanne would be out of it. Unless of course she decides to gamble on fighting for a FPTP seat in Labour's heartland.

    Experience suggests that the largest party seldom wins list seats, and so LW's re-election would depend on Plaid not overtaking Labour.

  9. That's a good point Welsh Agenda.

    Realistically Plaid could, on a very, very good night win the Rhondda, Cynon Valley and Cardiff West FPTP seats in that region. If that happened then, in my opinion, Leanne would just about sneak in as the fourth regional AM, probably battling the Lib Dems or Greens. Plaid would need a large share of the regional vote to absolutely ensure it. Of course the Assembly could have 80 AM's and a new voting system by them.

    If Leanne were leader, I don't think she would lead Plaid to many FPTP seat wins in the valleys, but she would probably reduce Labour majorities and make those seats "winnable" in 2020/2021. If she can get more Plaid regional members too that would be a bonus. That's kind of what happened to the SNP in 2007, subsequently winning those "winnable" seats in 2011.

  10. Owen, I'm not so sure about your first point, even if Labour lose three seats, they wont do so by much and should get at least two list seats. The tories will get at least 1 seat, and if they either do very well (increase their vote) or do badly (lose a FPTP seat) they will get the other seat.

  11. Like I said Welsh Agenda, Plaid winning three FPTP seats in that region is an "extreme" example.

    What's noticeable about Welsh elections is that people generally vote for the same party on the FPTP and Regional ballots - in the south at least. If Plaid increased their share of the vote in FPTP by such a degree to win seats, then you would expect their share of the regional vote to go up as well by a similar amount. That might be enough for Leanne to sneak in - though wouldn't guarantee it. It would be a close run thing and probably dependant on a Lib Dem or Tory vote collapse as much as Labour.

    Your point that Leanne's seat would be "unsafe" in such a scenario is correct of course. In a "Richard Commission" Assembly though it might not matter too much.

  12. Yes, ok, WA, you have a point, but are you seriously suggesting we don't vote for Leanne because she's standing for a list seat?

    In any case, if Plaid makes electoral ground under her leadership (a distinct possibility)... the opinion polls will indicate that, then why not select her for DET or RhGT's seats for the next election? It's time they both stood down in my opinion, because we don't know what direction either of them face, or what they really stand for.

    It was Labour which rigged the system to make it less democratic - if they're losing votes to Plaid - then tough on them.

    Plaid needs to be aiming for a majority in the Assembly, or at least to be the largest party. It can do that.

    I believe we're beginning to see a new confidence that the party can at last make a breakthrough if it has the guts to break with its more timid conservative and hesitant past.

  13. Of course, by 2016 the political landscape of the UK will be unrecognisable. Even if the SNP do not win the independence referendum ( despite all indications at them moment suggesting they will with a handsome majority), anything but a landslide NO will mean that the 2016 UK will be a completely different place to the one that saw the 2011 election.

    Don't forget also that in 2003 the SNP suffered an electoral setback not unlike the one Plaid has just suffered. Salmond came back as leader, and they went on to win in 2007, seeping the board in 2011. With an ineffective labour government in Wales, and a rightward moving Labour party in London, it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that the same will happen here. If anyone can help Plaid achieve that, it is Leanne.