Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Shiny happy Plaidie people

"Positivitee" "Gret beleef" "Mental strengx" "Leetle beet short"
Yeah, I've heard that quite often down the years.
(Pic : Sky Sports)
Yesterday, Leanne Wood made three big announcements on the future direction of Plaid Cymru. Two of them mirror what she said during her leadership campaign about generating new ideas and an active membership. The last was a bit of a surprise – in both a good and bad way.

Since Plaid returned from the summer recess, it's become obvious that the party as a whole have been rather "bouncy". It's as though they've gone through a spiritual cleansing of sorts, and have come out fighting with a shared sense purpose and optimism. It's like Arsene Wenger just before the season starts.

Plaid are the Arsenal of Welsh politics. On their day they can match anyone. They're youthful, play an attractive game with a progressive philosophy that involves doing things the "right way" – but they've won bugger all for what seems like an eternity. They'll have moments like scoring five goals against Spurs, the opposing manager twitching away on the sidelines. However, other clubs win the trophies at season's end. Especially the red team from oop north that nobody likes except their own fans.

Good, yet bad. Electable, yet unelectable. I'm excited by all three announcements, but that old "Plaid Paradox" is in the background, sulking, with its arms folded, being a party pooper.

A crowd-sourced manifesto

Plaid Plus : Radically brilliant. It's not that unusual either. This method has been used in South America, by mainland European "Pirate Parties" and in Iceland to draw up a new constitution. This is the kind of idea I would've expected to come from Plaid since Leanne Wood's election as leader. It's the sort of thing that could give the party's grass roots real influence over the direction of the party – and Plaid already had a reasonable track record in that.

How this would work is the issue. I could certainly see it being popular amongst the young, while older members might prefer the traditional way. Plaid are definitely taking the bull by the horns in this. It remains to be seen if other Welsh parties would follow them.

Plaid Paradox : I'll have whatever Plaid are smoking.
There's a reason parties have professional policy wonks and policy advisers – because wonks know what they're talking about (most of the time). Although this is a radical suggestion, you could interpret it as Plaid saying : "We've run out of ideas – over to you." It might also insinuate they're replacing Nerys Evans (who's standing down as Plaid's policy director) on the cheap.

There's the "opportunity" for some popular, but stupid, idea to make it onto the policy agenda. But there's a danger that if they made it members-only, or heavily moderated, they would undermine its intent. If they didn't, then they would open the doors to "entryists" with their own agendas.

Open primaries and membership

Plaid Plus : Opening up politics in a way not seen in Wales before. This takes advantage of one of Plaid's big plus points - that they're as much a national movement as they are a political party. I did say that Plaid under Leanne Wood would become a "popular progressive front", and this is a manifestation of that.

It breaks a stuffy, closed-off "old boys and girls" network of cliques. You get the impression that many candidates (in all parties) are selected based on seniority and it being "their turn", not how good they would actually be at the job. If people want to be selected, they might need to become more active within party circles to get noticed – which would boost Plaid's grass root campaigning. If potential members realise they could very easily go from leaflet poster to prospective Councillor/AM/MP/MEP with the right attitude, it might dramatically boost membership levels and professionalism too.

Plaid Paradox : A carpetbagger's charter. It's unclear how this would work in practice.You could end up with a crap candidate who matched whatever boxes Plaid wants to tick, or a Mohammad Ashgar Mk II. You could also end up with the loudest, populist candidate being selected - not the best. I'd be annoyed if I were a long-standing, paid-up member of the rank and file, who signed up to the party's constitution in good faith, only to be overtaken in "stature" by an outsider who might not agree with what the party stands for. I think that goes for any party. Having open selections might make sitting Plaid politicians paranoid and constantly looking over their shoulders too - that might be good for keeping them on their toes, but bad for morale.

This could be seen as not just an appeal to "everyone", but also to "Non-Plaid Nationalists" who don't like the idea of being inside the tent peeing out (for whatever reason). Although we might be big on the internet, I doubt we number more than a few hundred in "real life". By not joining Plaid, I think we're doing them a favour. We can say things we wouldn't get away with if we suggested them as members, whilst stimulating "debate".

Leanne's 2016 constituency contest

Plaid Plus : Leading the cavalry charge. There are certainly "soft target" seats (not including Llanelli) Leanne could be selected for and stand a chance of winning. Cynon Valley springs to mind. You could probably include Neath and Caerphilly too, but Plaid have tried there before. Ultimately though, if Plaid have ambitions of "doing an SNP" they need to start winning constituency seats. What better way to do so than the party leader leading the charge. But it'll have to be an existing Labour seat east of the Lougher to avoid it becoming a non-story.

Plaid Paradox : A pointless risk. I might be the exception, but I don't really care about constituency links. I just want AMs – from all parties - who get on with the job and represent our interests in the Senedd as best they can. Leanne might've cheapened the status of regional AMs by making constituency AMs appear more legitimate. I doubt that was her intention, but that belief - which appears to be held by quite a few people - is nonsense. Many of our best AMs have consistently come from the regional lists. Some of the worst are in the safest FPTP seats.

There's no guarantee of a pay off either. Every Plaid FPTP victory is just likely to result in a Labour regional gain – barring a big share of the regional vote for Plaid as well. By going "all in", Leanne might well have turned the 2016 election into a one constituency, FPTP referendum on the future of Welsh Nationalism. I hope Plaid members, eager to praise Leanne's undoubted grit, know what it means if she loses the bet.


  1. After the major let down of them once again propping up Labour these recent 'headlines' have made me think that maybe there is a point to having Plaid.

    The crowd sourcing is going to be a big one and the make or break factor will be whether it's open to everyone in Wales or just their members. I believe that Plaid are completely out of touch with the people of Wales and they will be in for a big shock once they start to see what people actually want.

    Mind you if it's just open to Plaid members then it's a waste of time.

    As for her going for a constituency seat then it shows she has balls, so to speak. Labour have systematically destroyed Wales and if Plaid can educate people as to the damage Labour have done then they are there for the taking.

    If they do this then there are two outcomes, minority government or force Labour into a coalition with both the Tories and/or Lib Dems come the next election providing they take the gloves off and go toe to toe with them. They don't have to be negative or smear them, their policies and voting habits alone will show them for the anti-Wales UK Labour lackies that they are.

    If they continue with the belief that Labour are their friends then they could well be looking for a new leader after that election anyway, so in that sense it really isn't such a big gamble.

    I'm very critical of Plaid, but it's only because they are all we have and the consequences of another Labour government do not bare thinking about.

  2. WnB has been a long time critic of Plaid, to be fair, Owen Donavan has been more of a friendly critic. But equally, these non-Plaid nationalist voices have a place.

    I have to say I don't agree with WnB's idea of attacking Labour, neither does Leanne Wood more importantly. The reason why is that slagging Labour off isn't productive and doesn't help Plaid beat them. Plaid has to be an alternative to Labour. That isn't the same thing as being the opposite of Labour. Plaid also has to be seen as trustworthy. I would say that openly slagging Labour off will make Plaid less popular with the Welsh people, not more popular. But criticising them and offering better policies is fair game.

    I thought the apprenticeships stuff lately was superb. This is a major concern for families and shows Plaid delivering something. It proves Plaid isn't irrelevant. The party needs to achieve more for people in Wales.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I think the danger with crowd sourcing a manifesto is that someone, or a group of people, could force through a really crap idea maliciously, or without thinking things through. One criticism of the ones tried elsewhere is that some crazy ideas were adopted which made the parties electoral poison. I think, in those circumstances it'll have to be Plaid member's only, or some sort of "reduced membership/approved supporter".

    I also think the bare minimum to stand for Plaid, and get the backing of its resources, would be to agree to its constitution (perhaps without full membership) - which includes supporting independence at some point in the future. That might affect their ability to attract as wide a net as possible to attract people.

    I think it's right that Plaid works with Labour when it suits them. The relationship has always seemed the other way around. That doesn't mean Plaid always have to. In fact, I'd wish they'd provide more constructive criticism. Jocelyn Davies in particular has done a brilliant job of that recently.

    I agree with Anon 21:11 that if you overcriticise Labour, they'll pretend the world is against them (another football manager tactic) and it'll rile up the grassroots, which is probably at least twice the size of Plaid's at the moment, if shrinking.

    I'll probably comment on the budget when it's finally passed next month, but I think the deal with Labour was reasonable without being spectacular.

    And it's spelt "Donovan" ;)

  4. "Leanne might well have turned the 2016 election into a one constituency, FPTP referendum on the future of Welsh Nationalism. I hope Plaid members, eager to praise Leanne's undoubted grit, know what it means if she loses the bet."

    Can you expand on this? If she loses, what will it mean? Do you think it means that if they turn their back on her then they will have spurned Welsh Nationalism and chosen the British brand instead?

  5. Anon 21:48 - It would be a major, major blow. I'm not building up Leanne as a personality cult, but I think the leader of the only nationalist party losing her seat (presumably accompanied by failures elsewhere) might be a death knell for Plaid Cymru full stop.

    I think it would be incredibly demoralising for Plaid's grassroots, and it would probably set back Welsh Nationalism decades.It would be the equivalent of Alex Salmond not winning his seat in 2007.

    However, if Leanne lost, but Plaid won 16-17-18 seats, then it might be a noble sacrifice and she'll be something of a national(ist) folk hero. But then you'll still be left with the question of who would become leader after her.

    Having said all that, I think she's got a pretty damn good chance of winning wherever it is. Optimism! :)

  6. "Having said all that, I think she's got a pretty damn good chance of winning wherever it is. Optimism! :)"

    Are you sure about that? most Welsh voters don't read political blogs, if they get their information from the mainstream media, they may not even know who she is, or worse think she's 'smething to do with that Welsh language party, and I don't speak Welsh ....'

    Plaid will have to really raise their game when it comes to publicising themselves. It's not 1999, there is far less of a Welsh media now.

  7. It's a depressing but fair point. Many people don't actually know who she is, or who many Welsh politicians are. Even with the "big hitters" like Leighton Andrews there's no knowledge he's the Education Minister, generally speaking. Or about the deal on apprenticeships. But if Leanne Wood chose a certain constituency they could circumvent the media and make it a local campaign. Plaid will not be able to do that nationally though. The media does not have the capacity.

  8. I think you are wrong to say every FPTP seat won by Plaid from Labour in the valleys will result in Labour picking up a regional seat. South Wales Central is a classic example. In 1999 Plaid won the Rhondda seat as FPTP and Labour did not pick up a regional seat in the proportional balance. Labour currently has a two seat "surplus" on what is strangely termed the D'Hondt variance as a result of their strength in FPTP seats. This indicates in more recent elections that are many voters who opt for Labour at constituency level and then vote Plaid at regional level. For your logic to be correct you would have to say voters would vote Plaid at constituency level and then switch to Labour at regional level, that just doesn't happen. The results how this is not the case. Voters who would vote for a strong Plaid candidate at constituency level are also likely to vote Plaid, again, at regional level. Leanne standing as a constituency candidate only has one effect. More votes for Plaid. The challenge then for Labour at regional level is to out perform the Tory composition of the regional vote, which now gives them two regional seats, mainly from the posher areas of Cardiff.

  9. Thanks for the extra comments.

    Welsh Agenda, Anon 09:08 - Although I know that it's not the case that "nobody" reads the blogs, it's a fair point. It does exist as a bit of a bubble, and I doubt many people read them that weren't already interested in politics. As a niche blog, that's my intention anyway. Though obviously I would like it if more people read it.

    It's been noticeable in recent months and weeks that Leanne and Plaid are getting out and physically meeting as many people as possible. That's the only way, ultimately, aside from the political shows and election debates. I'm not worried about Leanne's stamina there, I'm worried that Plaid might not be able to keep up with her!

    Anon 09:28 - Excellent contribution, thank you. I stand corrected, but seeing how many Labour votes are seemingly "wasted" on the regional ballot, I think it might make the task of convincing them to switch more difficult. Labour votes seem more entrenched and habitual, even if the overall trend the last decade or so (2011 excepted, presumably 2014, 2015 and 2016 too) has been downward. It's not looking much better for Plaid either.

    I wonder what the impact UKIP or Greens might have on the list votes in 2016 too. I think the polls showing a UKIP breakthrough a few months ago were a little rogue, but that could impact Plaids (or Tory) attempts to get 2 seats on the lists - not just in SWC.

  10. On the topic of regional votes, I don't have the figures to hand, but in the last detailed Yougov Wales poll (by ITV in April) Plaid had actually gone down to 17% in constituency voting intentions but up to 20% in regional, with the Labour regional vote going down correspondingly. I think more labour voters would give Plaid their regional vote now that Leanne is leader. This alone (20%) if broadly replicated across Wales would have given Plaid 3 extra Assembly seats at last year's elections. Enough to deny Labour sole control.

  11. Anon 11:56 - It's way, way too early to make predictions for an election that's still 3 1/2 years away, but at the moment I'd say that's the likely scenario - Plaid regaining most of what they lost in 2011, mostly at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems.

    If, however, any possible future incoming Labour UK Government has a short honeymoon period, and if NHS reorganisations are fouled up in Wales (it's heading that way). I think things are going to get very interesting indeed between 2014-2016. That's before factoring in Scotland's independence referendum (which at the moment I'd say would be a convincing, but not a crushing no vote).