Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Wanted: A new type of leader for Plaid

Guest post by Shane Brennan, former Assembly candidate for Alyn and Deeside 2011

Whilst the recent election results were disappointing, there are many positives to take from the year so far. It was the grassroots of Plaid Cymru that successfully campaigned for a Yes vote in the referendum giving the Welsh people their first parliament since Glyndwr's time.
We also have a terrific opportunity to move the national movement forward with our forthcoming leadership election. It is clear from our recent performances that we need to reform our approach order for us to succeed in building a better Wales.
Despite the negative election results I am confident that with Plaid Cymru will lead Wales to take its rightful place as an equal amongst the other nations of the world. I am also confident that an independent Wales will be a better place for all of the people of Wales and will serve as an example of a happy and successful society.
There have been a number of significant factors inhibiting the advance of the Welsh movement. But I believe we are now at a point in history where we can change that. The recent election results have seen us as string as ever in the heartlands of the north and west. The impending leadership contest gives us the opportunity to remold our image and break out of our old strongholds and establish new ones.
We are automatically at two particularly difficult disadvantages. The first being that the lack of a strong indigenous media and the overbearing volume of the London-based media drowns out any Welsh political dialogue. The other is the misconception of our party as being a rural, middle class, Welsh-speaking party.
Independence for Wales can only be achieved when Plaid Cymru is regularly winning elections. This is unachievable as long we are seen as being irrelevant to the majority of voters because of the fact that they are urban and non-Welsh speaking. As a result of the forthcoming leadership contest we have the opportunity to dispel this image of Plaid Cymru.
It is inevitable that during the leadership campaign that someone will say that charisma is not the only quality we need in a new leader, and they would be right. But it is a key quality needed in any political leader. Politics is after all, above all else, a popularity contest and people are more likely to vote for someone they like. The recent success of Alex Salmond and Jack Layton’s NDP particularly in Quebec would bear this out.
Most of the electorate only engage with politics a few times a year and they usually do so through the leaders of the parties. Our previous leaders have all tended to look and sound the same; this is due to the fact that all of our leaders have come from similar class, geographical and professional backgrounds. In order for us to reflect modern Wales and connect with the ordinary voters who would not have been inclined to vote for us in the past we must have a leader who is demonstrably different from previous leaders.
It is vital that our next leader be above all else a strong, passionate and charismatic media performer. Like all of the other large political parties the age profile of our membership is increasing, any new leader must address the issue of recruitment immediately or we face our very own demographic time bomb. In electing such a leader we can engage more vigorously with the media and in one move change the public image of our party making it more appealing to both potential voters and potential members.
A change of leadership can only be a start to the reinvigoration of our party. We have repeatedly emphasised that we are a different type of party to the three main UK parties, however we are structured like them and measure success by the standards that they have set.
If we are to be a different type of party we must start acting like one.
Alongside a more prominent leadership we need to reinvigorate party structures by devolving the organisation and building a ward-based party. Internal discipline must also be strengthened to ensure that all party officers are held accountable for party performance locally and that elected members adhere to party policies and ethos.
As the UK parties have embraced counter-cyclical economic policies to the detriment of the working class there is a growing space for a political alternative. As Plaid Cymru is the only socialist party capable of winning elections we must ensure that the public is aware of the alternative policies that we can provide.
It has long been conventional wisdom that most people are socialists when it comes to their health and education but reactionary when it comes to taxes and crime. Given the current economic conditions we are witnessing a paradigm shift of the type not seen since the fall of Soviet state capitalism. As neo liberalism was in the ascendancy for the last twenty years we must prepare to ensure that socialism is the answer to our current and future problems.
We must clearly and passionately articulate our socialist policies. We must never forget that Independence is a means to an end rather than the end itself. It is apparent that the current economic downturn will see a sustained period of economic stagnation. Welsh nationalism needs to be positioned to give voice to the people who have had their expectations dashed and their horizons limited.
We must embrace and lead a vibrant and confident socialism otherwise we will be consigned to being a niche party representing a Welsh-speaking middle class who are economically reliant on the past successes of the language struggle.
Since the election in May I have had plenty of time to contemplate the future of the party. I have discussed the leadership contest with fellow party members and acquaintances.
After this period of due consideration I have come to the conclusion that the one person best qualified to meet the needs and challenges of the leadership of Plaid Cymru is Leanne Wood AM. It is my hope that Leanne is seriously considering running for the leadership and I urge her to enter the race.
Plaid Cymru and Wales needs the leadership that only Leanne can provide. Leanne has proven herself to be a very capable media performer as well as being a passionate nationalist. The election of Leanne as leader would demonstrate that we are indeed a party for all of the people of Wales.
The achievements of Plaid Cymru have been truly amazing and the the generations of patriots who laboured in the national struggle in the last few decades will be remembered as Wales' greatest. In the next few months we have the opportunity to move our party forward and ensure that Plaid Cymru is seen as the party for all of Wales.


Anonymous said...

And do you dismiss the centre right traditional wing that is now LLais Gwynedd or do you seek to attract them back to Plaid Cymru...they won't vote for Leanne.

ex plaid said...

A woman and one from the South -no hope of that.Plaid is male dominated and most are right wing and conservative, Even the women in the party favour men to lead its so constrained Leanne would be a great leader and if Plaid had more members in the south it may be possible.

Samizdat Droog said...

Llais Gwynedd is not centre right , that party has no particular ideology and is completely separate to Plaid Cymru. The members of Llais Gwynedd have made their decision to be in a different party our only concern for them should be defeating them in elections.

Plaid Whitegate said...

Llais Gwynedd is a mish-mash of single-issue campaigners and diehard anti-Plaidies. Louise Hughes, Aeron Jones and Nyw Gwynys won't be joining Plaid anytime soon. There is no evidence that Llais Gwynedd has adopted any cultural nationalist policies. If traditionalists have joined it, it's because they're disappointed about the school closures in their areas.

Anonymous said...

ex plaid - PC 'right wing and conservative'! Don't make me laugh. Try standing in a plaid meeting; branch, conference anything and say you support the airstrikes against Libya or that an independent Wales would have an army and they look at you as if you were Adolf Hitler incarnate. The party is dripping wet with pacifists and peaceniks.

Try suggesting that those we clogg up A&E on Saturday night from their own self-inflicted idiocy (drunkeness etc) should paid a standard flat charge to be treated so as to make people think twice about their actions and about the effects of their 'good time' and they think you're Margaret Thatcher.

Try opposing wind farms and they think you're Jeremy Clarkson.

Plaid Cymru right wing? If only they were a party in the mold of the German Christian Democrats!

Plaid member

lionel said...

Can't get away from the fact that Alex Salmond has managed to take loads of traditional Tory and Libdem votes up in Scotland. Plaid cannot hope to emulate this (but absolutely must) with such an obviously left leaning image. Whilst there are lots of Daily Mail-reader-types, like myself, around, who do vote Plaid, there are many, many more potential voters, who do not, but would, with the right message. The centre ground is the only way, as Alex Salmond has shown. Dafydd Wigley was able to bridge this gap. Labour voters are not the only people, Plaid should be courting. There are tanks of 3 different colours parked on our lawn these days

Plaid Whitegate said...

Salmond's policies - anti-war, free prescriptions, anti-nuclear - have actually been social democratic in tone at a time when Labour in Scotland has abandoned its core vote.
The difference in Wales, to a certain extent, has been that Labour has always tried to distance itself from the New Labour project (remember "clear red water"?) and has been more successful than its Scottish counterpart in retaining its core vote.
The tag "right wing" to describe people who value the language and culture is unhelpful and a lazy bit of shorthand - most of those cultural nationalists would be anti-war and left libertarian in outlook on most social issues.
"Plaid member" rather overstates the case and, if s/he feels so strongly about these issues should be trying to change party policy (as is open to all Plaid members) at conference. But let's take one example - the idea that you would slap a charge on someone for "self-inflicted" health problems (presumably anyone who attempts suicide but fails? every drug overdose? every alcohol-related and obesity-related illness? every smoker? every red meat eater who has bowel cancer?) flies in the face of NHS's founding principle of being free at the point of use. That's not Margaret Thatcher - not even she was that stupid and vindictive.
Lionel must be the exception that proves the rule - a Daily Mail reader who can see beyond the propaganda and still vote Plaid!

Cneifiwr said...

It's good to read a piece on the leadership issue which is not written in code and names a name.

Starting with Blair, the unionist parties in Westminster have all gone down the route of electing young leaders, mostly with no experience of life outside politics, no doubt in the belief that in an age obsessed by media image and spin, this gives them an advantage.

The tragedy is that in the process a whole generation has been missed out. History is littered with examples of "the best leader we never had" in all parties, and it would be a tragedy for Wales and for Plaid if Adam Price were to be frozen out now.

As for labels, Plaid needs to be a broad church like any other major party. Progressive, centre-left and nationalist, certainly, but you will exclude too many would-be supporters if you insist on a socialist badge of identity.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Plaid will retreat up it's own rear orifice. If Llais Gwynedd or some other Welsh language nationalist group got its act together then Plaid would soon lose its heartlands.

As for leftists like Leanne, they would take Plaid down the road of the English ultra leftist parties - irrelevant, polling around 1 or 2 %. You're already there in Merthyr.

Wales needs a centrist, pro-independence party

Plaid Alyn and Deeside said...

No one is proposing a radical swing to the left. Plaid Cymru is already a socialist party and we need to ensure that people are aware of how our socialist policies will make a difference for the better in their daily lives. There is no point in having independence if we are just going to ape the old colonial masters.

Draig said...

Socialism is a non-starter. But I understand Leanne has been reading the work of DJ Davies, who wasn't a Socialist. He believed in co-operation as a political philosophy. He also had interesting views on what he referred to as "The Leisure State", where people are "supported not to function".

On the other hand, I hear that the Good Lord has been expostulating today on the non-merits of Independence. He's a total establishment lackey, and I've always liked Leanne's spirit. Her Greenprint for the Valleys is a radical and inspirational document. I'll push my branch to support her next week.

EG said...

For Plaid to become a serious challenge to Labour they should Change the name of the party & their leader sooner rather than later. The party needs a fresh start, only this time make an effort by including English speaking nationalists. Independence first then the language issues.
Pob Hwyl

Horrace Worm said...

In the absence of Adam Price I would gladly vote for Leanne.

Shane, having met you, I assume you aren't first language Welsh - I am not either. I think there would be an amazing statement made by Plaid by having a leader who is not a Welsh speaker (I know Leanne is lesrning) The majority of the Welsh public aren't Welsh speaking. (The majority of the Welsh public however do support and value the Welsh language.)

A non (fluent) Welsh speaker as leader of Plaid would send out a big message that Plaid is not just a party for Welsh speakers. This is what many in Wales think.

BUT - can Leanne get enough votes from the middle class Welsh speakers who make up a big chunk of the party membership? Who knows?

All I know is the typical voter in Wales will identify more with Leanne than they would with Elin Jones. But Elin may get more votes within the party. If she does, then the party will slip backwards!

Plaid Alyn and Deeside said...

I have no doubt that Leanne can inspire a majority of Plaid Cymru members in the traditional strongholds to support her for leader.

During the last weekend I was in Llanuwchllyn, the attitude amongst party members there was evenly split between those who desperately wanted the change Leanne could offer and those who were considering voting for Elin as they saw her as the safe option. However when those leaning towards Elin learnt a bit more about Leanne they were more inclined to vote for Leanne than Elin.

I am confident that if Leanne goes for the leadership and campaigns in places like Llanuwchllyn then her, leadership, passion and the warmth of her personality will win over the most traditional of Plaid Cymru supporter.

This will be a long campaign which gives all party members plenty of time to get to know all of the candidates. I am sure that the more they know the more they will like Leanne.