THE past few weeks has seen a great deal of speculation about the kind of role that Adam Price will play in Plaid Cymru in the future.
That he is talented is in little doubt. His recently-released Flotilla Report marks something of a watershed in subjecting some of the claims of Welsh nationalists to academic rigour, and should prove a crucial document in the constitutional debates Wales is most likely to have in the future, so it stands to reason that Adam should play a key role in the party.
But there are many people who are also talented and should equally lay claim to helping shape Plaid Cymru in the years to come – many who have not featured in the multitude of press speculation. It is a little galling to see the media take it upon itself to decide what names are in the frame. Given the ever-more-diminishing impact our current Welsh media has on public life, you wonder what effect any of this will have.
But in this case, it is more confusing because we all know that, as the present arrangement stands, Adam Price cannot be the next leader of Plaid Cymru, because only an Assembly Member may lead the party. To have him stand as president, as has been suggested, infers that the current incumbent, Jill Evans MEP, is not up to the job, that a woman isn’t capable of leading – or that she should give up her role for someone else when she is entirely capable of holding her own. More importantly, she deserves such a position after years of hard work for Plaid Cymru in Europe and beyond.
This kind of obsession with the individual echoes down the years in Plaid Cymru, that we can rely upon a single person to save the party – and save us from losing elections. And the person in question is always a man.
Of course, strong leadership can change the fortunes of a party for its own good. But Plaid could be in danger of ignoring the reality of modern day political parties and how they operate if we seriously think that one person can save the day in such a way – even if that one person is the not-so-subtly nicknamed “Prince across the water”.
No doubt this piece will be viewed by some (most likely those outside the party) as an attempt to engineer a rift, but that’s not the reason for writing it. I sincerely want to challenge Plaid and its members to think about what we want to achieve as a team of people, as opposed to falling into believing that it takes just one special person to change the party, or develop it without thinking about how they can take people with them on that journey, building a team around them – including, crucially, succession planning.
The leadership contest is on its way following Ieuan Wyn Jones’ announcement that he will stand down, and a new leader is expected around the time of the 2012 spring conference, giving plenty of time for campaigning and – more importantly – considerable internal debating within the party. I don’t want to hear about how great an individual is in isolation. I want to hear how that individual can unite Plaid Cymru, build for the future and – most of all – reach beyond the party and attract new voters and new members into the Plaid ranks. This means new members from all over Wales, and from its different social and ethnic groups.
I would favour a left-of-centre leader, but a left-of-centre leader that is genuine in that agenda, and who will work to realise the electoral benefits of such a strategy. I have heard it said that Plaid should ditch the lefties, that we should appeal to disaffected Conservaties and Lib Dems. But should targeting such voters be seen in isolation to pursuing a left-of-centre policy programme? I think not. Nothing is as black and white as some politicians and political pundits would have us believe. Policy is far more nuanced than a simple headline.
Let’s hope this is just silly season fare and that we can look forward to a true and deep analysis of the future of Plaid Cymru from those within the party and those reporting on it, so that we can all feel part of that discussion, and feel that it is actually relevant to the party that we belong to, instead of a hotch potch of ideas, or anonymous comments attributed to senior figures and reported as fact when it is anything but.
I hope this root-and-branch review seeks the views of as many of the membership as is possible, in order to address the claim that rank-and-file are removed from decision-making processes. I also hope the review will reflect their ideas rather than cherry pick – even if some of those ideas appear controversial.
One final thought. I don’t believe that Plaid needs to assess what we stand for. We know we are a party that seeks independence for Wales through ever greater powers for the Assembly. It’s how we put this vision in to action is key, how we implement our ideas to complement our narrative – that is what the electorate will be interested in. If we complicate this, or turn this way or that, it will only be Plaid Cymru that suffers in the long run.
- I’ll be developing some of these ideas on my blog in the weeks to come.