Saturday, 21 May 2011

Plaid Cymru Leadership: Who's Next?

Two of the main repercussions of the Welsh Assembly elections on May 5th was the demise of the leaderships of the Welsh Conservatives in the Assembly and of Plaid Cymru.

For the former, Nick Bourne was ejected from the Assembly due to a quirk in its electoral system. By winning an additional constituency in the Mid & West Wales region (Montgomeryshire from the Welsh Liberal Democrats) and holding onto the Pemrbokeshire seats it already held against expectation, Nick Bourne lost his regional seat.

Ieuan Wyn Jones
For Plaid Cymru on the other hand, long-time leader and out-going Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones announced his intention to stand down as leader during this Assembly term after his party suffered their worst ever Assembly election result in which they slipped back to 11 seats and more symbolically, behind the Conservatives in number of seats. He stated that he was intending to stand down as leader during this term anyway and there's no reason why we should not believe him - after all, he has been leader since 2001 and is currently 62. But to his dismay, he'll be standing down amidst an electoral slump as opposed to the electoral success he'd have hoped.

Who's Next?
For the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group, a straight fight between Andrew R.T.Davies AM and Nick Ramsey AM. The winner will become the new Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

For Plaid Cymru, it isn't so straightforward.

To begin with, Ieuan Wyn Jones is not intending to stand down immediately but instead, after a post-election analysis on what went wrong for his party.

In the meantime, many names are being bandied around as possible replacements.

Dafydd Ellis-Thomas, the out-going Speaker of the Senedd and former leader of the party, has put his name forward as a candidate. Ceredigion's AM Elin Jones has stated that she is considering her options and newly elected Mid & West Wales Regional AM and former Ceredigion MP Simon Thomas is said to be a favourite. The same can be said for newly elected North Wales Regional AM Llyr Huws Griffiths. Out-going Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones is another name being touted due to having had Ministerial experience in the out-going administration as is the case with Elin Jones. Finally, many speak of Jocelyn Davies, the South East Wales Regional AM and out-going Deputy Minister for Housing as a plausible possibility.

But Who?!
So it's not as if Plaid Cymru are short of potential candidates. But who should they elect?

Well clearly, my views are those of someone who is not a member of Plaid Cymru (and is not likely to be one either!), but taking my Welsh Liberal Democrat hat off for a moment and looking in from the outside, I have some genuine thoughts on the matter.

Plaid Cymru are clearly going to want the most able candidate to take on the mantle in the years ahead. That's only right.

Looking at experience, Dafydd Ellis-Thomas as a former leader and Elin Jones and Alun Ffred Jones as former Ministers are the most likely candidates with the latter having also been a past leader of Gwynedd County Council. Jocelyn Davies also moves into this group with Deputy Ministerial experience. Simon Thomas and Llyr Huws Griffiths are spoken of as leading lights in the Plaid Cymru cause but will the fact that they are newly elected to the Assembly work against them? Quite possibly.

But presuming that all were equal, how should Plaid Cymru members decide amongst the contenders?

I see one particular issue that Plaid may consider a current obstacle if they are going to reach out to new voters who have never voted or particularly considered voting for them before - a propensity to choose its leaders from its linguistic heartlands.

A Little Plaid Cymru History...
Since World War II, Plaid Cymru's leaders have all come from its linguistic heartlands.

In 1945, Gwynfor Evans became leader of Plaid Cymru - a position he would hold for 36 years until 1981. Whilst he was born in south Wales, he represented the old constituency of Carmarthen as Plaid Cymru's first ever MP between 1966-1970 and (October) 1974-1979.

Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Ellis-Thomas
His successor was Dafydd Wigley who led his party between 1981-1984 and 1991-2000 and who was the MP for Caernarfon between 1974-2001. In between his two spells at the helm came the above-mentioned Dafydd Ellis-Thomas who was the MP for the Meirionnydd / Meirionnydd Nant Conwy Westminster seat between 1974-1992.

Ieuan Wyn Jones took over from Dafydd Wigley in early 2001. He has been the MP (1987-2001) and AM (1999-Present) for Anglesey but stood down as President of the Party following the poor 2003 Assembly election results. He was re-elected as Assembly Group Leader but was replaced as Party President by Gwynedd Councillor and popular Welsh folk musician Dafydd Iwan. This split of party leadership however came to a tearful end and in 2010, Iwan was replaced by MEP Jill Evans as Party President. But by now, this position has become more ceremonial with the Assembly Group Leader now the de-facto 'face' of the party.

So, since 1945, all of Plaid Cymru's leaders have come from the liguistic heartlands of Wales - regions that on the whole are strong supporters of the party. For the past 30 years since 1981, they have all come from north west Wales.
If Plaid Cymru want to branch out and attract new members and if all other matters are equal, should they not consider looking at potential candidates who come from those areas which they are yet to fully cultivate?

They would probably have done so had Helen Mary Jones the out-going Deputy Leader of the Assembly Group, not lost her Llanelli seat to Labour by just 80 votes. She had been a favourite to take over as leader (and indeed she outpolled Ieuan Wyn Jones on first preference votes when she stood against him as group leader in 2003 but lost after transfers). As a female English-born Welsh learner based in south Wales, she would have broken the mould of past Plaid Cymru leaders but that is now by-the-by.

Jocelyn Davies
 But if Plaid Cymru want to extend their support out to the 70+% of Wales' population that doesn't speak Welsh, why not appoint a leader that comes from those areas or who even, dare it be said, doesn't speak Welsh?

The fact that the likes of Jocelyn Davies who doesn't speak Welsh are being touted as potential future leaders must show that there are some within the party who consider this a legitimate way forward.

It's one for Plaid Cymru members to ponder in the months ahead. It'll be interesting to see what they decide.


  1. I had great respect for Helen Mary Jones and listening to her on Question Time and other programmes.

    One question you didnt pose, though. Has Plaid peaked and is it now in terminal decline?

  2. Does Plaid need to continue as a separate political party?

  3. Good blog, and admirably "neutral" for someone who campaigns regularly against Plaid.

    I've also mulled over the leadership/geography thing in the past, and my honest view is that it is not really relevant.

    Two words: Dafydd Wigley. Welsh speaker from Arfon, the best Prime Minister Wales never had.

  4. Diolch Carwyn.

    Without a doubt, Dafydd Wigley was the most popular and wide-reaching leader that Plaid have ever had (in my view) although I would argue the best PM that Wales (and Britain) never had was Roy Jenkins!

    My point here is that if Plaid had two identical Dafydd Wigley's and you had to choose between them and one represented Arfon/Caernarfon and the other for example came from south Wales somewhere, which would you choose? I'd think there'd be a lot of mileage in looking 'outside of the box' as it were.