Plaid Cymru Leadership Election
Plaid Cymru members will be heading to the annual conference in Aberteifi next weekend with a new leader in place. Adam Price becomes the party’s 11th leader in its 93 year history, and won the internal battle convincingly with the support of nearly half of party members in the first round.
Adam Price, the AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr AM, took 49.7% of first preference votes, while Ynys Mon AM Rhun ap Iorwerth took 28% and Leanne Wood 22.3%. In the final totals after Leanne Wood’s second preferences were distributed, Adam Price beat Rhun ap Iorwerth by 3,481 votes to 1,961. You can see the percentages across the two rounds here.
The party rules allow for a leadership election every two years, and this summer we’ve seen the first challenge to Leanne Wood’s position since she became leader in 2012.
Price, a long standing ally and personal friend of Wood, made the calculation that waiting another two years would not give him enough time to make the impact needed ahead of the Assembly elections the following year.
The momentum was with Wood’s campaign at the start of the summer. Her ability to motivate her supporters was visible and she counteracted the lack of backing from the party’s elected representatives with a campaign that highlighted her support amongst the active, grass roots members. She was the first out of the blocks with endorsements - highlighting her support from over 50 local authority councillors from across Wales; a reflection of the work she has put in over the last six years in supporting local activists and travelling across Wales to attend branch, constituency and public meetings. It was hers to loose. The momentum waned quite quickly, however, as the campaign progressed. She showed how out of step she had become with many party members, and on a number of occasions questioned the need for such an election, frustrating and baffling many members in equal measure.
The party has long relied on Adam Price’s ability to develop new policy ideas. He has held the central roles of Director of Policy, Director of Communications and Campaigns Director on a number of occasions over the last 15 years. He enthused party members with new and rebranded policies including reducing income tax by 9p, a road map to independence and even changing the party’s name.
Although familiar to Plaid members as a journalist for many years, Rhun ap Iorwerth has only been a Plaid member for five years. He joined to fight the Angelsey by-election, the seat vacated by former leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, which he won with 58% of the vote. It was during the hustings that his campaign gained momentum as he made an impression on party members, many seeing him in action for the first time, impressing with his speeches and interaction with members. He and his supporters avoided the public spats that were often to be seen between Price and Wood supporters online, which will undoubtedly put him in good stead for the future.
So, what does this mean for the Plaid Cymru? Commentators often state that Adam Price and Leanne Wood come from the same faction of the party, as their strong working-class background define and shape their politics and policies. But during her 6 years as leader, Leanne has undoubtedly and unashamedly shifted Plaid firmly to the left. She warned in the final throws of the campaign that her rivals would both be willing to do deals with the Conservatives after the next electio. Although ruling out any sort of post-election coalition with any party regularly during the campaign, Adam Price has used the term "equidistance", meaning Plaid would distance itself from Labour and the Conservatives in equal measure, a marked difference to Wood’s positioning and approach as Leader.
All three candidates spoke about their role in leading Plaid Cymru to government after the next election. It is political fantasy to suggest that the party would gain enough seats to form a majority government after the next election. No party has achieved that in the twenty years of devolution, and the relatively fixed political geography means that stretching to a few additional seats above their high watermark of 18 seats in 1999 is extremely ambitious. They are the 3rd largest party in the Assembly, holding only 17% of the seats. Co-operation and working with other parties to govern is a given. Indeed, it is the norm now in Wales, as elsewhere across the world.
Plaid Cymru formed a coalition with Labour during the third Assembly, but it is worth remembering just 2007 very nearly saw a Rainbow Coalition between Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrat - the Programme of Government was drafted and ready for party ratification. It was remarkable how quickly the rainbow became the preferred option for so many Plaid Cymru members over a short period of time. The clincher for many Plaid members was the prize of seeing the party leader in the FMs office. These are very live issues within the Plaid Cymru. So to within the Welsh Conservatives, who have made it clear they are willing to deal.
The first job of the new leader however, will be to get to grips with internal difficulties that have been challenging for the party. There are many, and they have been a distraction that hinders the ability of the party to focus on effective campaigning.
With a few notable local exceptions, the Plaid Cymru election machine isn’t what it was, and Adam Price has addressed these issues during the campaign. He has an experienced and formidable campaigning team in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, expertise that needs to be shared and replicated if ambitions are to be realised.
With only eight other AMs in his group, Adam will undoubtedly try and ensure key roles for Leanne and Rhun in his team. Given the sometimes fractured nature of the campaign between Leanne and Adam supporters over the summer, he will hopefully see as a priority the need to address any rifts cause by the election.
He floated the idea of co-leaders before putting his name in the ring. The concept of a female and male leadership team was dismissed by Wood at the time, and she is unlikely to have changed her mind on that position. But there are other female Plaid Cymru politicians at both the Assembly and Westminster who might put pressure on the new Leader to ensure that this campaign idea now becomes a reality.
For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.
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