Jason Morgan argues that the Plaid Cymru leader should take responsibility for the party’s lack of electoral success…
Darllenwch yr erthygl yma’n Gymraeg fan hyn.
Like most people, I like Leanne Wood as an individual.
I do think she’s a principled and determined individual, although her politics and mine are somewhat different.
However, I believe that her time as leader is at an end.
Not that I think that will happen; I worry that Plaid Cymru will continue its slow decline, as it has done for many years, including during the past five of her leadership.
Five years is enough time for a leader to make headway, and that has not happened. Therefore let me outline the reasons I believe, sincerely, why Leanne Wood needs to go.
By the end of this campaign, it became clear that Plaid Cymru, like all the smaller parties, would find things difficult thanks to the Labour groundswell that occurred.
Yes, they won Ceredigion, although one could make a fair argument that the Labour surge helped them win there more than Leanne Wood did personally.
But the problem with this election, as Mike Parker said on this site recently, is that the one seat gained enables the party once again to ignore its decline.
Elsewhere, there some dire results, including on Leanne’s home patch, and as leader she has to be held to account.
Let’s be honest: every time Plaid Cymru has a bad election, which is unfortunately more often than not, they argue that “this was a difficult election for us”.
It’s an excuse that is fast becoming overused.
Only Plaid Cymru’s most biased members could deny that electorally speaking, Leanne Wood’s time as leader has been disappointing at best.
The party has suffered from complete and utter stagnation. Apart from winning the Rhondda last year, there have been no significant steps forward.
And the most disappointing thing is that much of Leanne’s period as leader has coincided with a period of Labour decline that now seems to be over.
Last year’s Assembly elections were held during a historic period of Labour weakness, but these problems weren’t taken advantage of at all.
A one-seat gain in a 60-seat legislature is woeful against a party that has led the government for two decades. Plaid Cymru’s vote fell in over half of Welsh seats.
The party was also fortunate to keep their only MEP in 2014.
Basically, Leanne Wood’s electoral record is comparable to Ieuan Wyn Jones’, who resigned as leader after failing to gain ground at the 2011 election.
Decline and false hope
One of her key selling points during Leanne Wood’s campaign was that she could break through in the Valleys.
But outside of the Rhondda at the Assembly, there’s very little sign of that happening, not even at the council level (although the party did do well in Neath Port Talbot).
Some might point to Blaenau Gwent, but in truth without Nigel Copner it’s unlikely that the startling 2016 and decent 2017 results there would have happened.
In fact, in many parts of the Valleys, Plaid Cymru is electorally weaker today than when she won the leadership.
This year’s Rhondda result demonstrates that to a degree. In spite of everything she had thrown at it, it was one of Plaid Cymru’s worst results throughout Wales.
But Wales isn’t just the Valleys. A decade ago, there were seats which Plaid Cymru either held at Assembly level or were in contention: Aberconwy, Llanelli, Clwyd West, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.
The party has utterly failed to regain Llanelli, and the other three seats aren’t even on the radar anymore. That isn’t a price worth paying just for one seat, Rhondda.
You can argue, electorally, that in many ways Plaid Cymru has actually gone backwards under Leanne’s leadership, and not Ymlaen! as she’s so fond of exclaiming.
Performance in the media
This is a point that was rarely made on-line, but that I have heard been said offline (where you’re less likely to get clobbered for expressing an unpopular opinion).
Leanne’s performances in all of the debates this year just weren’t that good. Her answers tended to be superficial or didn’t hit the mark.
She didn’t disappear without a trace, partly due to her undeniable ability to produce memorable one-liners.
However, she saved them mostly for UKIP; a party that not only did badly in the election but were expected to do badly. She needed to target Plaid Cymru’s main competitors.
It’s also a fact that many in the party were either confused or downright furious at her strange announcement that she might stand in the Rhondda some weeks before polling day.
It took attention away from the election itself and made her look weak. It was a PR disaster, but hardly the only time she’s looked less than strong.
Her inability to deal with Dafydd Elis-Thomas – who should have been kicked out of the party after his last warning – was a sign of weakness, for which the party paid the price a few months later when he defected.
And whichever side you take in the very public spat between Neil McEvoy and Bethan Jenkins, instead of immediately taking control of the situation, Leanne Wood dallied and did nothing.
Both of the above examples damaged the party and showed an inability to take action when needed.
And, I hate to say it, Leanne does say some silly things on social media.
You can’t vote for Corbyn’s policies in Wales unless you vote @Plaid_Cymru. In Wales most Labour MPs stabbed him in the back & will do again
— LeanneWood (@LeanneWood) June 2, 2017
First of all, Welsh nationalists don’t necessarily agree with Corbyn, or his policies, either.
On top of that, she was in effect asking people to vote Plaid Cymru in order to implement the policies of the leader of another party.
Simon Brooks rightly pointed out here that people in Wales decided that the best way to implement Corbyn’s agenda was to vote Labour. And, really, that was the only sensible conclusion.
It begs the question: is Leanne Wood’s political strategy, and intuition, that of a leader’s?
‘Everyone loves Leanne’. Yes, they do.
But I love ducks. Really, I do. But I wouldn’t vote for one. Leanne Wood is popular; that doesn’t mean people necessarily see her as a statesman that could lead the country. I would suggest they don’t.
No, not every failure or disappointment is directly her fault; no more than every success is directly because of her.
But Leanne simply needs to take responsibility for election results, which is something she has never done.
She has needlessly dragged the party to the left, and there is certainly a perception among some quarters than the party now prioritizes socialism, feminism, minority politics, environmentalism (which are all worthy causes) above Welsh nationalism.
Even on the issue of independence I feel Leanne Wood’s strategy has in fact been detrimental. Instead of making the case, as she said she would when elected leader, the narrative she has adopted is “we’re not strong enough to be independent yet”.
That isn’t a positive case for independence, it simply cements the idea in people’s minds that Wales can’t stand on her own two feet.
I can’t see Leanne stepping aside, in spite of her record. And it seems to me that there isn’t anybody within the party with the guts to challenge her.
The fact that there may be another election soon is irrelevant to her staying, as the strategy will be the same whomsoever leads: throw everything and Arfon and Ceredigion.
You won’t lose the Leanne Effect because, the truth is, it doesn’t exist and never has.
I believe there are four within the party who are leaders: Jonathan Edwards, Liz Savile-Roberts, Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth.
The first two can’t stand as they’re not AMs, but maybe it’s time to look again at the party’s constitution in regards to that. It’s madness to say that someone of Liz Savile’s calibre can’t stand, but that Bethan Jenkins could.
It’s Adam or Rhun, isn’t it? I would, however, suggest this: one become leader and the other a deputy, a sort of double-ticket. I’m not sure it matters which one did which role.
They are easily the party’s best AMs and would make a good team, if they were able to agree to that.
Does anyone really think Carwyn Jones fears Leanne Wood more than Adam Price or Rhun ap Iorwerth? Sgersli bilîf.
Leanne Wood has had her chance. Plaid Cymru’s stagnation stubbornly continues, and five years is enough time to try and reverse fortunes.
Her predecessor, Ieuan Wyn Jones, a decent, hard-working man, wasn’t a leader. Leanne Wood, a principled and determined woman, isn’t either.
To give her another five years, like her predecessor had, isn’t an option.
It is now painfully obvious to anyone who takes a step back and removes their blinkers that the party needs a change of direction, and with that a change of leader.