Plaid needs to solve the Corbyn conundrum – and fast

Picture: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

Today’s Welsh Political Barometer Poll makes for very sombre reading for Plaid Cymru.

The poll shows Labour on 50% of the Westminster vote in Wales while Plaid Cymru has slumped another two and a half percentage points to 8%.

I had expected Plaid Cymru to regain some ground as the adversarial, two-party focus of the General Election media coverage subsided.

Instead, Corbyn is continuing to cut through their support like a knife through butter. Plaid will have to hope that 8% is as low as they can go.

The problem for Plaid Cymru is obvious: Given the choice between two similar left-of-centre parties, voters will always pick the party most likely to actually form a government.

Since that shock result in June, Labour has looked for the first time like the inevitable government in waiting, so their support has risen even further.

But while Plaid Cymru continues to bleed support, they don’t seem to have a plan to deal with Corbyn. Little has changed in terms of messaging since the General Election.

The party is a rabbit caught in the headlights of Labour’s Mansel Davies lorry – it needs to move, fast, or it will get squashed at the next General Election.

It can’t afford to wait 10-20 years for Labour’s popularity to wane in office.

To cut through electorally, Plaid Cymru needs to re-frame the debate – not as left-wing against right-wing, where they will always come second best to Corbyn.

Instead, it needs to highlight the real problems Westminster’s negligence is causing in Wales, and contrast that with what Wales could achieve if given extensive power to shape its own future.

Corbyn’s weakness is that he knows little about Wales, and seems to care even less. Labour too often get away with criticising services in England and Scotland that are performing even worse in Wales.

Plaid need to focus all their resources on highlighting this. No tweet, Facebook post or press release should be wasted in the attempt.

Labour is the party of government in Wales. If Plaid Cymru wants to unseat them, they have to be willing to give them a thorough roasting, rather than present themselves as a mostly supportive but mildly critical friend.

A change of strategy is needed. The sad truth is that the party has little to lose – its vote can’t dip much further.

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21 Comments

  1. I have been saying for a long time that Plaid needs to be the most robust opposition possible. Opposition done well carries its own power. Our attitude to Labour is rather naive. As somebody who was in Labour for 16 years, I’m well qualified to make that assessment. We make bad decisions for the right reasons and that has to change. The only way to move Wales forward is to move Labour out of the way. As yet another opinion poll shows, we won’t do that by propping up the status quo. People want change: Plaid must really be that change.

  2. Why would, Corbyn care about Cymru when he can rely on the vote?

  3. Ifan….the problem with Plaid Cymru is that in most voters minds it is associated with the radical Welsh language movement of the last century.

    Just look at English language broadcasting in Wales.

    BBC Radio Wales has major issues according to the recent Rajar survey only having a 5.2 reach resulting in 88.8% of English language speakers in Wales never listening to the BBC national station.

    This despite a £14 million budget.

    BBC Radio Ulster has a 20% reach.

    Which means listeners in Wales are influenced by UK national media.

    I believe there is scope for a Welsh national party but how distance that is from the tafia is another matter.

    The major stumbling block is the radical Welsh language brigade accepting they will never convert the 90% who do not care about being bilingual.

    As the years go by and more people immigrants move to Wales the facts speak for themselves.

    The political face of Wales is changing.

  4. My labour voting mates….has NO IDEA that Labour in Wales has any criticism…..they are literally Jesus on water up here in North East Wales.

    Labour is full of nepotism and corruption and yet no one knows – has THAT ever crossed your minds? People are not aware

  5. Alwyn Humphreys

    Edeyrn is 100% correct in his assessment.I can actually bear witness to that. When the local MP tried damned hard to remove the corrupt elements, and hit a brick wall in Cardiff WL HQ.
    The nepotism is SOO blatant – it is quite beyond credulity !

  6. Mike it’s got nothing to do with Welsh or radio stations or your invented stats of 90 percent this or that it’s to do with Plaid’s entire direction of campaign travel which is weak and seen by others to be Labour lite.
    You’ve tried to turn comments into a language issue before.

  7. Maybe the question should be, ‘Is Plaid Cymru worth saving?’

    Plaid Cymru’s ‘socialism’ is really about sexual identification, the politics of race, saving the planet, and other yawn-inducing ishoos that mean absolutely nothing to most people. Labour on the other hand represents the ‘More money in your pocket, Dai’ ‘socialism’ that I grew up in working class Swansea, And THAT’S why Labour is successful. If Labour in Wales started getting too airy-fairy it would lose support. But that support still wouldn’t go to Plaid because the party has nothing to say to the overwhelming majority of the population. Much of the support it gets comes from people who wished it was the party they want it to be rather than the party it is. Like making love to a woman and thinking of somebody else. Plus the fact that there’s no alternative.

    Rather than bemoan Plaid’s decline, we should view it as a positive. Because in the long term it’s in Wales’ best interests.

  8. Plaid Cymru are atruggling, in no man’s land, seemingly without direction or a point of purpose and I agree entirely, Ifan, that they need to stop with this we are the Welsh Corbyn nonsense so beloved by Leanne Wood. Actually, it irritates me to see Leanne Wood make weak points on social media and I am now at the point of cancelling my membership through disappointment and disgust.

    What happened to the party which organised a Special Conference post Brexit, the party that reintroduced independence back into their constitution? Why is Adam Price encouraging YesCymru to be spokespeople on a subject that he feels unwilling or unable to address? What is their raison d’etre?

    We are at such a crucial time in our history as a nation and where we see Nicola Sturgeon step up to the plate and fight, Leanne and Plaid are doing…well, what?

    I never envisaged that I would one day not vote Plaid Cymru but sadly, I feel that unless they change and become more fiery, more passionate, less airy-fairy and more committed to our Welsh futures, I can’t see how I will ever be able to vote for them again. Believe me, it hurts me to say this but really, what are Plaid Cymru good for any more?

  9. Well, well. Mae Plaid yn colli i Lafur. Quelle surprise

    This is something I’ve noted before. And even though I am a Welsh speaker and a member of Plaid (because for me, Labour pissed on the last of its chips after the Brexit referendum by not forcing a general election and winning it when the Tories had fireworks lit and shoved up their own arses) it is only too obvious that trying to be more Labour than Labour is just going to get us nowhere. Plaid has a choice. Either be the Party of Wales that leads a left-ish of centre coalition to get independence or it has to destroy Labour head on and replace it, absorbing its disaffected membership. If Plaid wants power then the Tories are the opposition and Labour is the enemy.

    Or the party can go back to being an ethnic representative, a noble and necessary cause.

    What we can’t do is piss around pretending. Labour have been in power too long for there not to be skeletons in cupboards. Labour have been in power too long in Wales for the record to be achingly clear about their failures. And of course, the Welsh Labour Party is not even a separately constituted organisation. It’s not even a branch of the Labour Party.

    Right or left, we all know that we do not have enough MPs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland together to make any difference to any Westminster government and that voting for Plaid or Labour or UKIP makes no difference to the make up of the Westminster Parliament. We also know that people vote differently at local, Senedd and Westminster elections. But if Plaid are serious about power we need a national organisation and active Branches in Swansea and Newport as well as Bangor and Caernarfon.

  10. Regarding the previous comment about BBC Radio Wales only having a 5.2% reach. The last figures I saw for the BBC’s flagship News at 10 was just 6%, which puts things into perspective. As for the “90% that don’t care about being bilingual”, well some supporting evidence would be nice, otherwise it’s just an opinion. The contributor might also like to consider that the main drive for bilingualism is coming from Labour, whose share of the vote (as the article outlines) is increasing all the time. Far be it from me to deprive Mr Flynn of his daily rants against Plaid, Y Gymraeg and anything else that’s “just a little too Welsh”, but he should at least try and make his points appropriate to the article in question and, ideally, factual, otherwise it just reads as “….blah,blah ulterior motive, blah, I hate Welsh, blah, hidden agenda, blah….”.

  11. Plaid needs to appeal to natural instincts, strengths and traits and never back down or apologise for anything about Wales. It has to be single minded and provide the narrative that people can buy into and instinctively support.

    It has to tap into a competitive spirit and frustration at being uncompetitive – not everyone is competitive, but I would wager that we have more of that in the bones and communities of the people here in Wales than the idealised sense of Britishness and particularly the standard socialist narrative can cope with.

    Fair Play and compassion, but with a tough and rough edge – a competitive flux between conservatism and socialism, where individual strengths are recognised and supported on a par with the power of the collective, but like the good Samaritan we never walk by on the other side of the road.

    Hope, Pride and Fun – not tapping into these fundamentals is doomed to failure and needs a vision of what we want and our aspirations, both individually and collectively.

    When I hear representaives from Plaid, I instinctively want to support them and then get frustrated when everything reverts to attacking others or being defensive. We need a party that can push forward a narrative, that becomes our narrative and agenda – our vision. I sense the independence vision needs time to grow in peoples consciousness and to me we need to sell the idea od doing things our way and building things for everyone this side of Clawdd Offa, not giving two hoots for what hapens to the East. We will do things better, for the beneefit of ourselves this side of the Dyke – not introverted, simply common sense – tapping into natural desires to want to do things well – for Wales and to put Wales firmly on the map.

  12. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Plaid, here is how you can bring down Labour:

    Labour is bad for business, bad for business owners, bad for entrepreneurs, aspiration, ambition, motivation and visionaries wishing to create projects, enterprises a ventures of all kinds. It’s bad for industry, creativity and under its stewardship the Welsh Language has declined. Plaid must be the party of aspiration, for a better future in an independent Wales. People want to aspire to better.

    As George Osbourne said:
    It’s time we fundamentally changed this badly-designed tax on aspiration.I want many others to fulfil their aspiration of owning their own business.Your aspiration is our aspiration. We will get you out of tax and into your home.We will put ourselves forward for office as the ally of those who aspire.

  13. In many ways I welcome the poll results, because things need to be bad, real bad, for there to be any momentum for change within Plaid. Pleased though I was to see Ben Lake win in Ceredigion, and Hywel Williams retain his seat in Arfon it only helped to delayed the inevitable serious re-think about direction and leadership that needs to happen.

    One thing that never ceases to amaze me, is how feeble Plaid is when it comes to attacking the Anglo-centricity of Labour. There are so many open goals waiting, begging to be scored, and yet Plaid insists on passing up the opportunity time after time. Take infrastructure spending. It’s pretty much universally accepted that spending on infrastructure is one of the key economic drivers of long-term economic success. After all, this is just about the only issue that unites broad swathes of opinion in the Democrat and Republican parties. And yet if you read the Labour party’s manifesto in the recent election it contains a lengthy shopping list of spending on mainly rail projects in England (HS2 as far as Doncaster, Crossrail 2, Crossrail of the North, new Brighton main line, Science Vale transport link from Oxford to Cambridge).

    Contrast Labour’s commitments to Wales with those they make to Wales (which barely gets a mention in their manifesto) – “We will work with the Welsh Government to scrap the tolls on the Severn Bridge” (which is pretty much paid for already, and notice the lack of an unilateral commitment to scrap the charges) and completing electrification to Swansea. The promised Welsh investment is peanuts in comparison to that promised to already affluent London and Home Counties – and exposes the fact that Labour is every bit as bad as the Conservatives when it comes to regional policy and directing infrastructure spend to the areas that would benefit the most from it. Why are Plaid not on the case? Where’s the righteous anger? Who’s pointing out that the regional disparity in wealth in the UK is the worst in northern Europe – worse than a Germany only re-united less than thirty years ago?

    Plaid is becoming an irrelevance at a rate of knots – and this at a time when a party advocating for Wales has never had more fertile territory to operate in.

  14. I used to be a passionate Plaid member, then came 1989 and Elis Thomas accepting a peerage in the English House of Lords. I left in total disgust that Plaid hadn’t turfed him out of the party. For me there can be no unnecessary truck with imperialist institutions such as the House of Lords. I continued to vote Plaid in every election, more from desperation than in any genuine belief that Plaid were any good, or had a hope in hell of actually getting into a position of taking power. I of course voted for Devolution, and dutifully voted Plaid in the first Assembly election, and lived in hope that Plaid would be a thorn in the side of a Labour administration that has let Wales down, not just for years, or decades, but for generations. But no, Plaid proved itself just as unchallenging and ineffective as ever, constantly missing opportunities to go for Labour’s very vulnerable jugular time after time. Added to this, Plaid went into terminal tail spin every time it was challenged with the usual Labout torment about independence: seemingly Plaid was embarrassed and evasive about it’s single USP or raison d’etre. It seemed that Plaid was fearful that it’s attachment, (however loose) to independence was a vote loser, when in reality I suspect that it was Plaid’s shiftiness over the whole business that was the vote loser in the Valleys where Plaid had been on the cusp of a breakthrough since the late 60s, but never quite making it.

    I still continued to vote Plaid, though becoming increasingly frustrated at their timidity and cosying up to white settlers and their concerns that brought them few votes but lost them considerable numbers of votes from their traditional support, who simply either gave up voting, or voted Labour, Liberal, or most sadly of all, Tory. For me there was no option other than voting Plaid or not voting at all. Not that I have much faith in voting in elections in this so called democracy. If it really made any kind of difference, I doubt that we’d be allowed to vote at all. But, ‘Hey!’ who knows, maybe this time it’ll be different. Election comes, I vote Plaid, and get a Labour government where once again Plaid either stays silent, or becomes a silent partner.

    And so it goes for years, and years. Then, all Wales is set alight, (in a figurative sense, not a return of Meibion Glyndwr) and Leanne Wood announces that she’s standing for leadership of Plaid, letting us know that she’s got a radical agenda for Wales under a Plaid government, and that she’d read Dr D J Willimas’ ‘Towards Welsh Freedom’. My ears prick up, and I even go to the extremes of considering rejoining Plaid so that I can vote for her in the leadership challenge. I decide not to join after hearing that yet another Plaid personage is accepting an English peerage. Leanne duly becomes leader of Plaid and I sit back and watch, in hope that my vote will finally mean something. It’s a good job I didn’t hold my breath as well. Despite all the hype, Plaid behaves as normal, and still misses every opportunity to stick the boot in to Welsh Labour and its truly appalling governance of our country.

    Plaid really does need to smell the coffee and wake up to the fact that it really is in danger of becoming an irrelevance. Quite simply, Plaid has remained far too silent, far too ‘respectable’ over issues like the general economy in Wales, the loss of the Welsh speaking heartlands and the increasing colonisation of our country by people who just want their own version of the good life or to run tourist playgrounds courtesy of the Welsh taxpayer’s grant funding an industry that is world renowned for being virulently culturally destructive.

    Then, a bit of a minor earthquake, and Neil McEvoy becomes a Plaid councillor in Cardiff, of all places, but he starts to make a bit of a name for himself in his no holds barred approach to dealing with Welsh Labour in Cardiff Council. Sure, he ruffles feathers, and not just in Welsh Labour. There are elements of Plaid that don’t like him much, as he’s not trendy leftie, lentil munching white settler friendly, (though I doubt that he’s really bothered about them, one way or another) and concentrates on things that really matter, and not lifestyle issues. His manner is sometimes a bit rough at the edges, and upsets some people, but he seems to have some real support amongst the people of the community he serves in a predominantly working class area of Cardiff. Labour try their best to undermine him, and so does his own party on occasion, worried yet again the politically correct might think about them. But he has achieved one very important thing, he has not only raised the profile of Plaid in our capital city, but is also doing something that his party should be doing at Assembly level, and that is sticking the boot in to Welsh Labour.

    Then, in the Assembly election of 2016, horror of horrors, (if you’re Plaid leadership or Labour) or joy of joys, (if you’re like me and want politicians who say things diflewyn ar dafod) he becomes an AM, and is almost immediately suspended by his party as he’s said something that Welsh Labour didn’t like, (so automatically Plaid leadership doesn’t like it either).

    As far as I’m aware, there is at present no leadership challenge within Plaid, but from the increasing amount of commentary in places such as this blog it seems that it’s very much on the agenda of quite a few people. I hope there is a leadership challenge, as I might even consider joining Plaid again and getting active once more, if they have a robust leader who doesn’t mince words and actually makes Plaid what it should be, a right royal pain in the arse as far as the Labour Welsh Assembly Government is concerned, prepared to challenge it every step of the way, exposing it’s incompetence, and wasting no opportunity to point out corrupt practices and questionable relationships.

    I really do look forward when, far from being the party of the parchus that Plaid becomes a party of the revolting Welsh. If there is a leadership challenge, (and I suspect that calls for one can’t be far away, as people are quite clearly dissatisfied with the current leadership) and Neil McEvoy stands, I may well be persuaded to rejoin the party, two peers in the English House of Lords notwithstanding.

    • as you said in your piece – don’t hold your breath !

      The advent of Cynulliad has turned out to be nothing like an opportunity for Plaid to strike a radical posture and follow through with exciting programmes of Adfywiad ( I like that word, nothing quite like it in English! ). Instead they have accepted the runner up position gratefully whenever available, occasionally joined with the “winners” to cook up some tasteless offerings for the people of Wales.

      To reignite interest they will have to work hard at the indepth critical dissection of Labour’s blunders at least until the next Cynulliad election campaign and perhaps longer. Labour’s grip is down to an ability to create an illusion among rank and file voters that anything wrong in Wales is down to London ( Tories) and when Labour rules in London they fall back on the old line about ” God help you if them Tories ever get back in “. So nothing really improves, odd changes at the margins and the mafia carries on like they own the place !

  15. “a fo ben bid bont”

    There appears to be enough disillusionment and disenchantment with Plaid Cymru from the outside. Plaid might do well to try and reach out and engage with those who have been members and would consider joining again. Can a bridge be built between agitators at the top within Plaid and those on the outside? We’ve discussed the future of Welsh Speaking Communities where the name and philosophy of Plaid Cymru generally tends to command support. Outside of these communities, Plaid does well in areas where the candidate is popular or well known or where the particular campaign message is on point. Can it ever have the appeal of a Labour party founded in 1901 to ostensibly protect the interests of workers against the Capitalists/Employers?

    I actually feel that it is very difficult for any ‘nationalist’ party within the present global climate because we all (UK,White West, Europe, USA) face the threat of ISIL.

  16. Tame Frontiersman

    Does Plaid Cymru’s Westminster vote drags down or boost its Assembly vote?

    If voters can’t see the point of Plaid Cymru representation at Westminster and its poor performance at those elections creates an electoral hangover which drags down the Assembly vote, then the Party might well consider whether to contest future Westminster elections at all. Part of Jeremy Corbyn’s success, especially among young voters, is down to his subversive, anti-establishment appeal. So would not-contesting Westminster elections or Sinn Féin style abstentionism benefit Plaid Cymru by make it seem less like a cosy Welsh institution and give it a bit more of subversive, anti-establishment edge?

  17. Daniels y Gwair

    I didn’t expect to see so many comments mirroring my feelings about Plaid. I always felt that Leanne was the wrong person from the start. The strategy was to out-Labour Labour in the Rhondda. Well, they got one seat. Has it lead to a Plaid government? It pains me to see Leanne bleating on UK tv about “here in Waaales…(we’re so skint, it’s your fault, giz sum money).” WRONG ARGUMENT!!!

    If Plaid want to be relevant then they need to demonstrate conclusively that the lack of self-government/determination for Wales is precisely what has lead to our eastern european standard economy and the erosion of our language, culture and identity. MAKE THE ECONOMIC CASE FOR INDEPENDENCE!!! Explain how you would use government to, yes borrow, but primarily invest in order to grow a sustainable and diverse economy in Wales. Wear our identity as Cymry proudly. Young Cymraeg speakers leave Wales in droves because of the lack of economic opportunity. We desperately need to build our nation and economy. DERE ‘MLAEN PLAID, DWI MOR RHWYSTREDIG!!!

  18. I find it odd to see people suggesting that Leanne is soft on independence. My perception is that – internally at least – she’s done far more than any leader in recent times to nail down a serious case for it, not in a sloganeering way but in terms of looking at the practical steps that need to be taken in the real world. OK, maybe that hasn’t come across sufficiently in the public arena (one of our biggest problems is our media) but some people seem to be more interested in slogans than practicalities and don’t accept that getting to independence from where we are now can’t happen overnight. I’d accept though that the route map needs to be made clearer and also that, as we move nearer to Brexit, there will probably never have been a better time for the independence argument to be made.

  19. Opinion Polls appear to be notoriously inaccurate these days as they are often prepared by an incumbent self interest author or a promoter.in the Welsh Government or Cardiff University.team..

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