Leanne Wood: ‘I’m not really clear what our central message was in this election outside of independence’
Outside of independence, it was “not clear what Plaid Cymru’s central message was” in the Senedd election, according to the party’s former leader.
Leanne Wood lost her Rhondda seat at the election earlier this month to Labour.
The loss was a big blow and has left the party’s former leader without a job.
Speaking to presenter Teleri Glyn Jones on Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement this morning about what went wrong, Ms Wood said the party should have better explained how independence would have benefited people.
She also said the party should look at its own organisation – as well as ask people’s views in order to turn things around.
Plaid Cymru has appointed its former chief executive and chair, Dafydd Trystan to lead a review into what happened in the election after the party lost ground in some areas and failed to win any target seats.
Ms Wood said: “I think the first thing we were disadvantaged by was the fact that it was a very short campaign and we do well whenever we’re able to speak to large numbers of people and we’re very good in Plaid Cymru at getting out into our communities and speaking to people.
“But we only had a short number of weeks to be able to do that, so I think that is the first thing that disadvantaged us and, of cours, the Covid backdrop was pretty big as well.
“Given that the vaccination programme was going very well and there were general good feelings towards the First Minister for the cautious approach that he had taken; then I think that had an impact as well and also the question of independence which is something we need to look at and at a national level.
“We need to explain to people and engage with people about why the call for independence will change people’s lives; will end poverty; will give us the opportunites to do things that we are unable to do now because we simply don’t have the powers.
“And I don’t the argument was presented on those terms and unless we can address the issues that are important to people’s day-to-day lives then, I’m afraid, they are going to look elsewhere for their votes.
“In 2016 we spoke to every single person that we could. We knocked every door during the course of the year and that of course was helped by the fact that I was leader of the party.
“I had significant media coverage especially in the 2015 UK general election and in 2016 I was featured in the leaders debates and appearing not only on people’s doorsteps but on their TV screens as well. So we had the air war and the ground war in place in 2016 that was able to deliver the remarkable result that we did manage to deliver.”
Asked about what went wrong, Ms Woods replied: “Well I think independence in Wales is one question. We also need to think about the question of organisation.
“We have excellent organisation in some places and in other places it’s not great. And it’s the question of policies more widely – I’m not really clear what a our central message was in this election outside of independence.
“You know we have a Labour Government that OK, yes, people see having performed well in terms of Covid even though I think when scrutiny is applied to the early days especially in terms of lack of PPE for care homes and also the lack of financial support to enable people to isolate then, may be views about the Labour government’s handling of Covid might be different.
“But in the current moment and timing is everything in politics – people do see the Labour Government as having delivered well on Covid but, in terms of education, and if you look at record waiting lists, there is plenty to point at to show that the Labour government hasn’t done well, so there’s much, much more we can do in terms of highlighting those issues I think and demonstrating that we can do a much better job
“I can understand why (Plaid’s) the approach was to support that cautionary way of dealing with Covid.
“I think we have to give credit where credit is due but there are wider questions particularly in terms of public services – how much money is going to be put into public services to help them recover – how much support is the health service going to get to ensure that we’re ready if an other pandemic happens like this again?
“These are key scrutiny questions that I think the Plaid Cymru group is in a very strong position to play a leading role in.
“The review that’s taking place has to look at everything. Clearly, I can only talk about my experience working as a candidate at a community level, not being involved in the party’s strategic decision making really for quite some time.”
Asked if the party’s failings were beause of its organisation within its HQ, Ms Wood said: “I’m not involved really in the senior management team of the party any more but I would hope that is not the case and I would very much hope that people would be prepared to challenge and ask questions and sometimes it’s the most difficult questions that need to be asked that put you in a place to turn things around.
“Certainly, on the national executive I would have thought that there would be some quite strong, challenging voices.”
She said there had to be “an appetite for self -reflection.”
“There has to be an appetite for that and it can’t just be navel-gazing; it’s got to be based on evidence and that’s why I’m encouraged that Dafydd Trystan is leading the review because he is somebody who places great store on evidence and making sure that there are hard facts to back up any recommendations that he may might make.
“So we need to speak to the people who vote. We may all have our own ideas about what might have happened but unless we speak to people directly and ask them what their views are and are prepared then to really listen and grapple with whatever it is they tell us, this period of reflection is going to be a waste of time.”
Asked if Adam Price was the right man for the job, Ms Wood said: “Well I think this fad of switching leaders when the latest election doesn’t deliver the most election results ever – it’s not going to get you very far over the long term.
“Adam is a good leader in many respects and I think he should continue. He’s got a good new team around him now and I’m pretty sure that people will see a lot of talent coming from that group and he will need support in order to rebuild the party and to win constituencies because unless we win constituencies then that goal of independence is not going to be delivered.”
Asked what were her own plans for the future – and if she would stand again, Ms Wood said: “Well I’m not going to make any quick decisions. I’ve taken the decision to take some time to rest and reflect and do things that I enjoy with my time and over the next few weeks and months I will consider, but I want to do something that I enjoy and I want to do something that will continue to make a contribution. How exactly I do that, we will all have to just wait and see.”