The Welsh Conservative Party will today announce their new leader in the Welsh Assembly, with Suzy Davies and Paul Davies vying for the post.
There is also an ongoing leadership contest within Plaid Cymru – between Leanne Wood, Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth – which will conclude at the end of the month.
One of the key issues within both leadership contests has been whether the candidates would be willing to come to a deal in the Senedd that would depend on the support of the other party.
The Conservatives have been particularly keen to snuggle up to Plaid. And while there is no appetite for a coalition with the Tories in Plaid, there is an ongoing debate about the merits of some kind of deal.
We know that Labour Labour predictably plays the ‘vote Labour to keep the Tories out’ at every opportunity, often to mask their own failings.
However, it’s also true that fear of Tory rule remains a key driver for many voters in Wales.
One experience of canvassing a voter for support in the Rhondda sums up how being tainted with the Tories could devastate Plaid’s support.
This voter, a health service worker, had supported Plaid Cymru in 2015. She voted for Leanne in 2016 and again in the 2017 council elections, where we became the largest party in the Rhondda for the first time since 1999.
Yet a month later, this voter told our canvasser she was voting Labour to ensure that the Tories didn’t get in.
“I’m really sorry,” she said, “I know that they’re rubbish but I’m so scared of the Tories getting in that I had to. I feel really bad and I’m still Plaid really.”
For me, it was a defining conversation of that election, but I could see in her eyes the kind of turmoil that I suspect many voters had faced in that election.
It showed how easy it is for Labour to use the fear of the Tories to buttress their support and the deep visceral fear of that party in power.
Are there any lessons? The lesson for me is that she is a symbol of the perils that face Plaid Cymru if we cannot deal with this effectively.
The British Election Survey conducted by the Universities of Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham has collected data on voters’ attitude in Wales and have formed some conclusions based on the data.
The data collected between 2015 and 2017 seeks not only to look at Plaid Cymru voters (those who voted or said they voted Plaid at the assembly election) but also looked at “possible” Plaid Voters – voters who voted for someone else at the assembly election but rate Plaid above 6/10.
The similarities in views between these two groups of voters in terms of attitudes are astounding. And, tellingly, when compared with the “others” (those not voting Plaid Cymru and rating Plaid Cymru as 5 or less /10) the differences are stark.
The study concludes that amongst other things:
- Plaid supporters and potential supporters are very likely to see themselves as strongly Welsh. But many also see themselves as British.
- Plaid supporters and Potential supporters both like Jeremy Corbyn and Leanne Wood. They strongly dislike leading Conservatives.
- Plaid Supporters and potential supporters dislike the Tories
- Over 40% strongly dislike
- 50% choosing Angry as the word that best describes feelings to party
- Plaid supporters and potential supporters are generally liberal on issues such as gay marriage, tend towards remain and strongly dislike Trump.
- Plaid supporters and potential supporters see both themselves and Plaid as being left wing. The vast majority placed both between 2 and 5 on left/right scale.
The lesson is that our potential supporters look a lot like our existing supporters. Our supporters and potential supporters see themselves as left wing and they dislike the Tories – just like our voter from Porth in the Rhondda.
I write this in the midst of a Leadership election in Plaid Cymru, an election in which I am supporting a candidate, Leanne Wood, who I believe is best placed to win over those potential supporters.
Not only do I believe she is best placed to win those voters to Plaid Cymru but as the only candidate who has publicly rejected going into coalition with the Tories in 2021 she is the only candidate who can not only reach out to new supporters but can keep existing supporters from deserting Plaid.
If our voter from Porth or many of our existing and potential supporters believed for a second that we would “consider” doing a deal with the Conservative and Unionist Party in order to form a Government I don’t think we will be contemplating government, I think we will be contemplating how we can rebuild a movement that has been decimated.
Lessons are sometimes difficult and unpalatable but ignoring reality in pursuit of a quick fix simply will not grow our movement or bring our shared goals any nearer.
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