Conciliation is the only way to resolve Plaid Cymru’s internal discord
Dewi Evans, candidate for the position of Plaid Cymru Chair
At Plaid Cymru’s conference next weekend members will have the opportunity to vote either to retain the present chair, Alun Ffred Jones, or vote for me to replace him.
I have already made my pitch for why people should vote for me on Nation.Cymru here. However, subsequently, Olaf Cai Larsen, who sits on the party’s Executive Committee, has written claiming that my election would “cause chaos” in the party.
He makes a number of assertions in the article, but it is difficult to take his comments regarding my campaign seriously when he is so careless with his facts.
First of all, his assertion that “only one Llanelli member is currently excluded as a result of disciplinary proceedings” fails to note that four were expelled in 2017. Two submitted their resignations before receiving their expulsion letters, ‘because I can’t be expelled if I’ve already resigned’ as one of them told me recently.
Forty left in disgust at the way Gwyn Hopkins, a Plaid County Councillor for 30 years, and his colleagues were treated. Hardly ‘some members’, as Larsen claims. As far as I know, none has applied to rejoin the party. That’s a lot of leaflets that won’t be delivered through a lot of doors any time soon.
As for the ‘courage’ of the Chair regarding decisions he took in Llanelli, the 2107 Westminster election was Plaid’s worst result in the constituency for a generation. Ffred’s decision to “temporarily” exclude Llanelli Town Branch has had permanent consequences. The constituency office has closed and the building sold. Local members cannot claim an office that boasts a Plaid Cymru sign.
Current chair Deris Williams has achieved miracles in recruiting new members and holding branch meetings across the constituency. There is hope of a constituency office, a logistical necessity during any campaign.
But why were people expelled? Where was the light touch from the Chair, often required to massage disappointment and keep all the team onside when candidate selection has not gone your way. And why is Llanelli still waiting to get back its Assembly office? Should not Tŷ Gwynfor [Plaid HQ] apply its own brand of gentle encouragement to expedite this long-overdue decision?
Larsen is at his most disingenuous in suggesting that disciplinary processes ‘cannot be influenced by people who don’t sit on the Committee’. Really? Page 50 of the party’s Standing Orders , relating to ‘Standing Orders for Membership, Discipline and Standards’ states: “The Chair of the Party may, at her/his absolute discretion, suspend or exclude a member when urgent action is necessary.” Neil McEvoy’s current expulsion was the result of a complaint from the Chair himself, Alun Ffred Jones.
Larsen cannot be familiar with the concept of ‘unconscious bias’ a process where naturally, and perhaps not unreasonably, fellow members of an organisation or committee may close ranks in support of one of its own, especially someone holding such a senior position as Chair of the Executive.
Olaf Cai Larsen is best known outside his own ward for his prolific use of social media. Profligacy in the mono-dimensional world of the blog and the tweet does not of necessity lend itself to mature judgement when assessing the multi-faceted challenges that define human relationships.
An organisation’s Standing Orders can easily become a substitute for rational decision making, creating an Orwellian dystopia where ‘SOs’ evolve into a form of newspeak where words mean what you want them to mean.
Larsen’s denial of conciliation as a key part of conflict resolution is an astonishing admission. I’m not sure how he dealt with conflict during his time as headteacher of a primary school of 80 pupils in idyllic Llŷn, where the teachers were dedicated, the children are lovely and the parents supportive. I can assure him that during my time as head of a large, busy, and frequently highly stressful paediatric department in Swansea no one got sacked [or expelled].
This does not mean that we had no disagreements. There were. But the conflict was managed in the traditional way, through meetings, discussions, allowing people to cool down. Conciliation is as good a term any. Robust too. We all stayed together for the sake of the children.
But of course conciliation is an alien concept to some. The biggest split in Plaid Cymru’s history occurred in its Gwynedd stronghold at the turn of this century, Larsen’s political home. The Plaid led Council opted to close a number of schools. Protests led to the formation of Llais Gwynedd. Several able Plaid councillors lost their seats at the subsequent election.
Their local Assembly Member at that time was Alun Ffred Jones, recent ex-leader of Gwynedd CC. Could not a gentler touch, an eye for consensus, a willingness to listen, have helped avoid the discord and division? Should not Alun Ffred have used his councillor experience, his local knowledge, his role as someone outside the immediate councillor group, to facilitate an outcome that placated local emotion, allowing Plaid Cymru to build on its recently acquired power base?
Llais Gwynedd’s continued presence, still holding six seats on Gwynedd CC, would suggest that consensus, a willingness to listen, does not form part of the lexicon of our current Chair and his faithful acolyte. The virus of political discord, formed in Gwynedd, has replicated and gone south, taking hold in some of our most winnable seats. Sadly, Ffred, Larsen and their supporters have failed to learn form their earlier mistakes.
The damage sustained by the Llanelli and Cardiff West constituencies as a consequence of the authoritarian dictat of Alun Ffred Jones during his troubled Chairmanship will be irreversible unless we make a serious effort to reach out to our members, all of our members, across the whole of our nation.
This starts with the election of a new Chair.