Is there any way back for Neil McEvoy?
Ifan Morgan Jones
Although it was barely mentioned by Plaid Cymru themselves or the media, perhaps the most significant result of the conference in Swansea over the weekend was the re-election of Alun Ffred Jones as party Chair.
Plaid’s Cardiff West branch, the power base of Neil McEvoy AM, had nominated eight candidates for key positions, including Dr. Dewi Evans as a challenger for Alun Ffred Jones’ position.
Plaid Cymru’s leadership had been very concerned that this was an attempted takeover of the party by those keen on reinstating Neil McEvoy as a Plaid Cymru AM.
There were whispers about entryism, with one Facebook post making the rounds that suggested joining the party to vote for Dewi Evans before cancelling membership after the conference.
The installation of a party Chair favourable to his cause was seen as a last roll of the dice for Neil McEvoy’s hopes of re-entering the party before the 2021 Welsh Parliament elections.
I had stated a few weeks ago that this was probably a more important contest to the future of Plaid Cymru than last year’s leadership election when Adam Price defeated Leanne Wood.
If Neil McEvoy’s supporters had taken control of the NEC it could have resulted in as radical a shift in the party’s direction as Momentum’s takeover of the Labour party.
However, Dewi Evans lost the vote by a reported 400 votes to 135.
Some suggested on social media that the voting system was unfair, and that if all members of Plaid Cymru had been able to vote, Dewi Evans would have won.
They pointed out that over 8,000 Plaid Cymru members did not vote in the election at all.
This claim, in my opinion, does not stand up to much scrutiny. If it had been an election in which all Plaid Cymru members could vote, the result would very likely to have been even more lopsided.
Dewi Evans’ greatest hope of winning was essentially to ensure that his own circle of supporters, both from Cardiff West and his own ‘power base’ in Carmarthen (Swansea sat very conveniently between these two points), outnumbered Alun Ffred’s on the day.
But if the vote had been open to a postal or online ballot of all members, Alun Ffred Jones could have drawn on greater support from his own constituancy in the north-west (he was until 2016 the Arfon Assembly Member).
The other claim was that some members found that, on attending the conference, they could not vote because they had joined the party too recently.
This however seems like a sensible precaution to stop the entryism mentioned above.
The truth is that this result was not a good one for Neil McEvoy’s supporters and suggests that the idea that the party membership at large is crying out for change at the top of the party is probably a myth.
Neil McEvoy’s star rose within the party at a time when there was a fair amount of discontent after many years of political stagnation.
The party had been bumping along at 20% or so in the polls since the disappointing election of 2003, and many were looking around for a spark that would bring it to life.
A lot has happened in the last year, however:
- Plaid Cymru has taken the lead in a Welsh Assembly poll for the first time ever
- Support for Welsh independence has mushroomed
- New Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price is more popular than his Labour counterpart, Mark Drakeford
There’s no guarantee that any of this will pay off in the 2021 election, of course, but for the moment much of the discontent within the party seems to have evaporated.
While many like and support Neil McEvoy, they seem to have come to the conclusion that undermining the current leadership to insist on his re-inclusion isn’t a risk worth taking.
What this means is that Neil McEvoy will almost certainly now fight for Cardiff West in 2021 as an independent politician.
This will probably guarantee Mark Drakeford’s re-election. Together, Plaid Cymru and Neil McEvoy could probably have won the seat. Apart? Not much chance.
This is a shame for both Plaid Cymru and Neil McEvoy and not the result that either would have wanted.
A golden opportunity for them to take the seat of a sitting Labour First Minister looks likely to have been squandered, for no particularly good reason.
Not only is it a squandering of an electoral opportunity, but of Neil McEvoy’s own ability. He is a working-class, popular politician with a real talent for taking on the establishment both on Cardiff Council and down in the Bay ‘bubble’.
He brought to Plaid Cymru something I think was really needed, which was the ability to connect with communities, both BAME and working-class, with which Plaid has struggled with in the past.
I’m not naive enough, however, to buy the narrative that Neil McEvoy’s attack on the establishment was what finished him off.
As I said rather prophetically back in 2017: “The challenge for Neil McEvoy will be to temper his abrasive nature so that it can’t be used as a means of attacking him, while retaining his reputation for no-nonsense straight-talking and taking on the Welsh establishment.”
Unfortunately, tempering his abrasive nature is something he has not been able to do, and he too often lands himself in hot water for no good reason.
This self-destructive streak was encapsulated in the week leading up to the conference by his decision to retweet a grossly offensive tweet about trans people.
Neil McEvoy later deleted this retweet and said that it was a “mistake”. But as far as I can tell, he has not apologised, and continues to link to a particularly bile-soaked blog on the same issue.
Whatever your views on trans rights – I am personally very supportive – sharing this kind of hateful language is either extremely negligent or clearly not acceptable by an elected representative.
It’s particular politically self-destructive in the run up to a vote that would decide his political future and a smack in the face for supporters who had previously swallowed the line that all attacks on him were just the establishment trying to stitch him up.
If he wants to realise his potential, Neil McEvoy needs to start taking responsibility for his own conduct and start contemplating how he has managed to alienate so many people.
Yes, of course, his political opponents are out to get him. But boy, does he make it easy for them by giving them a hell of a lot of ammunition to shoot at him with.
If he wants to survive as a politician in Plaid Cymru, or any other political party, he and his supporters need to stop complaining about being hard done by and take that on board.