The official deadline for candidates to be nominated for the Plaid Cymru leadership is but hours away, but it feels like we are already in the early stages of the campaign.
That’s why yesterday’s poll, showing that Leanne Wood is the most popular Plaid Cymru Leader with our party’s voters and those of our rivals in the Labour party, is so significant.
Wood would score best with all voters (and is the most popular leader or potential leader of any party, in the whole of Wales), but does particularly well with Plaid Cymru and Labour voters.
The same poll shows Plaid Cymru holding four Westminster seats and going up to 15 seats in the Assembly, enough to bid to form a minority government.
Labour would not be able to form a government, even with their loyal sole Lib Dem lieutenant.
In that context, I want to reject the narrative that some have tried to build up about Plaid Cymru going backwards in elections under Leanne Wood.
I am not saying that people using this narrative are dishonest or deceitful. But I’m saying it is a misunderstanding, but Leanne Wood’s record needs to be put in context.
In an interview with S4C, Elfyn Llwyd, a respected figure, said that “we haven’t moved or made any progress in local government, the Welsh Assembly Government (sic) or at Westminster” over a suspiciously framed time period of “six to seven years”.
But in those three electoral arenas – local government, Assembly and Westminster – progress has in fact been made in a consistent way for the first time in years.
- In local government, we now control more councils than was the case before Leanne became leader.
- At the Assembly, we gained a seat when Leanne Wood herself took Rhondda, previously one of the safest Labour seats in Wales, and lost none despite the surge in the UKIP vote which robbed the other parties of so many regional seats.
- In the last General Election, we won a new seat in Ceredigion despite the presidential nature of the contest which saw a huge swing towards both the Tories and Labour.
- Plaid Cymru took two Police and Crime Commissioner seats, in North Wales and the Dyfed-Powys region, where Labour and the Tories had been predicted to win.
Leanne Wood’s critics would see to downplay her influence in these victories.
A local councillor who nominated Adam Price said that it would have been a surprise if Leanne Wood didn’t win the Rhondda after so much coverage.
This is clearly wrong. Leanne beat one of Labour’s most talented Ministers and one of Wales’ best political campaigners, Leighton Andrews, in his own backyard.
No other party came close to taking any constituency seats off Labour at that election.
Even Leighton Andrews pointed out that, while the coverage helped, it wasn’t enough and stressed the importance of the local issues Leanne and her team campaigned on.
What Leanne Wood’s victory demonstrated was that the right candidate with enough support could take any seat in Wales. But there’s only one Leanne Wood – she may be the leader, but she can’t stand everywhere.
Leanne Wood’s gains are all the more impressive because they have happened under a Tory UK Government.
All the evidence from political scientists suggests that the voting behaviour of the Welsh people depends hugely on who is in power at Westminster.
Under Labour Governments, Plaid Cymru historically does better as people feel it is safe to vote for them. Under the Tories, the Plaid/Labour swing voters tends to swing back behind Labour.
That Leanne Wood has held Plaid’s support firm, and actually increased our number of seats, through eight years of Tory Government is hugely commendable.
Over and above her electoral record is Leanne Wood’s personal appeal to the Welsh voters.
Labour, Tories and UKIP are currently going through their own leadership elections. Recent polling suggests all of the candidates are largely unknown to the Welsh public.
Leanne Wood has always been popular and has enjoyed comparatively widespread recognition in Wales.
If she remains leader she will have a huge advantage over the other party leaders, who will be introducing themselves to voters for the first time.
A Leanne Wood for First Minister campaign could have more, not less, momentum than it did in 2016.
So, keeping Leanne and supporting her isn’t about “one more heave” as some would characterise it. The situation has changed and the hard work Leanne Wood has done will soon bear fruit.
2021 will be the ideal time to deploy Leanne Wood as our candidate for First Minister.
I don’t know her that well, but those who do say that her inner strength is formidable. This contest will barely affect her determination, and if she succeeds she will only be stronger.
It will be easily possible to regroup quickly, form a new Assembly team and lay the groundwork for a manifesto and campaign team.
We need to maintain our advantage over the other parties, and support one of our country’s most popular politicians.
This movement has a leader – let’s get behind her.