Plaid Cymru: A few votes from disaster

A Ben Lake sign in Ceredigion.

Ifan Morgan Jones

Plaid’s press office will attempt to spin last night’s General Election result as a positive one, and may well succeed in doing so.

A disinterested British media will note that they kept all their seats, and added a new MP in Ceredigion’s Ben Lake.

But the truth is that the party came within a few hundred votes of disaster.

Had 92 votes gone the other way in Arfon, and some 104 in Ceredigion, the party would have suffered a blow from which it might never have recovered.

This is to take nothing away from the hard work and deserved victories of Hywel Williams, Jonathan Edwards or Liz Saville Roberts, or Ben Lake’s historic triumph.

But pretending that all is well won’t do. If the party continues to steam on ahead in the same direction, it will hit another electoral iceberg, and won’t scrape past again.

Plaid Cymru has been handed a reprieve. And they must use it to rebrand and realign the party. Time is short – there could be another election this year, and by that time the Labour red wave could be unstoppable.

Leanne Wood at the Westminster Election debate.

Veneer

The problem last night was easy to spot but difficult to fix. Plaid’s USP is that it’s a more nationalist and more socialist alternative to the Labour party.

But with Jeremy Corbyn taking Labour to the left, and Carwyn Jones keen to emphasise Welsh Labour’s autonomy from the central UK party, Plaid were unable to distinguish themselves.

Plaid’s supporters had to resort to arguing that Labour’s socialism and patriotism were just a veneer – that the Welsh Labour MPs were the same unionist Blairities as before.

There’s a lot of truth to that argument. But it’s a complex and nuanced one, and with the dire state of the media in Wales it was one that Plaid Cymru had no hope of getting across.

Faced with what they saw as diet-Labour and the real thing, voters went for the real thing.

Unfortunately, questions must be asked about Leanne Wood’s leadership, after the party failed to make any headway in the valleys.

Chances to get Plaid’s message across in the first few weeks of the campaign were squandered as Wood uhmm’d and ahhh’d about standing in the Rhondda, before eventually bowing out.

This does not mean she has to stand down – and I have argued in the past that this might be a bad idea – but every option now needs to be on the table.

Data

Questions must also be asked about Plaid’s ability to collect data and correctly identify the constituencies in which it will be competitive.

At the last General Election they worried unnecessarily about Arfon and missed out on a narrow victory on Anglesey. At this General Election they didn’t spot that they were in danger in Arfon, invested heavily in no-hope sets in the valleys and almost missed out on a victory in Ceredigion.

To be fair to them, none of the main parties saw last night coming. Labour had practically abandoned many seats they ended up taking from the Tories, such as Gower.

But it should be easier for a party that is only seriously competitive in six or seven seats to invest its resources correctly, than it is for parties that have to concentrate on 600+.

Ben Lake chats with voters.

Appeal

Plaid should take the lead from its south-west cohort in answering these questions. Whatever Ben Lake, Jonathan Edwards, and Adam Price have, the electorate like it.

Carmarthen East should on paper have been a better bet for Labour than Arfon, but Jonathan Edwards held it very comfortably because of his own personal popularity.

Ben Lake was also instantly popular in Ceredigion, as a man who was rooted in the community and could talk to people in a language they could understand.

The very lack of polish that was inevitable when standing for the first time as a 24-year-old was just what the voters wanted.

What Jonathan Edwards and Ben Lake in particular have is an ability to intelligently articulate the advantages of Welsh nationalism, but also to engage in an empathetic way with the concerns of the man and woman on the street on a more fundamental level.

This is what they have in common with Albert Owen, Carwyn Jones – and Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s what Theresa May doesn’t have.

Sadly, perhaps, one of the recurring lessons of politics is that the substance and complex policy differences don’t matter that much – it’s all about the presentation.

Plaid need to find an easy to communicate message that a) distinguishes them from the other parties, and b) appeals to people at a fundamental, local level. Then they need to get it across.

It sounds simple, but it’s easier said that done.

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hackedoffplaid supporter
Guest
hackedoffplaid supporter

Help a lot of Mrs Wood treated those on her side somewhat better when they ask questions.

anotherhackedoffsupporter
Guest
anotherhackedoffsupporter

I’m inclined to agree with the previous comment. Leanne Wood’s great strength as a leader was her ability to motivate and encourage grassroots involvement. This time I saw cracks appear that had serious consequences in my own Constituency. Suddenly the Golden Lady of Welsh Politics is looking a little tarnished.

CB
Guest
CB

As was alluded to on some of the general election coverage last night, Corbynism has meant Labour were able to easily hoover up votes from Plaid. Should Plaid move more toward the political centre ground? Become more nationalistic? So long as the hard left are commandeering the Labour leadership it makes Plaid increasingly different to distinguish itself from them. In light of everything, I feel it was a good result for Plaid last night but slightly precariously so as this article alludes to. Plaid need to highlight the continued hypocrisy of Welsh Labour MP’s abstaining from votes to empower Wales,… Read more »

CB
Guest
CB

Apologies for the typo: *increasingly difficult

Tim Richards
Guest
Tim Richards

If it comes to rebranding the party I think that it is about time that Plaid Cymru should ditch the awful green and yellow colour scheme (a sort of cross between the Liberals and the Greens) and make it closer to our national flag – red, white and green……………

CB
Guest
CB

That is also an excellent point. And I am inclined to agree for branding is ever so important. Plaid could even go for the flag of Saint David colours (Yellow and Black) but I agree that the natural fit for the Party of Wales is our flag which so many people are very proud of.

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Oh god not white and green. This is an element Plaid need to focus their policies on – an increased level of focus on history in our education system. White and green are the colours of the Tudors and why that is inappropriate is obviously the Laws in Wales Act which saw Wales merged with England as well as Welsh language being banned from Courts. Its seen as a major blow to our language and identity.

cpickersgill
Guest

No, no, no. The critical issue in this election, unlike other elections, is that it was so important to try to get the Conservatives out (or at least reduced) because of the irreparable damage they have been doing and were intending to do, and all the suffering and deaths they have already caused so tactical voting. Next election PC voters will all be back. Really I cannot emphasise enough that this was a unicorn election and not business as usual. PC are doing fine, their policies are excellent, Wood is excellent (and significantly highly regarded in the other UK countries… Read more »

Momentary
Guest
Momentary

Exactly this. I’m PC and voted LD in Montgomeryshire, because tactical. Leanne Wood has all my support. PC also has the ability to connect in rural areas where Labour does not. Tactical voting was the right thing to do, and to use the vote counts to play party politics in the aftermath is not good.

Billprice
Guest
Billprice

I was surprised that of the two progressive Plaid candidates I followed, one had under 3k votes, the other under 1k, both advocating relevant changes. In my own ward the PC candidate earnt less than at the last election, though hardly no Big names appeared during the election period. The return of the two party system was enabled by websites actively telling you who to make a tactical vote for to topple the Tories. I welcome the YesWales campaign as it legitimises a problematic topic for Plaid which opponents take a prejudicial standpoint to. Logo rebranding is welcomed. Changing Leanne… Read more »

Nicholas Stradling
Guest
Nicholas Stradling

Independence. Out of the closet.

Capitalist and Welshnash
Guest
Capitalist and Welshnash

I would like to see Plaid moving away from Corbyn and towards the centre. As for rebranding colours and other factors, that is not tenable after they have just won a parliamentary seat with another election likely looming in the not too distant future. To change branding between elections so close to each other could be a foolish strategy. If you want to change Plaid’s design it needs to be after the next election so we can assess if this election was as said above, a ‘unicorn’ election, or whether it was a trend-setter for the next election. Regardless, Plaid… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

Arfon is as simple as Bangor students and working class people wanting the Tories out. Not Hywel’s fault or the party’s. A rally in Bangor would be very positive.

If Plaid says it wants the Tories in or won’t stop them, then kiss Arfon goodbye. Is that what “moving to the centre” means? Perhaps not, but the issue for many Plaid Cymru-leaning people in Wales is whether a disastrous Theresa May can be ousted from power. She is a catastrophic PM and it’s bigger than what colour Plaid’s logo is.

theredwelshwoman
Guest
theredwelshwoman

Corbyn does not need to bus people in to rallies, he offers them appealing policies which most can relate to – an end to austerity, re-nationalisation, a fully funded NHS, and so on. They flock to hear him because he is different and offers hope to many, especially the young. I am a long standing Plaid voter, because I am Welsh and want to see MPs at Westminster who represent Wales specifically. But I strongly believe, the party needs to be SOCIALIST and transparently so. Moving towards the centre almost destroyed the UK Labour Party, let’s not go down that… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Brilliantly put! Totally agree!

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

So it was close. It’s been close the other way in the past..Win = bad. Lose = bad.
England’s media framed this as May v Corbyn. No one else was taking part apparently. But despite this and in incredibly difficult circumstances and tactical voting happening in unprecedented volumes, Plaid Cymru held their 3 seats…and then gained one….Good.
Plaid Cymru have made gains in each of the last 3 elections. Welsh assembly, council and Westminster…Good.
They have done this under Leanne Woods leadership. To suggest the leader might be to blame is nonsense.

leigh richards
Guest

Let’s face it this was the most ‘British’ election we’ve seen in Wales for years – welsh issues hardly got a mention at all, not even in what passes for the ‘welsh media’. Indeed with the election discourse dominated by arguments over the relative merits of jezza and theresa may the election in wales on times seemed indistinguishable from the election in england – it was as if 20 years of welsh devolution hadnt happened. In those circumstances it could be argued plaid did well to add to its number of seats, but that’s not to say its results in… Read more »

CB
Guest
CB

You have made some really good points there. You’re right, I may be a bit out of touch with what Plaid have been saying of late. But I guess I meant to say that what I last heard from Leanne Wood was “we [Wales] are not ready yet [for independence]” and that “we [Wales] are at a different stage in our journey compared to Scotland” which I think summarise and frame the independence issue excellently and Plaid should continue with this line. I want Wales to be an independent country with every fibre of my being but I just think… Read more »

Chris Poote
Guest

I agree with Leigh completely that the election was thoroughly British. Welsh interests were completely airbrushed out by the media, who preferred to make a story of the confrontation between Corbyn Labour and the Tories. This happened even in Wales itself. Remember that everybody watches the national news first and reads national newspapers and national and global newsfeeds. Welsh national reporting is everyday a latecomer to a news agenda set by the nationals. This two-party focus squeezed the vote for other parties pretty much everywhere, and is not necessarily a reflection on Plaid Cymru’s campaign or leadership, although the campaign… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

The election wasn’t anything to do with Plaid being more/less centrist or nationalist. It was a big tactical vote to get the Tories out. Four seats is fine.

Independence should not be the focus, Wales needs more devolution first. But again the election wasn’t about that here.

nosuchthingasthemarket
Guest

It’s only in the immediate aftermath of election campaigns (or when planning the next one) that the size of the majority actually matters. The central – and very simple – fact is that Plaid Cymru now have one more MP than they did before. If your aim was to help Plaid Cymru rather than to sow apathy and discord within its ranks, then a moment of celebration might be in order. The following headline is accurate and refers to the simple headline numbers of MPs each party is sending to Westminster. “Wales Enters A New Era – Plaid Cymru Unseat… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Good points raised Ifan. However, ‘if this’ and ‘if that’ happened, but it didn’t happen therefore, a bit of a waste of the old typewriter ribbon, if you ask me. Without a doubt Plaid need to learn from this, if they don’t then your questions will be answered. Perhaps you are right that they possibly need to add some other charismatic people (and from other areas of the country). At the same time it is rather sad if you are implying that personality not policies is all the people of Cymru are interested in! The way anglo-american capitalism has brainwashed… Read more »

iantoddu
Guest

Why on earth should Carmarthen East have been a “better bet” for Labour than Arfon, on paper or otherwise? Yes, Jonathan Edwards’ personal competence went a long way to overcoming any “Leanne Wood” factor, but Plaid is very strong in that area, talking to people in the area they don’t vote Plaid just because of Jonathan Edwards, it’s because they are .. Well, the sort of people who vote Plaid! What on earth is the article saying with that point? It makes no sense…….

daffy2012
Guest

Instead of continuously ‘right-on’ and ‘progressive’ (whatever that means) etc….why don’t they give a vision of Wales which would resonate with people who live here….well a good percentage of those who live here. How gaining corporation tax powers would enable us to do what Ireland has done and how much employment that would begin. How air passenger tax could make Cardiff Airport greater and the hundreds if not more jobs that would create. How a tourism could be created which doesn’t ‘kill the host’ and will be taxed and how that money could be spent on looking after our tourist… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

That just sounds like normal Plaid Cymru to me, with a hang up over the word “progressive”. The issue is that people want May out. In increasing numbers. She is governing with the DUP for goodness sakes.

Capitalist and Welshnash
Guest
Capitalist and Welshnash

You don’t have to apologise for being slightly right wing on some opinions. That’s a huge part of what’s wrong with this country. We need political diversity that’s pro-Wales. Not everyone who wants independence is a socialist.

Martin
Guest
Martin

That’s all true, but the recent poll by Yes Cymru and Yougov suggests that most or almost all people supportive of independence are Plaid Cymru or Labour. If (when?) independence happens it would mostly come from the Plaid and Labour vote and be an anti-Conservative party vote.

Chris
Guest
Chris

As a voter in Arfon, my sense is that Hywel Williams’ personal reputation as a good local MP and faultless lefty voting record was probably what saved him from the Labour surge that happened in so many other university seats. The Tories lost Canterbury for the first time in about a century, so Hywel holding on was pretty impressive.

I’m not saying Plaid don’t need to rethink strategy more broadly, they’re clearly struggling to break new ground, but I think they’re getting it broadly right in Arfon.

Celynen
Guest
Celynen

Well that was an awful result in Glamorgan / Gwent. Leanne Wood must resign and the party needs a political re-alignment.

Plaid needs to become centre-right party that is willing to fight tooth and nail for devo-max.

We’d never win an independence referendum, the priority must be to get full power over taxation and to establish a seperate legal jurisdiction for Wales.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Wales needs those things and Plaid needs to push them, but they are not the issue in Glamorgan and Gwent. The election was more about getting Theresa May out than who is being centre-right, or who will cut Cardiff Airport tax.

leigh richards
Guest

So a couple of days after the people of wales elect candidates from left of center parties in 80 percent of welsh constituencies your suggestion is that plaid needs to become ….er……a right wing party. Oh and you think plaid should jettison independence for wales too. So what it boils down to is you’re a right winger who doesn’t support welsh independence…..have you ever thought of joining the conservative party?

Martin
Guest
Martin

The test for a centre-right Welsh nationalist party is whether people thay aren’t anonymous the internet ever call for one or set one up. I’m not being dismissive, but don’t know who would be in it or what the policies would be.

Celynen
Guest
Celynen

I believe in Welsh independence (have done all my life) but the English in Wales and Anglicised Welsh will never vote for it in a million years. Devo-Max would allow for a slow march towards independence via the back door.

Martin
Guest
Martin

I agree with pushing devo-max, just not the rest of your comment. That’s what debate is for though.

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Dim gorffwys nes Annibyniaeth! However, I am of the same opnion as Martin.
We must include everyone in the debate or we shall never know their feelings or concerns. This way we shall more than likely find more of these agreeing with us than not, then it is just a matter of convincing them!
The trouble is I cannot find any kind of serious or consertive effort to embrace and engage with these people you mention. Something worth thinking about doing though, don’t you think?!

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

daffy2012 hit it square on the head there, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s not get ingrossed in soundbite policies or British politics just get down to basics. The simplest, mainly personal and local issues are usually the ones that matter to individual people the most and not national ones. However, we must come together as a nation and that begins with our cultural education, the truth of which has been witheld for far too long. With regard our economy we need to take back everything, look it has been tried for nearly 2,000 years and it has matured the… Read more »

Rob Hughes
Guest

This result has been the easiest to spin either way. Anyone who has mentioned vote share to me has had the lecture about the FPTP system and Plaid’s fantastic understanding on where resources need to go, thus ensuring wins where things were close and increasing seats on a night that the Greens made no gains and SNP, UKIP, Tories and LD (in Wales) all lost out. The easiest comparison here is with the SNP. Although the media will point to the lack of hunger for IndyRef2, anyone with an ounce of sense understands that this shift occured due to a… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Martin, love the simplicity of your comments which, I don’t think many get, I do however. Telling it as it is and it was more about tactics than anything else.

Have tried to leave a reply on after Rob Hughes comment, but it seems only Martin’s is here.

Anyway, for Rob Hughes like yer 7 points!

Graham Davies
Guest
Graham Davies

Leanne Wood has delivered more seats at each of the last three elections. This is the first time in 25 years that Plaid has made net gains in seats at a Westminster election. Her opponents on the right try to ignore these facts, but they cannot deny that she has delivered results. In the face of a massive UK-driven squeeze on all parties other than Labour and Tories, she and her team have done well.

Bendigedig
Guest
Bendigedig

Tactical voting happens at every election of course, but I got the impression that (biased) tactical voting websites were being used more than ever before to Plaid’s disadvantage. Remainers joined with anti-Tories in voting Labour in huge numbers. Exposing the truth about these websites is a must for the future. Those here talking about a move to the centre, how is that working for the Lib Dems? And a question to those talking about a move to the centre or the centre-right, what are left-wing Plaid supporters and voters supposed to do. Accept it and hope for a social democratic… Read more »

Tim Richards
Guest
Tim Richards

Has no-one here taken on the fact that the high Labour vote in Arfon was due to the Bangor students who voted Labour even though they are temporary residents? Its a new sort of English colonialist invasion though I am sure that they do not see it that way because they have no connection to the place that they are voting in

robert ian williams
Guest
robert ian williams

Decline in vote of 16,000 nationally over 2015..and less people voted Plaid than in 1970. However you dress it hard left or otherwise, people will not vote for a party which really represents the Welsh speaking minority…a minority in real terms which is free fall decline. Children in Welsh schools rarely go on to establish welsh speaking families.