The silent divorce: Why did Plaid Cymru keep quiet about leaving Labour?

Leanne Wood. Picture by Garry Knight. (CC0 1.0)

Daran Hill                  

Two weeks ago, Plaid Cymru ended the compact with Labour which had existed since the formation of the current Welsh Government in May 2016.

It was, to my mind, the least noticed important event in recent Welsh politics. I’m still scratching my head and wondering why they kept it so quiet.

Not why Plaid left – there are obvious advantages to both them and Labour in being positioned apart – but why the hell they did it in quite the way they did.

There was almost no media coverage off the news.  It is not that the Welsh media would not have found this newsworthy had it been done properly. Neither is it a case of a media biased against Plaid (as many in the party believe).

The message was slipped out to party members on a Friday afternoon. There is no deader time, other than a Saturday. The echo chamber isn’t switched on and the amplifiers certainly aren’t.

The announcement being thrown out almost haphazardly on a Friday afternoon was because Plaid Cymru, for strategic reasons, didn’t really want it picked up on. It was a muted move.

There were a range of much more impactful moments available. The previous Tuesday morning’s press conference ahead of the budget would have presented an ideal opportunity for the same announcement.

It would have deeply unnerved Labour, while maximising exposure. The media were all switched on to the budget deal and it would have been the perfect topline for the news.

More particularly, why couldn’t Leanne Wood have hung on another two weeks until this weekend?

Plaid is meeting in Caernarfon. The delegates are listening attentively. The media is in full court. Just imagine the moment: Leanne could have made it the centrepiece of her speech to conference.

This would have really stolen some headlines and the room would have had little choice but to cheer it. Even the UK media might have noticed.

No doubt she will still use her speech this weekend to explain to the party faithful why the compact is ended. So, what on earth is the logic behind the massive spoiler?

Bewildering

Alongside the weird timing, why were Plaid so honest about the reasons for their departure?

Leanne’s missive to member included a laundry list of grumbles such as keeping the public sector pay gap, things that had been rumbling on for months.

Not particularly newsworthy. She could instead have chosen something new and impactful as an immediate pretext.

Indeed, to give a string of reasons reads more like an apologia than a hard-nosed political decision.

It has felt like someone had calculated this was a good time to bury bad news. Except that this wasn’t bad news at all.

If Plaid was taking this step it was surely to put clear water of any old colour between it and Labour. It was surely a “shout about it” moment.

Yet it was packaged to members, not the press or the public, and presented so bewildering quietly that half of them probably didn’t notice.

All of which leads me to conclude that Plaid has made a strategic decision to sever its ties with Labour as quietly as possible.

One occasional lover has crept out while the other is still asleep and certainly none of the neighbours are at the curtain.

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