Why it may take a UK Labour government to give Plaid Cymru a shot at victory
Ifan Morgan Jones
Adam Price’s speech at the Plaid Cymru conference on Friday was a very revealing one.
While conceding that the election was “disappointing”, a large part of the speech was dedicated to the fact that they had, in fact, won without winning.
“We didn’t win the election,” he said. “But as so often in our history, we dusted ourselves down and resolved to win the argument instead.
“We snatched our moral victory from the mawing jaws of defeat.”
How had Plaid Cymru achieved this? Through the cooperation deal with Welsh Labour, which included a great bulk of what Plaid Cymru had spent the election campaigning on.
Plaid Cymru, he said, had “moved the Welsh Overton Window” to the extent that it was they, in fact, who were now leading Wales – “who are the leaders now?” he asked.
“Where we lead, they always come – eventually,” he said, finishing by stating that “politics to me is not about who wins or who loses, it’s about doing big things together.”
On the one hand, this feels rather like a leader – one sold as a ‘mab darogan’ no less – who did not deliver the electoral breakthrough that he promised rapidly moving the goalposts.
Certainly, this idea that Plaid Cymru won without winning is hard to square with the emphasis Adam Price put on what he promised would be breakthrough results for Plaid Cymru before May of last year.
On the other hand, he is no doubt in many ways correct – if the Plaid-Welsh Government cooperation agreement is delivered in full Plaid Cymru will once again have managed, somehow, to get the bulk of what they wanted out of this Senedd term.
As I argued back in May of last year, Plaid Cymru has an uncanny ability to win without winning elections. That article copped some criticism in Labour circles at the time, but their rolling out of the rose-red carpet for half of Plaid Cymru’s manifesto shows that it is once again true.
Mark Drakeford has been so open-handedly generous to Plaid Cymru that some of Welsh Labour’s own MPs have been baffled by it.
Cymru Sydd and Cymru Fydd
But the reality is that Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru go together like a horse and carriage. Welsh Labour want to win, and are very happy to borrow Plaid Cymru’s ideas to do so. Plaid Cymru meanwhile want their best ideas put into action, and are completely unwilling to compromise on them in order to win votes.
Both in their own way are ‘the party of Wales’ – Welsh Labour the party of Cymry Sydd, Wales as it is, while Plaid are the party of Cymry Fydd, what they see as the future ideal version of it.
And listening to Adam Price’s speech, I got the feeling that Plaid Cymru are, for the moment, quite content with that arrangement, as long as that “Welsh Overton window” keeps shifting.
The speech contained very little detail of how, beyond “dusting ourselves down” and going again, the party was, electorally, going to turn things around.
Instead, there was some vague hope that something would come along – some spark that will awake Wales from its political apathy and deliver a revolution.
Not to be uncharitable to Plaid Cymru, but this is unlikely. Winning will require less nonconformist revival-esque charisma and more of the boring work of figuring out what people want, communicating that message effectively and hoovering up their votes.
That is, meeting the voters where they are not where Plaid Cymru would want them to be. Putting themselves within the Welsh Overton window, rather than shifting it. I.e. the kind of stuff that Plaid Cymru’s leadership or membership has not, as of yet in their 97-year history – for good or ill – shown that much interest in doing.
The one thing that could break up the present symbiotic relationship between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour would be a change at Westminster – to a UK Labour government.
At the moment Labour are able to be a national party in all but name for Wales because Wales is the only nation in which they’re in power.
Mark Drakeford is able to employ the us vs them rhetoric of Welsh nationalism while also claiming the get-out clause that the divide is really Labour v Tory, not Wales v Westminster.
For the first time in a very long time, however, the idea of a UK Labour government seems a little bit more likely.
The Conservatives seem stuck with an unpopular leader, and a Chancellor who the public believes is failing to get to grips with a cost of living crisis.
It’s hard to explain the real-world impact of Brexit or Partygate but if voters can’t pay the bills they’re unlikely to back you at the next General Election.
If Labour does win in 2024 then suddenly it becomes much harder for Welsh Labour to define themselves as Wales’ shield against Westminster, a theme they have returned to time and time again since the 2011 Senedd election.
That would leave Plaid Cymru alone in possession once against of a USP – if you’re not happy with how Westminster is treating Wales, give them a bloody nose by voting for us.
It’s worth remembering that it was under a Labour Westminster government that the SNP first formed a Scottish Government in 2007.
Going into a Senedd election in 2025 or 2026 with a Labour government at Westminster would be the key moment for Plaid Cymru, if it is to form a government of its own – and turn a string of ‘moral victories’ into a real electoral one.
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There is some truth in this. In 1999 I had high hopes that Plaid could go on to achieve what the SNP themselves did. Sadly it hasn’t turned out that way. Plaid have gained a great deal for Wales and our Senedd, even if at Plaid’s own cost. I’ve often wished that a more combative Plaid would take the fight to Welsh Labour and wondered where we might be now had the party taken that path. Regardless, the expansion of the Senedd is required albeit a small step in the right direction. It should also be accompanied by Local Authority… Read more »
Arwyn, the SNP wins Labour seats and it wins tory seats, it aligns itself with Labour only as a convenient adversary to Westminster in any way it can.
I believe the Cymru stance should be the exact opposite. Instead of picking a fight we should work alongside all parties and try and bring everyone into the fold.
Plaid remain the most successful “ opposition “ party within these islands….winning the ideas, influencing the agenda and shepherding the labour lambs into the fold. Their move away from traditional local branch activity, events and community campaigns ( in most of Wales ) into policy development, local authority leadership and links to Europe has served Wales well in most cases. Their core army of 800 to 1000 dedicated activists plus sub contracting the “ independence “ campaign to Yes Cymru and others has served to alllow them to be close – so close to to real delivery of key outcomes… Read more »
Come the next Senedd election Welsh Labour will have been in power for nearly 27 yrs. And yes it can be said that in office their policies have struck a chord with the voting public the reason for their longevity. But surely the Welsh people cannot continue to vote for a party that cannot provide what Wales really needs?. The Welsh Conservatives are basically a waste of political space. They are active antagonists akin to Soviet hackers who interfere like bots Welsh democracy. They are Anti-Welsh pro-England Whitehall overseers who belittle Wales at any opportunity. They are indeed the enemy… Read more »
As a Welsh Labour member, I like Adam and respect his vision for our country, he realises that it is about winning the idea. #IndyWales is our joint vision for many Welsh Labour voters such as myself, winning is the only way to achieve this, but not in an election in and of itself, but to win the trust of the Welsh people and together both sides can do this. #IndyWales #indyref2
The next 2 years are critical. Welsh Labour are faced with enormous questions on the constitution and events may outpace the formal consultations you’re currently undertaking. If Welsh Labour were to establish themselves as an independent party it would be a game changer. Note Dafydd Iwan’s recent comments on this website. If Welsh Labour chooses to be resolutely unionist, then perhaps it will be time for people such as yourself to reconsider your affiliation – the ground might shift either way.
I have no time for the Labour Party leadership, Welsh or otherwise. People like you give me hope for our future. Diolch ac ymlaen i’r gad.
I must pay tribute to all the contributions above on this topic. Barnstorming work. You’ve said all I wanted to and more. Da iawn pawb.
Kick all English party’s out of wales 🏴 stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh start fighting for your children and grandchildren future in wales 🏴 it’s time for a new wales 🏴 I was member of Plaid Cymru 🏴 in the 70/80 and we where winning more seats in the council’s then we haven’t moved on since then we are stuck because plaid is to involved with British politics it’s a afraid of upsetting the English people in wales 🏴 it’s time for a new party a Free Wales Party I’m a Nationalist first and been… Read more »
We all salute your diligence as a poster here, Graham. But, please, it’s ‘parties’. If it was a one time thing, it’d be fine, but 800 grammatical errors is a bit much.
Hands 🙌 of our Grayham
His message is simple but clear
Honest and Open
Yr Ysbryd glân a clîr pob tro….
It’s not fair to criticise Graham on a day when he has something new to say and has managed to spell Wales with an uppercase W twice.
He’s a good bloke – cut him some slack
I think in the main, one of the reasons, rightly or wrongly, is Plaids steadfast resolution of the Welsh language. I have spoken to many voters in the past who would not vote for Plaid for this very reason.
However, after Thursday night, and a rousing rendition of Yma o Hyd by 30,000 people, there does seem to be a shift. The Welsh language is becoming cool again.
And suddenly those no’s are becoming maybes. And that is the absolute key in all of this.
It’s a heirachy of enemies – Conservatives & Unionists at the top, with an over-mighty sneering England a close second.
For now, our enemy’s enemy can pass for a useful aquaintance, if not exactly a friend
Plaid needs to sort out how a small subset of leaders treat grass root members. It does not deserve power at any level until it admits and resolve some very deep rooted problems.
A valid point. PC have little current focus on engsging their grass roots and even less on local leader visits around Wales. They do however seem to tick the policy drvelopment boxes and do more than a fair job on local councils
Will Plaid led councils put their money where their mouth is – and levy 300% on holiday homes?
I see one reason alone as to why Welsh Labour are so open to the ideas of Plaid Cymru. They are worried. They are struggling to get a majority so they are aligning themselves with Plaid to guarantee their success in staying in control. After 27 years, many voters are starting to ask why is the Labour controlled NHS in such trouble, why is Westminster arranging for the army to run ambulances because we cant? Why is poverty still so prevalent, where are the good jobs what are they actually doing in the senedd. I think it is a mistake… Read more »