It’s the question everyone is asking. Well, some people anyway. Will Plaid Cymru stand aside in the Brecon and Radnor by-election to give a boost to the pro-EU Lib Dems?
The case against standing made by Keith Darlington on this website is not insubstantial and shouldn’t be outright dismissed.
However, I do personally feel that the case for standing is much stronger. Let me explain why.
In principle, the case against standing sense: getting rid of a pro-Brexit MP in place of a pro-EU MP in a volatile Commons might make a difference. But realistically, it’s a big might.
MPs may be against No Deal, but if the next PM along and the leader of the opposition can’t muster a united front to oppose him, one fewer Tory or Brexit Party MP will make little difference.
It’s not impossible in fact that we’ll have a general election before a vote on Brexit, and therein lies at least one problem.
It would be very difficult to see how Plaid Cymru could on the one hand not contest a by-election to endorse an anti-Brexit Lib Dem and then actually stand against that MP in a subsequent general election – especially if Brexit is still looming uncertainty.
A temporary pro-EU electoral pact would solve that, but in truth it would be impossible to achieve. Can anyone realistically see the Lib Dems not fielding a candidate in, say, Arfon, in order to give Plaid Cymru a boost, let alone Ceredigion? To believe so is naïve to the extreme.
Standing aside now would, however, simply have the opposite effect of legitimizing the Lib Dems as the viable electoral choice for Remain voters in Wales at the expense of Plaid Cymru.
The party, whether we like it or not, often struggles to appear relevant in general elections anyway. Why make it even the least bit harder?
It’s only a Westminster by-election, so yeah, you can vote Lib Dem, it’s fine, they’re on our side. But don’t in the general election, especially in Ceredigion, please. Because then they’re not fine there, see?
The Lib Dems’ own behaviour during May’s EU Elections also needs to be taken into account. It demonstrated that they were intent on stopping Brexit – on the condition that it is they who did so.
They had no interest in a pact with Plaid Cymru, then. For example, it would have made perfect sense for them (and also the Greens, who have always been glib about anything Welsh) to encourage their supporters in Wales to lend Plaid Cymru, the leading Remain party, a vote.
It would have given Remain a slim but also realistic chance of electing two pro-EU Plaid Cymru MEPs, to counter the two Brexit MEPs.
Instead, they simply concentrated on increasing their own vote. You can’t blame them for that – they don’t owe Plaid Cymru anything. But then, why on earth should they then be given a favour in this by-election that they’ll never return?
There are no favours in politics. That free pass is one way, in the Lib Dem’s direction. Not a good precedent. And precedents are all-too-easy to set.
It would also be somewhat odd for Plaid Cymru, even in an area where they are historically weak, after labelling themselves following the European Election as ‘Wales’ leading pro-Remain party’ (and why wouldn’t they?), not to stand here.
I don’t know in truth how much momentum the party has following that result, but it at least has some. Abstaining in a by-election would seem to me that the party simply don’t believe its own message, and would destroy what momentum it might have.
It would say ‘we are the party of Wales – well, most of it, anyway, apart from some parts’.
And with the independence movement in Wales getting a spring in its step, it’s also fair to ask, if Plaid Cymru don’t stand, aren’t they letting down supporters of Welsh independence by not standing, regardless of their feelings of the EU?
Because, yes, whilst both parties are on the same side with regard to the EU, let’s not kid ourselves that both aren’t in directly opposite camps: that of Welsh independence and that of British dominion over Wales.
And I can’t think of a time where it would be less appropriate and more damaging to suggest that Plaid Cymru are a Remain party first and a Welsh nationalist party second.
Welsh nationalists often talk about emulating the SNP, but, when it comes to the crunch, are pretty dire when it comes to actually doing what they do.
Sometimes I honestly think Plaid Cymru think they can mimic the SNP without actually doing anything at all apart from existing. The SNP would never, ever consider not standing against a unionist party in a Scottish by-election regardless of the wider political situation.
And, really, it’s difficult to think of a similar movement in another European country contemplating doing so either.
As I say, there are fair reasons not to stand, but every single one of them would be self-defeating for Plaid Cymru.
Brexit may seem like it consumes everything, but it is not the whole picture. In an age where the national movement in Wales has new vigour, strength and determination, not even contesting a Welsh by-election is as much of a side-step as it is a step backwards.
And Plaid Cymru, finally, need to step up.