Dyfed Edwards says the leadership Dafydd Elis-Thomas demonstrated as Presiding officer promises much for his next role in charge of his party
I am delighted to offer this invitation to Plaid members to use their alternate vote as fully as possible in support of Dafydd Elis-Thomas in the coming leadership election. I do so with confidence that he has the capacity and leadership skills to ensure that Plaid can make the maximum contribution to Welsh politics at this time.
When he was elected the first Presiding Officer of the National Assembly he was nominated by Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour Colleagues, and elected unopposed by the other parties. He spent 12 years, three Assembly terms, continually championing the cause of Welsh democracy by working to strengthen and deepen devolution and the Assembly’s powers until the successful 2011 referendum was achieved.
Plaid Cymru’s leadership election
Tomorrow Jonathan Edwards, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, makes the case for Leanne Wood. Ballot papers will be sent to all party members next week. The result of the postal vote will be announced at Plaid’s Spring conference in Cardiff on 15 March.
From the start he refused to go along with the undemocratic order of things set up initially in 1999, insisting at all times in referring to the ‘Government of Wales’ and the ‘National Assembly’ as two separate institutions, until that was achieved in 2007. This was not just a matter of ‘political correctness’ but his firm democratic instinct.
From his parliamentary experience and study of constitutional history he knew the ‘separation of powers’ was an absolute precondition of democracy, in Wales as elsewhere. Without making the clear distinction between executive and legislature, government and assembly, administration and scrutiny, parties in government and in opposition, democratic life was impossible.
As the Western Mail comment said on 4 January, “During his 12 years as Presiding Officer, he almost certainly did more to enhance the status of the National Assembly than anyone else”. These are most certainly leadership skills which are directly transferable to the role of Plaid leader, with its national, UK and EU role.
His democratic instinct and passion for devolved and delegated power and collaboration extends to his whole political approach. Although he regularly works a minimum of a 12 hour day each week out of his Dwyfor Meirionnydd constituency office just off the main street in Porthmadog, I never remember him trying to tell elected members of Gwynedd Council how they should be doing their job. Although probably knowing more than most about planning issues, and currently Chair of the National Assembly’s powerful Environment and Sustainability Committee, he never seeks to interfere in what are the proper responsibilities of local planning authorities.
Although supporting school reorganisation for educational and equality reasons he steadfastly refused to support one school against another. Such is also his attitude to changes in health and social care. It is the quality of service delivery to each citizen that concerns him, which is why I know professionals who have such responsibilities across the public services value him highly as a critical friend.
In exercising his responsibility for the widely-used new petition system in the National Assembly from 2007-2011 he ensured a system was set up which did not allow Assembly petitions to be used to as a way of undermining the decisions of democratic local authorities. The protocol agreed with Welsh local government ensured that every petition was directed to the proper responsible authority.
The principles of clear governance were also what motivated his successful opposition to the way in which some Welsh MPs used their powers to grant or refuse the right to the National Assembly to make Welsh law in already devolved areas, as it operated between 2007-2011. Instead of complaining against the system he set out to transform it by leading the Business Committee in establishing strong legislation committees, able to deal with requests to Westminster and any consequent measures. This ensured a steady stream of new laws despite limited powers. And as he continued to criticise ‘double scrutiny’ by MPs and Peers as well as AMs many more voters were convinced of the need to change the system as happened resoundingly in 2011.
When Ministers even from the Welsh Labour-Plaid Coalition Government which he supported sought to limit Assembly powers by giving a new role to the Secretary of State for Wales in bringing in Welsh law he inspired his Colleagues in the House of Lords to oppose such a move so that the proposal was withdrawn. Establishing a clear inter-governmental relationship between Welsh Ministers and their UK counterparts is what drives his next constitutional target, the final abolition of the role of Secretary of State for Wales in the UK Cabinet.
Just as he has defended and extended the rights and powers of the National Assembly for the past 12 years, I have no doubt that if Dafydd is elected to lead Plaid he will put into effect his pledge to set Welsh local government back on a democratic road. For him, ‘separation of powers’ has to work at all levels of democratic representation to government as well as between them. Each level needs to be free from interference to work effectively.
He has clearly indicated to me, though he is most obviously not the kind of politician who makes private deals, that if elected Plaid Leader by mid-March he expects leaders of Plaid Groups standing for re-election in May to jointly lead the general election campaign to all Welsh Councils. As he told me, “The Plaid Leader has to be leading from the National Assembly as the seat of Welsh Government, but those who lead campaigns for other levels of government must be those standing in those very elections”.
I know he also believes the time has come to say goodbye to the pattern of local government imposed on Wales by that most anti-devolutionary Secretary of State John Redwood. In the spirit of collective self-determination it is the people of Wales in their communities, not a commission or even a Welsh Minister that should determine the pattern of local democracy in such a relatively small but fiercely independent-minded country.
Based on my experience of working very closely with Dafydd since I became Leader of Gwynedd I know personally of his capacity for supporting colleagues in making change. His analysis is clear but always focussed on the business in hand. Not so different from the person I met at Plaid National Left events in the early 1980s, he still speaks very affectionately about the two Williams’s who are his twin inspiration, Gwyn Alfred and Raymond, often quoting the title of one of Raymond’s last books Resources of Hope. Just what we need again in 2012, I think.