Plaid seeks policy high ground

Jonathan Edwards unveils some of the themes that will dominate this weekend’s annual conference of his party in Brecon

This weekend’s conference is going to be a very important political event for Plaid Cymru. In Leanne Wood we have a new leader who stood on a radical platform for reframing the politics of the party – which in turn reframes the parameters of political debate in Wales. The conference will provide another stage in this realignment as Leanne sets out her stall.

We are also in a non-election year in which we will see whether it’s the Tories or Plaid who will form the leading alternative narrative to Labour in Wales. The Brecon Conference is going to be key to helping the party build political momentum. With future electoral challenges in mind, this is a massive year for Plaid Cymru.

Leanne has already set her stamp on the party by setting up a series of policy commissions to develop our thinking. I am involved with the Economic Commission under the leadership of my predecessor as MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Adam Price.  The Commission’s first offering, Adam’s research paper Offa’s Gap, is a damning indictment of the failures of the unionist parties when it comes to the Welsh economy.

In the midst of a double-dip recession caused by the obsession of the London parties with the economic élite of the financial sector, Leanne has quite rightly focused the party’s work on how we are going to turn the Welsh economy around. In a previous article for ClickonWales during the leadership contest (here) I wrote that Plaid’s message of hope contrasts starkly with the message of doom and gloom of the unionist parties. We believe that given the tools to do the job we can create a better future for ourselves. We don’t believe the answers to Wales’ problems will come from Westminster. This weekend’s conference will contribute to the policy package that will underpin those beliefs.

Interestingly enough this week Labour’s Swansea East AM Mike Hedges argued for the continuation of dependence on an unreformed block grant from London rather than empowering the Welsh Government with job creation leavers. The reality facing the people of Wales is that they can choose our position of taking responsibility for ourselves or Labour’s position of staying tied to the purse strings of the Tories in Westminster.

The conference will undoubtedly revolve around Leanne’s speech. Delegates will be looking forward to seeing her impress her authority on the party. We are living in the midst of what some commentators have dubbed political climate change. This is marked by a crisis in the neoliberal economic order accepted as an article of faith by the unionist parties, hugely significant developments within the Eurozone, and the impact of the Scottish independence referendum on the British State. Leanne has an opportunity to position the party in relation to these events.

Other highlights of the conference include debates on youth unemployment, public procurement and how we can ensure Welsh SMEs can get a greater share of public contracts; higher education policy; and the forthcoming sustainable legislation in the National Assembly. There will also be a fringe debate on Growth and Sustainability, a paper by Cynog Dafis sponsored by the party’s Economic Commission.

I am looking forward to taking part in a debate entitled Another Union is Possible with Gwenllian Landsdown Davies, the party’s former Chief Executive, Steffan Lewis, a young politician with a massive future who will one day lead the party, and Dafydd Elis Thomas AM. I’ll be making the case that as well as being a force for Welsh independence, Plaid can be an agent for reform within the British state.

We must continue to make the progressive case for change against the narrow consensus of the Labour-Tory tag team until we achieve our ultimate aim as a party. With Labour fighting the next Westminster election on the basis of not overturning Tory cuts there is an opportunity here for Plaid.

Jonathan Edwards is Plaid MP for Carmarthen east and Dinefwr

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