Brett John reflects on the Plaid Cymru leadership contest and the challenges ahead
A party that is set on the idea of entering Government in less than 3 years time, the Plaid Cymru leadership contest marks a significant watershed moment.
Leanne Wood, throughout the campaign, was often cited by supporters as being the biggest electoral asset the party has ever had. The conundrum now turns to what Plaid Cymru has gained in return for replacing her.
Even when the chatter of potential future leaders were merely murmurs, Adam Price’s name would inevitably be brought up. A formidable communicator, he is well known for his ability to think innovatively and generate new ideas.
His energy, passion and palpable determination to improve his country, commentators have for many years spoken of his potential to lead Plaid Cymru and, indeed, Wales.
Shortcomings in previous elections for the Party regularly relate back to the idea that it is at an automatic disadvantage for existing in a country that has a weak media. This highlighted a clear opportunity for Rhun ap Iorwerth to enter the race and offer a way forward, with an improved communication strategy being central to his campaign. His many years of experience in broadcasting and thumping victories in the by-election and subsequent re-election made him a serious and capable contender for Plaid Cymru’s top job.
In the end, the irresistible appeal of change, coupled with the emotive oratory skills of a certain Harvard University graduate proved more tempting than sticking with the status quo.
That being said, Leanne Wood is anything but the status quo. The first female and non-Welsh speaker elected as leader of the Party, she has dedicated her public life to rattling the establishment and standing strong for what she believes in. A potent and unwavering potion of proud feminism, republicanism and socialism runs deep in her veins.
Leanne can leave her position as Leader with her head held high as an individual that helped her party flourish in raising its profile and widening the appeal.
The election paints a picture of a restless membership that demands a greater pace of electoral progress. It fits in neatly within a society that finds itself obsessive over faster living.
Adam Price’s vision for the Party and nation is undoubtedly a bold one. Paving a pathway to independence is a definitive goal for Plaid Cymru under his leadership but the individual stepping stones to realising that ambition still need chiselling out.
Responsible for collating Plaid Cymru’s policy platform and vision for Government ahead of the 2016 Assembly Election, the Manifesto he masterminded is an immensely impressive document offering an insight into what excited the membership about him. It was a comprehensive attempt at helping the people of Wales envisage a prosperous country.
One internal structural alteration that he set out before challenging Leanne Wood was the idea of pursuing a co-leadership model.
Adam now has the opportunity to either continue making the case for a woman to join him as leader – as per his plan in an essay he penned before entering the leadership contest – or to take the wheel as the party’s sole Captain.
While the election has generated a fresh wave of excitement within the party, it sadly means the ‘Leader’s Questions’ segment of First Minister’s Questions will become an exclusively male affair; if the Welsh Labour leadership election goes as expected. That will be a deeply depressing sight of modern politics in Wales.
This outlines what ought to be a clear priority to the new leader of Plaid Cymru: every effort should be made to help maintain and build on the good work of his predecessor in presenting the Party as a welcoming, tolerant and diverse movement.
As the first openly gay man to lead a party in Wales, the membership of Plaid Cymru and its supporters can be confident in Adam’s ability and personal determination to realise that ideal.
What remains more in the territory of the unknown is if the occurrence of an election, triggered through a challenge rather than a resignation, will have a damaging impact on the Party. Lessons can be derived from the two Assembly Members that have left since the 2016 Assembly Election – that collegiate relations within the Party are important to function effectively.
If Plaid Cymru is serious about entering Government in 2021, encouraging cohesion and guaranteeing unity must be high up on Adam Price’s to-do list.
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