Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, has announced that her party will not go into coalition with the Conservatives after next May’s elections to the Notional Assembly. (Read all about it!) From where I’m sitting, this would appear to condemn Plaid Cymru to either impotence or a pact with Labour. Not an attractive choice, but then, when you play student politics with a nation’s future, and duck the real issues, you deserve no third option. Though the nation of course deserves a lot better than Plaid Cymru.
If my judgement strikes some as a little harsh, then that’s because, as a nationalist, I have little time for Plaid Cymru. But before dismissing my opinion out of hand let us examine the possibilities for next May’s elections. A good way to start is by reminding ourselves of the results from the Assembly election in 2011 and the two polls since then, the Euro elections of May 2014 and the UK general election of May 2015.
In 2011, Labour gained 30 seats, half of the total, and chose not to go into coalition with another party. They’ve never really come unstuck. Plaid Cymru came third, with less than half of Labour’s vote in both constituencies and regions, and well behind the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats averaged over 9% of the total, while Ukip, who contested only the regional lists, gained a paltry 4.6% of the votes cast.
By the European elections of 2014 Ukip had transformed itself into a major force in the politics of Englandandwales (but not Scotland), and was now the second party in Wales, just .6 of a percentage point behind Labour. All the other parties bar the Greens lost ground.
Just seven weeks ago we saw Ukip fall back somewhat, and drop from its second place in 2014 to third, but it still got more votes than Plaid Cymru. In fact, Ukip came second to Labour in a number of Valleys’ seats which, when taken with the increase in the Tory vote, tells us there was a move to the right which, as I suggested in my blog post Election 2015: Plaid Cymru Fails, Again, might have marked the death of the ‘socialist Wales’ myth. From these recent results it’s reasonable to predict that Labour, with just 30 seats in 2011 and its share of the vote dropping since then, will not win 30 seats in 2016.
The major changes since 2011 are, quite obviously, the rise of Ukip, then there’s the increase in the Tory vote, and finally the near-demise of the Liberal Democrats. Next year Ukip could, if the heavenly bodies align aright, win a seat or two; though if that doesn’t pan out, and given that the party might get 15 – 20% of the regional vote, then it could pick up 5 – 8 seats.
Labour has in previous Assembly elections gained less than other parties from the regional lists, just two seats in 2011, because it wins so many constituency seats, so the bigger threat to Labour may come at the constituency level. With Labour losing Gower and the Vale of Clwyd to the Conservatives last month, and the Lib Dems losing Brecon & Radnor to the same opponents, there must be a possibility that these results will be repeated next year. If so, then it would establish the Tories as the second largest party by some margin. This seems predictable because the number of Plaid Cymru AMs is bound to fall, partly because other than Llanelli it’s impossible to see a seat Plaid could gain (though maybe not if Siân Caiach stands again), and Plaid is bound to lose out to Ukip in the regional allocation. Though if the Lib Dems do lose Brecon & Radnor then that makes it more likely they will be compensated with a couple of regional seats.
Looking at the bigger picture it would not be unreasonable to predict the following result for next year’s Assembly elections: Labour 26 seats (-4), Conservative 17 (+3), Ukip 7 (+7), Plaid Cymru 7 (-4), Lib Dems 2 (-2), Greens 1 (+1). Which would mean that to cobble together an administration Labour would need to go into coalition with Plaid Cymru, which is almost certainly what influenced Ms Wood’s rejection of a deal with the Tories. But this is so short-sighted.
Being a native of the Rhondda Ms Wood must know that throughout the Valleys (and indeed the south) there are tens and tens of thousands of people looking for a viable alternative to Labour, that’s why they turned out last month and last year to vote Tory and Ukip in Caerffili, Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Islwyn, and in the process pushed Plaid Cymru down to fourth place. So why should anyone who doesn’t want Labour in power vote for the party that will keep Labour in power?
There may be another, even less charitable way of looking at this. Over the years I have consistently argued that the Labour Party relies on deprivation in Wales – and blaming the Tories for that deprivation – to keep people voting Labour. This means that Labour has no incentive to make Wales a wealthier country, and this then explains the obscene amounts of public funding wasted on Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector, so that they can make an industry out of deprivation and present their parasitism as a form of economic activity.
Could it be that Plaid Cymru, most definitely a begging bowl party, has taken this reasoning a step further? Have those at the highest, policy-making levels of the party calculated that if a poor Wales votes Labour, then a poorer Wales might swing towards Plaid Cymru? Don’t dismiss the suggestion out of hand; just ask yourself, what other hope has Plaid Cymru got of ever becoming a successful party? Well, of course, there is one, obvious route; Plaid could be a Welsh party, focusing on Welsh issues, from a Welsh perspective. But that option was rejected in favour of a slow, lingering death – for both nation and party – decades ago.
Last month I loaned Plaid Cymru my vote because I persuaded myself that doing so was a way of giving a proxy vote to the SNP, a party I respect greatly for confronting the Labour monster head-on, and slaying it. Compare that to what we now hear from Plaid Cymru – ‘A vote for us is a vote for Labour’. How do we explain the difference?
I can’t help thinking that one explanation for ruling out any pact with the Tories may be Ms Wood’s desire to play to a foreign gallery. I’m thinking now of those Left-Green ‘progressive elements’ Plaid so assiduously courted a few months ago. If so, then it’s another reminder of how divorced from Wales and Welsh issues Plaid Cymru has become. By comparison, the Scottish National Party does not fashion its policies to appeal to audiences in Islington, or the offices of the Guardian newspaper . . . and certainly not Labour HQ!
But if Plaid Cymru wants to talk about poverty, then okay. Let’s talk about the poverty of ambition in the party that has the nerve to call itself The Party of Wales. While the SNP is leading the Scottish people to independence, Plaid Cymru’s ambition extends no further than begging a few more crumbs from England’s table and propping up Carwyn Jones and his gang of deadbeats. Almost fifty years after Gwynfor Evans won Carmarthen Plaid Cymru’s ambition today extends no further than acting as a crutch for the party of George Thomas and Neil Kinnock in a system of sham devolution. Now that’s poverty! And total failure.