The past few days have seen renewed speculation in the press and social media about Leanne Wood’s leadership.
This happens to all leaders after a few years in the top job. But to borrow an idiom from the Welsh language, Leanne Wood has pulled this bees’ nest on to her own head.
Plaid’s rules state that MPs can’t lead the party, and by deciding (unnecessarily) to announce that she was considering standing in Rhondda, she turned everyone’s attention to what a future leadership election could look like.
If Plaid Cymru do fail to make significant headway on June 8th (not winning Ynys Môn for instance) the clamour could intensify quite significantly.
However, I think that Plaid Cymru members should quell their revolutionary fervour (in this one instance). Not all the parties’ woes can be blamed on the leader, and ditching Leanne may not be in their long-term interest.
Welsh nationalist tend to be more susceptible than others to dreaming of a man gwyn man draw. But the triban is not always greener on the other side.
Leanne Wood is a) well-known throughout Wales and b) popular (by the standards of other Welsh and UK politicians). She also secured a genuine, gold-plated breakthrough by winning a seat in the valleys, where Plaid has been knocking on the door without success for many years. These are three things not many Plaid leaders have achieved.
The truth is that not making significant headway in the General Election would not be the end of the world for Plaid Cymru. Their real aim is and should be to secure a breakthrough at the National Assembly Elections. And recent polls suggest that, if Labour’s woes continue, they would be well-placed to do so in a few years’ time.
If Plaid Cymru were hotly contesting four or five seats in the valleys at the next election, who would be better to lead the party than Rhondda’s visible and popular Assembly Member?
Plaid's problems are more complex
Plaid's problems are more complex
Discussions about changing the leadership of Paid Cymru also miss the larger picture, which is that because they are a Welsh nationalist party, their problems can’t easily be fixed with a change of personnel as they would be in the case of other, British nationalist parties.
If Labour changed leadership and moderated their hard-left stance they would no doubt bounce back in the polls. But that’s because they’re very much part of a dominant British establishment that includes the media and other institutions who would warmly welcome them back into the fold.
Plaid’s problem is ultimately that they’re a nationalist party in a country that isn’t particularly conducive to nationalism.
Plaid Cymru supporters look enviously at Scotland. But despite Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s talents, Scotland has the advantage of having strong national institutions and a comparatively healthy media.
I tend to think that nationalists in Wales place too much of a burden on Plaid Cymru's shoulders. Political parties are constrained by the need to maintain the public's support. Thus, they’re naturally risk averse.
Other political parties have proxies in the media, think tanks and other institutions that can do the hard (and sometimes dirty) work of changing minds for them without having to worry about a backlash at the ballot box.
Welsh nationalists need to concentrate on setting these up rather than sniping at Plaid’s leadership. Blaming Plaid can become an excuse for inaction.
Ultimately, whatever her decision (and she may herself be ready to give up the leadership for entirely personal reasons – it is a tough job) I hope Leanne Wood stays on as a Plaid Cymru AM.
Being a credible government in waiting is about more than just the leader. You need a strong cabinet in waiting too, and having Leanne on the team would show that Plaid has a lot of strength in depth.