David Taylor says Plaid’s idea of a wiki manifesto is a distraction from engaging the electorate with a serious set of policies

November 15th, 2012

Leanne Wood has had a decent first six months as Plaid Cymru leader. Her personal strengths have served her well: she speaks English as her first language and is a relatively young woman who gives a sense of being in touch. Most importantly she is undoubtedly a politician of integrity.

In a harsher political environment however, her mistakes would have cost her dear. She under-performs in the Assembly chamber and mishandled the temporary suspension of former leader Dafydd Elis Thomas in July. Luckily for her these sorts of things are second order issues in Welsh politics.

Honeymoons never last and soon Leanne is going to have to show there is some substance here. Picking on social media initiatives will not do that. Instead she could learn from the SNP by being a populist, centrist, thorn in Labour’s side – especially as some in Welsh Labour are still in thrall to vested interests and pressure groups.

So far, though, she has been frightened to do that, which might be good news for Labour. However, it is not so great for those of us who think Welsh politics needs to end its obsession with the powers and status of the Assembly and finally – 13 years late – have a serious debate about the country’s direction.

I do not doubt Leanne’s commitment to opening up politics to more people is sincere. But the ‘wiki manifesto’ she announced this week is not going to achieve that, nor, I think, will it translate into electoral success for her party.

Plaid Cymru have made this mistake before. Overconfidence in social media was a problem for them in 2011 when their communications team devoted a disproportionate amount of time and effort to complex and ultimately fruitless ventures like PlaidLive. This came at the expense of a proper media strategy and engagement with newspapers and broadcasters. There is a danger that the wiki manifesto could cause a similar problem if, in the run up to the 2016 election, the policy unit has to devote hours to administering this new process when they should be putting together a serious policy platform.

There is no silver bullet to electoral success for Plaid Cymru or any party. New, American-imported campaign initiatives serve as a short-term distraction from more fundamental and difficult challenges that need to be confronted. In Plaid Cymru’s case, this is why, regardless of personalities or policies, a high proportion of the population of Wales simply refuse to listen to them.

A wiki manifesto and the open selection process in Ceredigion will, despite best intentions, succeed only in drawing in the already politically engaged and pressure groups that already have too much influence on the way Plaid, and Wales, is run.

The party would be better spending money on polling and focus groups in eastern parts of Wales to hear what people really think of them there. That would not provide the same media hit but investment in qualitative research will pay dividends in the long term.

Plaid Cymru elected Leanne Wood because she convinced them she was serious about winning and was willing to take real risks to get there. Now she needs to show some mettle by taking on the more unappealing elements in her party and engaging the electorate directly with messages and policies which cut through on the doorstep. If it does not become a distraction, perhaps a wiki manifesto can be part of the answer, but it does not go anywhere near far enough.

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David Taylor was special adviser to Peter Hain as secretary of state for Wales and was the Labour party’s senior adviser on party reform between 2010-2012.

11 Responses to:“After Leanne’s honeymoon”

  1. Jon Jones says:

    “…taking on the more unappealing elements in her party….” Yes but it’s not going to happen is it David? Such is the messianic fervour and objectionable language of the Plaid grass roots stalwart that any effort to court the middle ground in Wales is bound to founder. Plaid could have moved to the vital centre ground had they elected Lord Dafydd El. as leader but not only was he not elected the Plaid membership attempted to destroy his reputation. And how are Plaid to court the media when their membership has viciously attacked the only major news paper in wales whenever they haven’t liked an article that has been printed?

    There is no tolerance within Plaid and therefore they are not ever going to engage with the majority of voters in Wales.

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  2. David Taylor says:

    Jon,

    I broadly share your analysis of the Plaid’s problems. Leanne has the mandate and support to change and modernise the party, though. I think it remains to be seen if she’s up to the challenge. It would be wrong to write her off yet, but she will have to start gripping it within the next 12 months.

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  3. Daniel Thomas says:

    I give Leanne Wood credit for taking on the hopeless task of trying to unseat Labour in Wales.

    The Labour Party’s dominance over Welsh life is total. Their strategy for maintaining this dominance is perfect, it works everytime.

    Expanding the right to entitlements, encouraging government dependency then demonising and smearing anyone who disagrees is a proven winner.

    The problems in Wales all stem from a lack of wealth creation and the adherence to the failed philosophy of socialism. The Welsh economy is broken just like the Greek economy. More is spent than is earned in revenue, mainly on social programmes that enrenches dependency and guarantees loyalty on election day.

    There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Typical MP’s or AM’s are professional politicians with no experience in the real world of the wealth creating sector.

    Leanne Wood has got nothing to lose by giving Wales a new vision of individual liberty and prosperity instead of the grey collective poverty of the Labour Party that has blighted Wales for so long.

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  4. Trefjon says:

    Who on earth thinks that Leanne had a good first six months. She was entangled in an embarrassing oath swearing in some back street pub, did not fulfill her first engagement and has maintained an agenda akin to the unelectable “greens” in England. It serves Labour well to give the impression that she is half competent because it will be far easier to demolish her in 2016. She is taking Plaid away from its grassroots which is overwhelmingly pro-Welsh or anti-Labour and gives the party its seats in the main and this will prove disastrous in the medium term. How on earth she thinks that a vaguely winnable seat exists in SE Wales betrays all logic, and could provide her with an exit strategy from a job to which she is ill suited and politically naive. The question I ask as an erstwhile insider is who on earth is pulling her strings – could it be the Labour party!!

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  5. Daniel Williams says:

    Interesting piece. Though taking lessons about web initiatives from Welsh Labour is a bit like taking lessons on tolerance from Jon Jones.
    Remember this?
    http://labourlist.org/2009/03/aneurin-glyndwr-an-obama-moment-for-welsh-labour/

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  6. Phil Davies says:

    “taking on the more unappealing elements in her party”

    I hope, David, that by “unappealing elements” you actually meant “policy positions that do not currently appeal to a majority of voters” and not, as can be interpreted by what you wrote (and what Jon Jones seems to have understood) “unsavoury or sinister characters and opinions”.

    You can’t possibly have meant the latter could you? For if you did, I’m not sure if that sort of suggestive dissemblance is suitable for this website (publishing opinions that are informed and articulated in the light of evidence and example). I expect it from commentators, but not from the authors.

    I apologise if that was not what was intended but Jon Jones seems to think it was.

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  7. Howell Morgan says:

    There can be no doubt that LW has a very difficult job as PC has to appeal to two distinct constituencies at the same time, i.e a) working class voters in the valley areas/poor estates who have been left behind in virtual de-industrialistation of last 50 years, b) Welsh speaking farming communities/areas whose whole standard of living depends on CAP which is a disgrace and forces food prices to higher levels than needed by economic activity. The One-Wales government bewtween PC/Labour was the biggest contradictory tie up in political terms stince Stalin/Hitler signed the non-aggression pact in 1939. They all in reality hate each other, as Labour knows that any growth in PC will reduce its chances of re-election at Westminster, where power still rests, and thank the Lord for that! Other than for small and very disgruntled section of the Welsh population who wish to see us split from UK and become a virtual soviet republic (Welsh speaking of course) then LW is an irrelevance to our current needs. If PC could turn itself into a modern centre right party which sought to energise people/communities to take more responsibility for individual/collective matters, in comparison to the tired, out-dated policies of labour it might become relevant to more than 10% of the population.

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  8. Jon Jones says:

    And what, may I ask, is wrong with my perfectly reasonable interpretation of “Unappealing elements”? No one can possibly think that Culture and Language zealotry coupled with an endless, ceaseless denigration of all things English and a penchant for vicious personal attacks on anyone who strays from Plaid “core values” are appealing; not to average voters anyway.

    I don’t mind a brief look at just how unelectable current Plaid policies make the party if Daniel and Phil prefer.

    Independence… thrust to the fore in the leadership election amid hysterical predictions that Wales would grasp independence in the wake of Scotland’s sundering of the hated Union. Scotland is increasingly unenthusiastic but in Wales there is no sign that more than 11% of the public have any love for the idea of breaking from the UK. Could this policy, aspiration or whatever you want to call it ever attract the vital majority of voters? Well, here’s a clue… just 63% of the population of Wales identify themselves as Welsh.

    Anti-Monarchism… I seem to recollect that a poll showed that about 60% of Welsh people supported the Monarchy so not a great vote winner to diss the queen.

    Language and culture… the glue that holds Nationalists together, until Leanne became leader. Now what? She’s hardly a Welsh language devotee. More to the point, is the Language any sort of “winner” for Plaid? Well actually Labour have pretty well shot the Welsh language fox it seems to me. What can Plaid offer that Labour haven’t already done?

    Negativity… Plaid does this best of all. You name it, Plaid’s against it. There is nothing less appealing in the long run than endless, tedious, ultra conservative… negativity!

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  9. Tredwyn says:

    Plaid’s one advantage is that it has no loyalty to a London party. Yes, Labour is most people’s party in Wales but they have shown time and again that they will sell Wales down the river if it helps Labour to a majority in the UK. Look at the Barnett formula. They moan now but in 13 years in office they did nothing. Plaid’s obvious role is shop steward and representative of the Welsh interest. Just like the SNP in Scotland. Most Scots don’t want independence but they vote SNP. Most trades unionists in the old days weren’t communists but they voted for communist representatives. You want your bastard to fight their bastard. That’s what Plaid should be doing and it transcends the language divide.

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  10. Phil Davies says:

    Jon Jones – “And what, may I ask, is wrong with my perfectly reasonable interpretation of “Unappealing elements”?

    I think the answer to that question is plain to see in your posting above Jon. I’m not sure you’d get too many objective observers and commentators on this site agreeing that the words “perfectly reasonable” could be associated comfortably with the language and opinions you express in your posting.

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  11. Jon Jones says:

    Ah but Phil, can you find an objective commentator on this site?

    (Report comment)

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