The result of the three-way contest for the leadership of Plaid Cymru will be announced at the party conference at the end of September. Since I wouldn’t belong to any club that would accept me as a member (©Groucho Marx), I have no vote and can only look on as a concerned supporter. Not for one moment do I delude myself that anything I advocate or any preference I might express will have the slightest bearing on the outcome. This is especially so because, time and time again over the years, I have found myself completely at odds with the random cross-section of ordinary Plaid members I have got to know. Yes, I’m aware the party is a broad church that must garner support from left, right or centre and all walks of Welsh life, but still what never ceases to shock me is, for want of a better word, the conservatism of the average Plaid member. Foolishly or naively, I have taken it as a given starting point when encountering a card-carrying Welsh nationalist that they will a) be in favour of Welsh independence, b) oppose the fundamental tenets and values of the British state, and c) carry their Welsh patriotism into their actions and attitudes in their everyday life. Oh, how silly of me to expect such rationality, integrity and consistency! But don’t worry, I’ve learned the barely-digestible lesson the hard way: expect absolutely nothing – Plaid Cymru members are, after all, only human.
I am spoiled for examples to illustrate what I mean. I could go on about those many Plaid members who support the viciously Cymruphobic/Anglophiliac projects of, say, Cardiff City FC, Swansea City FC and Glamorgan CCC, etc. But I won’t – I’ve got enough enemies as it is! Instead, I will touch on a more topical matter: the arrest in July and subsequent resignation of Simon Thomas AM. Nobody knows anything concrete until the police conclude their investigation and decide whether to bring charges or not. However, we do know two things: firstly, he was arrested on suspicion of “possessing indecent images”; and secondly, his replacement as AM is Helen Mary Jones, next in line on Plaid’s Mid & West Wales regional list. Both facts would get me tearing my hair out if I had any.
I liked Simon Thomas. He was a serious, well-informed, impressive big hitter for Plaid in the Senedd. And yet, this highly intelligent, sophisticated man in his mid-50s, married with two children, presumably extremely busy as an AM let alone as someone on the frontline of Wales’ fight for freedom, somehow found the time and the motivation to allegedly dabble where he must have known it was extremely inadvisable to go. Why? Why? Please someone, explain why. I just don’t get it. Oh, wait a minute, the penny’s dropped again: Plaid Cymru activists are nothing special, they’re only human.
Helen Mary Jones is a very experienced former Plaid deputy leader who was an AM from 1999 to 2011. And that’s about all that can be said in her favour. Exchanging Simon Thomas for her is a very bad deal. I well remember wincing at her hopeless performance on Question Time some years back when she was deputy leader. The ghastly BBC programme was making a rare appearance in Wales and deigned to have an even rarer Plaid spokesperson on the panel. She was terrible, lacking the brains, the spark or even the basic Welsh perspective to score a single telling point against a motley collection of inadequate, uninformed, thick-Brit fellow panellists. I don’t think she mentioned the word “Wales” once. I have another memory of her, generated by a blog post I wrote four years ago about the catastrophic reduction in the UK’s bird population (https://tinyurl.com/yd7dwetv). Picking up on a link, she tweeted that I was talking rubbish because her garden was full of birds. There’s a scientifically proven, statistically verified avian mass extinction event going on but Helen Mary’s delightful Pontcanna garden is as yet unaffected so all’s well with the world. What? Huh? Please someone, inform her she isn’t the planet. I can’t bear it. Oh, I’ve just realised: Plaid Cymru representatives are fallible, they’re only human.
Nope, human inadequacy knows no party political boundaries. And, with this in mind, I come to the three people vying for the Plaid leadership: incumbent Leanne Wood and challengers Rhun ap Iorwerth and Adam Price. The first thing to say is that no other party in the Senedd could get close to finding three AMs of such high calibre: we’ve only got to look at the Labour dross jostling to replace Carwyn Jones or the recent Tory and UKIP leadership contests that necessitated scraping the dregs from the bottom of the barrel in order to rustle up candidates. Plaid, of course, are head and shoulders above the other parties on every measure – simply because they are the only Welsh party in a desert of brainless British brown-nosers, imbeciles and mediocrities.
I was delighted when Leanne Wood became leader in 2012. Plaid’s first woman leader, first valleys leader, first working class leader and first non Welsh-speaking leader was a feisty socialist who understood that the very idea of Welsh independence was profoundly radical, predicated as it is on the revolutionary premise that the United Kingdom should be abolished. She knew that you can’t simultaneously be a Welsh republican and pro-British. She had the backbone to call the Queen “Mrs Windsor” in the Senedd, resulting in the honour of being the first to be chucked out of the siambr by the then presiding officer, the fawning, creepy-crawly, ermine-wrapped arch-royalist and turncoat Dafydd Elis-Thomas. She was the breath of fresh air Plaid needed after the stagnant years under Dafydd Wigley and Ieuan Wyn Jones.
And she has delivered in many ways: the highest profile leader Plaid has ever had, spectacularly winning the first-past-the-post Rhondda seat from Labour at the 2016 election, putting Welsh independence on the agenda after decades when it was never mentioned, unwaveringly supporting Scottish independence and EU membership through the set-backs and bad times, exposing corruption and incompetence in the Wales Office and consistently attacking the rightwing agendas of both the London Tory government and the Cardiff Labour government. If I have criticisms it would be firstly that she seems to have lost some of that fiery passion of old and drifted into the anodyne inoffensiveness that tends to infect anyone who spends time in the Senedd. Of course they’ve got to her – “they” being the faceless apparatchiks and agents of the British state who still run Wales. Should she win the leadership ballot, this is the next personal challenge she must overcome: to not let the bastards grind her down. And secondly, her handling of the Neil McEvoy affair left a lot to be desired. Plaid needs people like Neil, and Leanne was too easily pushed down the identity politics cul-de-sac by the whingeing, special pleading of Labour party battle-axes who behave like spoilt princesses if they don’t get the sexist, genderist, reactionary ‘respect’ they feel they’re entitled to. Leanne needs to reinstate Neil McEvoy promptly and reject the hypocritical posturing of these duplicitous divas.
Adam Price is a great guy and I would be delighted if either he or Leanne won. Anybody who has heard Adam speak or read any of his writings will know of his power, his intellect, his persuasiveness and his sheer charisma. He can make mincemeat of the British nationalist trash whether in the Senedd, on the campaign trail, at public meetings or on rigged set-piece TV programmes like Question Time and he’s one of the few people alive who can convert hitherto anti-Plaid bigots into pro-Plaid enthusiasts with the majestic lucidity and logic of his arguments. The Tories and Labour will be down on bended knee praying he does not win, which makes me slightly favour him.
I wouldn’t really object if Rhun ap Iorwerth won either. He has many fine qualities. It’s just that, of the three, he is the most mainstream, most conventional, most centrist and has the most tarnished CV: before becoming an AM he worked for the disgustingly partisan and anti-Welsh British Broadcasting Corporation. That’s a stain that will take some shifting.
After the result is declared, the fundamental problem for Plaid Cymru will remain the same. There is no Welsh media. All we have is the British media which almost entirely ignores Wales while insidiously Britifying the population from cradle to grave. To appreciate the damage one only has to imagine how Plaid would fare if the position were reversed and Wales was swamped with pro-independence, anti-British newspapers, broadcasters and websites: we would be free in no time. In the circumstances Plaid actually does quite well to get 15% support. There is an urgent need for this gross imbalance to be reversed and this glaring absence in Welsh national life to be filled. That, incidentally, is why I and a few others launched the online newspaper Daily Wales a few years ago. It was going quite well too, building a large readership and putting the shits up the British nationalist establishment…and then, surprise, surprise, it got hacked out of existence by cyber-vandals. I wonder who was responsible? No prizes for answering that question. Whatever happens, reaching out and getting through to the 50% of Wales actually unaware of Plaid Cymru’s existence must be the top priority in the years ahead.