When you hear the words ‘Plaid Cymru’ what is the first thing you think of? For me the answer is blaringly obvious: the leader I occasionally see on TV debates – Leanne Wood. And on the 20th-21st of October during Plaid Cymru’s autumn party conference Leanne Wood was once more the focal point of the party.
The Plaid Cymru Conference
Wood has been leader of Plaid for five years now and recently there has been talk of shaking up the party with one senior member of Plaid (Rhun ap Iorwerth) openly saying they’d be prepared to run for her role should she step down, and rumours that suspended AM Neil McEvoy was planning to run after disappointing results in June’s snap election with PC’s vote slipping by 1.7%. These rumours combined with requests from Plaid Cymru’s President to work with the Tories in Westminster in return for less contentious issues – something Wood has repeatedly ruled out – have put a lot of pressure on the leader.
The autumn party conference was seen by many as a chance to reassert her control, like the situation at the Conservative party conference. However, Mrs Wood’s attempt to bring her party into line was much more successful than Mrs May’s. She delivered a strong speech setting out many new policy objectives and Plaid’s willingness to practically achieve them which also focussed on her own strengths as leader of the party. This, combined with messages of support from McEvoy and Iorweth at fringe meetings, reaffirmed her strength as party leader. Wood thusly used the occasion to announce she would lead the party into the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections.
Wood set out three major new policies which Plaid would work towards in manifestos and within parliaments. The first is rail electrification in Wales, something recently overlooked by the Conservative government which Plaid would finance with government bonds. The second is working with unions to retrain and re-educate up to 29,000 Welsh workers whose jobs are threatened by machinery – a very handy non-partisan policy that they may be able to get through the labour-controlled Welsh Assembly to prove their legitimacy to potential voters.
The final major policy Wood pushed at the conference was also the most controversial: reaffirming the party’s position on Brexit. Wood said: “If, in the worst possible scenario, we leave the European Union without a deal, people must have the opportunity to reject that disastrous outcome, either through a public vote, or through parliamentary democracy.” This puts Plaid firmly on the remain side of current major UK parties concerning Brexit. Many consider this a strange and even unwise decision considering Plaid Cymru is a nationalist party and the nation they are representing voted highly in favour of leaving the EU.
The Plaid Cymru conference also hosted several speakers from the parties quickly developing youth wing Plaid Ifanc. They passed a motion into Plaid policy to introduce LGBT+ inclusive education in schools. Plaid Ifanc was founded as CymruX in 2005 and developed a set of key principles including Welsh independence and republicanism in 2015. More information can be found at www.plaidifanc.org
Having consolidated her leadership after the election, Leanne Wood now must prove to her country that she is capable of governance by forming compromises in the Welsh Assembly and potentially in Westminster. Whether she can do this whilst holding opposing views to the country’s citizens is a question yet to be answered.
By George Weir