Wednesday 11 May 2016

What is Leanne Wood Playing At?

Plaid Cymru. They're a nice party, aren't they? Leanne Wood's a good lefty sort who found a niche for herself in British politics as Labour's external leftwing conscience, especially in the days of Blair and Brown. More radical than either Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, a lot of Labour folks had a soft spot for her even when the aforementioned would have many of the same spitting feathers. And as a party, Plaid weren't that threatening. We compete with them here and there, but there was and remains little sense that they're about to do an SNP and give Labour a routing. Even after they took the Rhondda. Well, today will go down in political history that the warm indulgence conferred upon them by Leanne's many admirers came to an end. Left wingers who took Plaid's promises at face value and gave them a punt because Carwyn Jones's Welsh Labour wasn't politically virtuous enough are set to repent.

In what was to be a formality this afternoon to swear in the First Minister, Carwyn put himself forward to lead a minority Labour government. But the chamber had a bit of a surprise. He found that Plaid had hatched a deal with UKIP and the Tories to oppose the conferment. The result was a tie, 29 votes for Carwyn, and 29 votes for Leanne. That's right, the "socialist" leader of Plaid Cymru came within an inch of taking power at the head of a green/blue/purple coalition. Let that sink in for a moment. An arrangement with the Tories, who Leanne has repeatedly (and rightly) criticised for their attacks on our people, and their indifferent dithering over Port Talbot. And an association with UKIP, who previously Plaid had denounced as a party "based on division and the scapegoating of vulnerable people", and whose leader was attacked as "the voice of the far right". And yet, here Leanne is, breaking bread with Welsh UKIP leader Neil Hamilton (Neil Hamilton!), Mark Reckless, and five other purple people bleaters. We all know about the lion lying with the lamb, but Plaid blocking with the most vociferous opponents of anything faintly whiffing of progressive politics?

Let's give PC the chance to explain themselves. According to the BBC, Plaid maintain that this afternoon's shenanigans are all Labour's fault (of course). Because the majority of the Welsh electorate didn't vote for Labour, then it's rather presumptive of the party to try and govern alone. It should have reached out to others in the chamber (i.e. them) to reach some accommodation instead of rushing ahead with the re-election of First Minister. There is a point here. After all, coming to an understanding with Plaid wouldn't be the first time Labour have struck a deal with them. Then again, Labour could (and should) counter that there are pressing problems, not least with steel, which require decisive leadership seeing as the UK government is refusing to provide any. And so we have deadlock. 30 for Plaid's coalition of the unhinged, and 30 for Labour and the single LibDem, Kirsty Williams (in a rare principled move for them, the yellow party refuse to treat with UKIP). And if this situation persists into the beginning of June, the Assembly will be dissolved and a fresh round of elections called.

Plaid's behaviour might seem bewildering, but it isn't really. It's a political party like any other, and all parties have the propensity to maximise opportunities for office. It's rare, I'm afraid to say, for principles to prove an obstacle. The LibDems here are a rare instance. Labour isn't supposed to cut deals with Tories, but that has occasionally happened in some open (and not-so-open) coalitions in various local authorities. The PLP also collaborates with backbench Tories over matters of mutual interest. There are, however, limits. Labour would never deal with UKIP, and studiously avoids high profile associations with Conservatives. That particular lesson has finally been learned thanks to Scotland.

The second, however, goes right to the heard of Plaid's political DNA. It is a nationalist party whose raison d'etre is an independent Wales. It might not talk about it much as the eventuality is as likely as a hyperbole-free public debate about Israel, but it's there. That's the party's axis in the same way class is for Labour and the Tories - as much as some in each would pretend (and prefer) it was otherwise. All nationalist movements and parties have their own lefts and rights, and presently the social democratic wing in Plaid (and the SNP) have their respective organisations locked down. The material roots of this situation lie in positioning themselves over a long period of opposition against Labour, and traction was achieved when colourless (neoliberal) managerialism ruled the Blairist/Brownite roost and continued under the blessed Ed. But ultimately, this is always and everywhere subordinate to the aim of national independence. Sometimes, at least theoretically, a national separatist project can serve progressive politics - especially where the denial of national rights is sowing division and poisoning the body politic. And yet, history has always shown that when it comes to the crunch, even when independence is on the side of right, class politics is subordinated to national politics with greater or lesser degrees of violence. While no one's seriously suggesting a bloody resolution to this in Plaid, the different basis of the party always puts its commitment to social democratic politics into question, as well as its availability to make deals with the most backward and dangerous forces in Britain.

What game is Leanne Wood and Plaid playing at? Nationalist politics.


jim mclean said...

This is an excellent piece, I would have mentioned Neil Hamilton though. One point, in Wales and in Scotland only Labour have a class based platform.

mat said...

Labour have worked with UKIP before

Thabo Miller said...

I don't know why people are believing Neil Hamilton (Neil Hamilton!) when he claims that Plaid cooked up a deal with them. Is it not more likely that Plaid nominated their leader to be first minister (as you might expect them to do), and the Tories and UKIP saw an opportunity to vote against Labour? You might argue that Plaid were foolish to give the right this opportunity to embarrass Labour, but (as you say) Plaid are just a centre left political party, why should they care about the embarrassment caused to another party by Plaid trying to maximise their influence?

Walsie said...


This will be a big albatross around PC's neck. Given that the Welsh local press are playing up the fact that Neil Hamilton actually lives in the non-mining village of Salisbury, Wiltshire, and amongst their AM number is the odious Garth Bennett who considers (a bit pre Pastuer)disease in South Wales to emanate from immigrants in our midst, it is a shocking move. problem is, as with the anti-EU Lexit brigade, there will still be people on the left who will continue to cuddle up to them ................

Phil said...

Labour would never deal with UKIP

Except in Norfolk.

Anonymous said...

1. Plaid did not engage in talks with Ukip or the Tories
2. Plaid have every right to nominate their own candidate for FM given that Labour failed to win a majority (and Labour lost 8% support at this election- a pretty terrible performance). Plaid do not control who votes for their candidate.
3. The problem stems from Labour believing that they have a God-given right to rule, that all others should simply bow down before them, rather than engaging in meaningful talks with Plaid. Plaid asked the vote for FM to be delayed to allow for such talks to take place, Labour refused.
4. Today,it emerges that it is Labour who *are* talking to Ukip

Boffy said...

All nationalist parties are ultimately conservative, however much they dress up the conservatism with radical verbiage. Plaid would only be following the SNP in doing deals with Tories in order to govern.

To be honest, I'd be tempted as Welsh Labour to hope that Plaid do get to stitch up a deal to form the government. Labour will have enough votes to vote anything really bad down, whilst allowing Plaid to take the blame for for everything, and their alliance with the Tories and UKIP.

It will hopefully be the death knell for Plaid, just as the Liberal-Tory government euthanized the Liberals. That will then clear the decks of these conservative sham radical outfits.

Igor Belanov said...

"What game is Leanne Wood and Plaid playing at? Nationalist politics."

I think you might be better off replacing the 'Nationalist' here with 'Party'. Nationalist parties are often more opportunistic than most, but Plaid Cymru generally offer more genuine concern for cultural identity and the socio-economic interests of their constituency.

This is really a storm in a teacup. Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Tories all want to remind the Welsh electorate that Labour lost votes at the election and make the accession of Carwyn Jones to the First Ministership less of a formality. Labour would do the same in their position- its all just daft points scoring and Labour would do best not to get too high and mighty about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading things very differently. I respect the intellect here but Leanne made no deal with Tories or UKIP. They were offered nothing.

She nominated for First Minister to increase Plaid's bargaining in a hung parliament.

Labour absolutely should have sought a deal with Plaid. They are now belatedly reaching out. The vote worked because it was a tactic to make Labour come to the table.

My analysis is that alot of Labour supporters want reasons to dislike Leanne more. She is an issue for them, especially in Wales, as she complicates the Tory vs Labour binary.

Anonymous said...

"And yet, here Leanne is, breaking bread with Welsh UKIP leader Neil Hamilton (Neil Hamilton!), Mark Reckless, and five other purple people bleaters."

That's not right. She has not broken bread with them or sought any support or deal from them.

Labour, as we speak, are at the negotiating table with Plaid. A deal with Labour will boost Plaid's standing.

Governing with UKIP and Tory external support is not an option for Plaid so admittedly, the party and its supporters should concede that a non-Labour government isn't possible. They've positioned themselves as a tough and less predictable partner to Labour.

Strategist said...

I think Phil you've called this wrong here and Boffy has just lost the plot.

Anonymous sounds far more plausible at (3) above, Labour don't have the votes but their playbook says always avoid sharing power as the first tactic. My guess is that they will have deliberately behaved very arrogantly to Leanne Wood to push her into a corner, but their bluff has now been called and they should now go back and negotiate properly with her.

Leanne Wood stood and won in the Rhondda. Good on her, she is unequivocal good news for that community; they saw that and she got the votes. Labour don't own that place and if they gave a damn about a bright and imaginative future for the Rhondda and many places like it they'd do a deal with Leanne Wood and give her a ministry to run and try some imaginative new policies in.

But it seems that as usual they are more interested in tribal posturing and protecting their turf for their own insiders. Sad but true, and it is why Labour have been deserted by their own natural supporters across Scotland.

Walsie said...

My guess was right. There is a current piece in Left Futures praising her at the expense of Welsh Labour - and which seems to be blissfully unaware of UKIP

MikeB said...

Sadly, Phil, you have misunderstood the dynamics of Welsh politics. As someone who lives and works there (in fact in Blaenau Gwent, where Labour had one of its worst declines), I would say that the main factors were a) the longstanding perception that Labour - especially in the Valleys - is the political Establishment, one that has done little to ameliorate austerity b) an reflection of the UK-wide legitimisation of anti-immigrant and racist feeling that is part of the anti-EU campaigns.

The Valleys remain - potentially, at least - leftist and uninterested in Welsh nationalism. Leanne Wood's popularity rests on understanding this - her election material stressed the theme that she is "one of us".

Oh, and you should withdraw your invented allegation that "Plaid hatched a deal with UKIP and the Tories".

Anonymous said...

One feature of Welsh politics that Phil doesn't get is the rock bottom state of relations between Labour and Plaid. The behaviour of some Labour politicians towards Plaid is utterly vitriolic, and the response of Plaid supporters (whether authorised or not) is fairly horrible and crude.