Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead…

Rob Williams
Assembly reflection 300x231 Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead...

The time for reflection is over. The Plaid leadership race is under way (Photograph by Duncan Higgitt).

A slightly tipsy and not altogether sensible Plaid Cymru activist once spent a long evening waxing lyrical to me about the many and various qualities of their prodigal leader in absentia – Adam Price. I was told, not entirely seriously,

‘He’s inspirational. He’s like a Welsh Obama.’

Of course said activist had his tongue firmly fixed in his cheek, but the conversation was indicative of the long shadow the erstwhile MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr had cast over the left leaning caucus of the party.

This long shadow was often and justifiably bemoaned by those who wished Plaid Cymru would stop looking some 3,000 miles west of Cardiff for an answer to the question of who should lead the party.

After all, isn’t there enough talent on the Welsh side of the pond?

As the Plaid leadership campaign gets underway in earnest the answer to that question seems to be a resounding yes. Four candidates, all capable, all experienced and all look like potential leaders.

Leanne Wood and Elin Jones in particular have set out their visions for the party concisely, clearly and (perhaps most importantly) boldly.

The contest is taking place after a febrile summer of discontent for the party, during which much reflection, hand-wringing, navel gazing and blaming was done. It wasn’t a good year for the party of Wales. Anyone who says otherwise wasn’t paying attention. But 2012 is already looking brighter.

The big debates that are taking place speak to the commitment of the party to really engage with the problems it faces. The issue of independence is back at the forefront of Plaid Cymru discussions (much to the delight of those who wonder what Plaid is for – if not for that). The left of the party is making its voice heard loud and clear. And it is two women, in particular, who are setting the agenda. Leanne Wood and Elin Jones have both made the early impact. Elin Jones, widely considered favourite for the job, is a highly competent and experienced politician with ideas aplenty and comprehensive knowledge of rural communities and their economies.

And her main challenger at the moment, Leanne Wood, has been a revelation. Building on the success of her Greenprint for the valleys, (a genuinely interesting attempt at envisaging a way of regenerating the devastated coalfield communities of South Wales), Wood has set about developing a complex and detailed vision, not just for Plaid Cymru, but for Wales as a whole.

An outspoken socialist, republican and environmentalist she was often discussed as being on the fringes of the party. Now, however, firmly inside the tent, she’s still throwing rocks – but is perhaps aiming them a little more carefully. The other equally competent and experienced candidates currently have little to combat these bold visions. They look sadly tame by comparison.

As it stands it seems likely that either Elin Jones or Leanne Wood could be leading Plaid Cymru in 2012. But as one of the members of the younger generation of women activists, Assembly Member Bethan Jenkins put it,

‘Plaid is fortunate to have been guided by a series of strong female figures down the years, stretching back to Noelle Davies in the 1930s. The advent of the Assembly has given women within Plaid a greater platform, too. We will see if this bears fruit when the leadership election is decided in a couple of months’ time.’

Indeed we will. One thing is for certain, for now at least Mr Price can put his feet up in a Harvard cloister. And turn his phone off.

Leadership candidates assessed…

ElinJones1 Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead...

The Favourite

Elin Jones

Currently: AM for Ceredigion

In a nutshell: Former agriculture minister. Safe pair of hands. Broad party appeal.

What’s her story?

Raised on a farm in Llanwnnen near Lampeter she has a particular interest in rural communities. She studied rural economics at Aberystwyth University and has been Plaid Cymru’s rural affairs and economic development spokesperson and was Minister for Rural Affairs in the ‘One Wales’ government. She was also the party’s national chair between 2000 and 2002.

What will happen if she wins?

More likely to be a process of evolution than revolution. Elin Jones bridges the gap between the older more conservative rural sections of the party and the new left leaning youth. Has made strong statements on independence and the Welsh economy. Her leadership could bring the party some much needed stablility.

She says: ‘Ultimately our ambition is to make Wales a successful independent nation.’

They say: ‘She showed in government that she was willing to cut through bureaucracy and makes things happen. That’s exactly what we need as party leader.’ – Llyr Huws Gruffydd, North Wales Region

What are her chances?


The bookies’ favourite, and seems to draw support from all sections of the party. Barring any slip-ups (and it is early days yet) looks likely to be the next Plaid leader. But don’t bet the farm just yet.


Dafyddelisthomas Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead...

The Party Grandee

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas

Currently: AM for Dwyfor Meirionydd

In a nutshell:  Former party leader. Confusing views on independence.

What’s his story?

Baron Elis-Thomas, of Nant Conwy in the County of Gwynedd was Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd from 1974 to 1983 and Meirionnydd Nant Conwy from 1983 to 1992. He was nominated to the Lords in 1992. He spent 12 years as presiding officer of the Welsh assembly. He has been Dwyfor Meirionnydd AM since 1999.

A firm fixture in the Plaid furnishings.

What will happen if he wins?

Not likely to change the current direction of the party economically or in terms of independence.  Possibly the most divisive of the candidates. Unlikely to appeal to the younger generation, those arguing for independence or the left.

He says: ‘Constitutional independence is a mirage. It’s virtual politics, it’s not real politics.’


‘I voted enthusiastically for the motion [in favour of independence in Europe] at the Llandudno conference, and so far as I am concerned David Cameron has proved that we must have it.’

They say? ‘We are confident that Plaid can be a real force to strengthen Welsh democracy with his leadership.’ - Lis Puw (Plaid Cymru constituency chair in Dwyfor Meirionnydd)

What are his chances?


Commands respect from the party in general (despite some well publicised criticism over his comments on independence). Difficult to see how Plaid could move forward with him at the helm. But he could have enough supporters to get him over the line.


SimonThomas Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead...

The Policy Wonk

Simon Thomas

Currently: AM for Mid and West Wales

In a nutshell: Policy know-how. Popular party insider. The quiet one – so far.

What’s his story?

Former MP for Ceredigion during 2000 and 2005. Lost his seat by just 219 votes.  Was also Plaid’s Director of Policy and Research. Elected in 2011 as AM for Mid and West Wales.

What will happen if he wins?

Wants to prepare the party for ‘the long haul back to government’ and has promised ‘meaningful consultation’ with party members. Unlikely to do anything radical to change the current party direction. Cautious approach over independence would be likely to be divisive.

He says: ‘We need to make sure the next leader is somebody who can work with a whole range of opinions and differences within the party and bring people together.’

They say: ‘He’s an experienced policy wonk with his hands on many of the party levers for some time now.’ – Matt Withers (WalesOnline)

What are his chances?

Slim (at present).

Campaign has been slow to get off the mark – will need a massive push if he’s to be in contention.


Leanne Plaid Cymru: May the best woman lead...

The Darling of the Left

Leanne Wood

Currently: AM for South Wales Central

In a nutshell: Socialist. Nationalist. Republican. Not afraid to go off message.

What’s her story?

A former probation officer and women’s support worker Leanne Wood is an outspoken, campaigning politician. Often on the fringes of the party she is popular in particular with the left and those keen to push an independent Wales agenda. She was elected to the National Assembly in 2003 for the South Wales central region.

What will happen if she wins?

She would first and foremost put Welsh independence firmly back on the Plaid agenda. Saying she wants to lead the party in winning new ground for ‘real independence.’ Her economic vision has a decentralised economy at its heart. As a socialist and a republican it’s likely she would lead the party away from the centre and to the left.

She says: ‘We should rule out a coalition with the Tories, whose leader in Wales opposes stronger devolution, and also recognise that we must isolate those in Labour who stand in the way of further devolution.’

They say: ‘We need a woman of the people to lead us. Leanne is that woman.’ – Lindsay Whittle (AM South Wales East)

What are her chances?

One to watch.

Campaign so far has seen Ms Wood go from ‘rank outsider’ to ‘one to watch’. Her clear setting out of her vision for the party and for Wales in a series of impressive articles (with shades of – Adam Price – who yesterday endorsed her) has transformed her position in the contest. Some strong (although largely expected) endorsements are also promising.

Could just nick it if she reaches out beyond her safe base of support.

Rob Williams can be contacted at

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  • Sarah

    Interesting summary of the four Plaid candidates. If I was eligible to vote in Wales, I would, of course, vote Green.  And for the other woman currently leading the way for women in politics Welsh-style (i.e. for Pippa Bartolotti).  However, Leanne Wood would certainly come a very close second. Not least because I feel she could bring a fresh lefty, environmentalist influence to bear on the political landscape in the UK overall.  Including a real understanding of issues that impact on women. Domestic abuse being one of them. Exciting times for women in Cardiff then, and to coin a phrase ‘May the best woman lead!’. Absolutely.

  • Rob Williams

    Thanks Sarah. Leanne’s environmental credentials are pretty strong. The Greenprint For The Valleys is a really interesting proposal regarding the regeneration of deprived areas and is worth a look. Interesting stuff.

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