Saturday, 18 February 2012

Hustings

Cneifiwr ventured over to Llandybie last night for Plaid Cymru's leadership hustings to see the three leadership contenders set out their stalls and answer questions from the members. So here for all of you who didn't make it is a glimpse of democracy in action.

The hall was pretty full; at a guess, about 100 or so people had turned out. The majority were some way past their fiftieth birthday celebrations, although the lack of younger people may have had something to do with the annual conference of the party's youth wing, Cymru X, being held in Carmarthen the next day.

While we were waiting for proceedings to get underway, there was lively discussion around the hall. Old acquaintances were gossiping and chatting away, and just behind me a passionate discussion about city bonuses and insider trading was in full flow in Welsh.

Helen Mary Jones, who was chairing the evening's proceedings, eventually led the three contenders on to the stage: Elin Jones, Leanne Wood and Dafydd Ellis Thomas. DET looked as though he had come from a House of Lords cheese and wine in his smart, green tweed and sensible brogues. Leanne was wearing an attractive black number with a thin red belt accentuating her slim figure; Elin, as usual, looked as though she had been kitted out at a bring-and-buy sale in Dihewyd.

Elin it was who kicked off with a 10 minute speech. Like the woman herself, it was a strong, solid performance delivered first in good and polished Welsh with a switch to English roughly half-way through.

Leanne got off to a flying start with a rousing and passionate speech about her background and beliefs, interspersed with competent chunks of Welsh, but after the initial raw emotion and fireworks, the speech somehow flattened off towards the end.

DET was, without a doubt, the most interesting performer. While the others spoke, he sat slumped and pale; an old man alongside two much younger women. And then, almost as though a switch had been flicked, he rose and came to life. The eyes twinkled, the smile captivated, and the old boy performed an eloquent and witty turn.

Of course, DET has been stomping the boards longer than either Elin or Leanne can remember, and in his performance there are echoes of old-school orators from the distant past. The hand gestures, the ability to turn on a sixpence from humour to a burst of passionate anger and back again. The ghost of David Lloyd George made a brief appearance.

Why, at the age of 65, DET is in the race at all remains a mystery. In reality, he could not expect to lead the party beyond the next Assembly elections. And yet the contrast between the grand old man and the two rather earnest younger women has definitely brought something to the contest. It would be a lot duller without him.

Cneifiwr, along with most interested people who had up to now only read accounts of the leadership contest, went along having decided to back Leanne, but Elin Jones emerged as a solid and experienced candidate. She has not always had a good press, and just like DET, there are a few noisy skeletons rattling around in the closet (the badger cull, for example), but she was honest enough to tackle this and other perceptions head-on. "I am not a safe pair of hands", she declared, underlining her radical stance on many issues. Unfortunately for Elin, Peter Hughes Griffiths, the Plaid leader on Carmarthenshire County Council, had described her as just that in his endorsement a few days earlier.

Then there is her background; a Welsh-speaking farmer's daughter from Ceredigion. Sadly, that has to be her biggest weakness. Plaid voters in Ceredigion will still vote Plaid if Leanne is elected, but would Labour voters in the Valleys flock to Elin?

For the most part, the questions from the floor were nothing to get too excited about, but on two points the debate briefly caught fire. First was the thorny issue of energy policy. This is one of those few areas in which there is no hiding place, even for the most slippery of politicians. All three had to nail their colours to the mast, and no matter what those colours are, they are bound to upset someone.

Second was the place of Plaid in the political spectrum. DET argued that Plaid had to maintain a broad appeal and be capable of attracting disenchanted Tories, such as Lisa Francis, as well as disgruntled Labour voters.

Leanne, on the other hand, wants to take the fight into Labour's heartlands and to forge much stronger links with the unions. Elin felt that efforts to persuade the unions affiliated to the Labour Party to break away were doomed.

And so the evening drew to a close. All three candidates have been on the road for weeks now, and the tiredness was showing. Leanne was at a disadvantage because of the language; she cannot switch effortlessly from one to the other, and the peculiar circumstances of a Plaid hustings with a strongly Welsh-speaking audience meant that it was going to be difficult for her to shine. Real life is not like that.

On balance, and for what it's worth, it is still Leanne for me. Ymlaen.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the subject of hustings I would like to make the following comments.

I would not classify myself as a natural PC voter - I have always voted Labour in fact - but recent events in Carmarthenshire have made me think again.

What is the point in voting Labour at the next election when all that happens is that the labour councillors prop up an "independant" administration which seems conservative at heart.

It is the PC group on the council that have provided decent opposition and they deserve to form the administration after the elections in May.

Jac o' the North said...

The Orange Man has warned us against "Closet Tories" who pose as 'Independents'. He seems totally unaware of the situation in Carmarthensire.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-17085330

The BBC has saved him further emarrassment by removing the item.

Jac o' the North said...

Sorry, the BBC hasn't removed it, they've rewritten it - obviously at Labour's request - so that the reference to "closet Tories" that originally headlined the item is now pushed to the bottom.

Cneifiwr said...

Here's the original version, I think:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-17085330

I'm not sure there is any political editing going on here. When they are covering an event like this which runs for many hours, they tend to add to stories and produce multiple versions for different services.

What did strike me as very odd, though, was that ITV's political pundit tweeted that a Plaid source had told him Labour was in coalition with the Independents in Carmarthenshire.

Next he'll be telling us that Carwyn Jones is tipped by sources to become First Minister.