The election of Leanne Wood as Plaid Cymru leader is a real possibility which would cement the party’s position on the left.
She has far more nominations from branches and constituency parties than her rivals and her backers include Plaid heavyweights Dafydd Iwan and Adam Price.
Her election would signal that the party’s faith in socialist solutions in the 21st century goes well beyond a nodding commitment to intellectual theory. Instead, she would be expected to put forward bold proposals for how government, the economy and communities can interact in a new era of uncertainty.
The contrast with Diane Abbott’s bid for the Labour leadership is striking. There was no expectation she would beat either of the Miliband brothers and her presence was seen as a way of ensuring a left-wing perspective was included in party debates.
But bookies are offering identical odds for Ms Wood and former rural affairs minister Elin Jones. The apparent surge in support for Ms Wood shows the party’s membership – up 23% in four months – is not afraid to frighten horses.
Plaid supporters will hope that the election of Ms Wood would help the party win traditional Labour voters in the Valleys. But how will economically and socially conservative Welsh-speakers and supporters of independence react if the party is positioned to the left of Welsh Labour? Will people who admired Ms Jones’ readiness to cull badgers recoil at Ms Wood’s republicanism?
In 1982 a band of Plaid supporters formed the Hydro group to ensure the party’s commitment to self-government for Wales was not diluted by “left-wing ideological dogma”. Now that Plaid is fighting to lead the Welsh Government, will non-socialists conclude there is a need for a nationalist party committed to deregulation and a lessening of Wales’ economic reliance on the public sector?
Just as the SNP, which is led by a former RBS economist, has hoovered up the votes of former Tory supporters, such a group could aggressively court Welsh Conservative backers.
It is just as likely that Tories in Wales will step up efforts to win over right-leaning Plaid supporters.
All parties are coalitions and the goal of self-government has united Plaid members for generations. If today’s explicit focus on outright independence is shared by the grassroots the Welsh nationalist family may continue to share one home.
It is striking how on a personal level she is liked and admired by many well to her right. If Ms Wood wins and can hold her party together while taking votes from both Labour and the Conservatives she will demonstrate political brilliance on a par with Alex Salmond.
A Thursday Column.
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