One thing that struck me while watching coverage of Plaid Cymru’s conference in Llandudno was the continual references to London: ‘the London parties’, ‘London politics’, ‘the London parliament’, the other parties’ ‘London masters’ and seemingly infinite variations thereof.
These are phrases that are heard frequently in Plaid Cymru, but until now have been reserved for the untamed attack dogs within the party – the Leanne Woods and Bethan Jenkinses of this world. Now however, they seem to have been adopted by the great and the good: Ieuan Wyn Jones’ keynote speech on Friday made constant mention of the above phrases.
But why London? What exactly does that mean? We are all well aware of the damning terms for the cliquey, distant, closed-off politics of the Houses of Parliament: the ‘Westminster bubble’ and ‘Westminster village’ are used frequently in political speeches to capture the sense of isolation from our decision makers that people often feel. But if Plaid was talking about the insular world of SW1, they would make use of the accepted phrases I’m sure.
No, Plaid’s London is a reference to the Imperial capital. Plaid is, lest we forget, talking about a permanent severance from this London. This is how it is distinguished from the other three parties, though you’ll rarely catch them saying it in public.
Plaid is, you see, the only truly Welsh party. The others are metropolitan-based, exclusive private members’ clubs with patronising outreach programmes in the provinces – of which (for the purposes of Plaid’s self-justification) Wales is one. The other three parties are at heart, Victorian imperialists setting our bounds ‘wider still and wider’, our presence in Wales is to make our glorious sovereign mightier yet. The devolution we espouse is merely a concession to pacify the natives. Or at least this is what Plaid would have us believe.
It highlights a level of ignorance, an unnaturally simplified, flimsy, world construction that is only strengthened by the addition of the age old, reassuringly sturdy, supporting beams of prejudice. Arbitrary distinctions, false differences, enhanced distance: these are all the eternal features of the nationalist project. The basic separation of people into the categories ‘us’ and ‘them’ makes me uncomfortable, but that is Plaid’s wont, and it is arguably the wont of all nationalists at all points in history. In any case it is, principally, why I’m not a nationalist.
What is interesting is that this apparent official party acceptance of the us/them philosophy jars somewhat with the party’s attempted positioning as a party for ‘everyone no matter what language they speak or where they live.’ This was a fairly constant mantra throughout the conference: ‘We are moving on’, they seemed to say, ‘No longer are we just for Welsh speakers; no longer are we just for the West and North. We have ditched our insular past, and are reaching out to a new audience.’
Funny then that this anti-London posturing is only likely to appeal to the traditional party stalwarts. This separation of Wales from ‘London’ simply doesn’t mean anything to ordinary people. London is not a place to be afraid of; it is not a place to abandon, ignore or otherwise distance ourselves from. The only time non-Plaid voters encounter the imperial London of Plaid’s obsessions is in history books. For anyone outside the traditional Plaid membership base, the London-Wales distinction is a scenario that doesn’t exist, and an end to this ‘distinction’ is a notion not worth considering.
Plaid should really no longer be in a position to complain about the way Wales is governed. Many things are controlled in Cardiff Bay, many are still controlled in Westminster. But there are mechanisms to change this, and Plaid has its hands on the levers. A referendum on further powers by 2011: that was their promise. You’re running out of time, Plaid, if you have any hope of delivering on that.
Look at the record of their Ministers in the Assembly: The only new power the party has secured for Wales is over a small aspect of the red meat industry. The party has singularly failed on the Welsh language and affordable housing. And Ieuan Wyn Jones, as the Minister in charge of the economy, has made no bids for powers in his area of responsibility whatsoever – and this during the worst recession for a generation (or a century, depending on your sources).
So wake up Plaid. Your party is no longer an oppressed minority. You are in government. You are also the second largest party in the Assembly, and had your chance of being the largest party in a coalition with your own First Minister.
Stop whimpering that the big boys are going to hurt you, leave the pubescent insecurities aside, and get on with achieving something for the people of Wales.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of Jeremy Townsend, who is an ordinary, non-elected, member of the public – and do not reflect the position of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
(This is, after all, a blog – not a motion to party conference.)