The Tories may well be ahead of Labour in the latest opinion polls, but against two smaller parties nominally on Labour’s left – the Greens and Plaid Cymru – the absolute boy has been cleaning up. As a result, Plaid looks set to switch leadership to a Bachgen Absoliwt of their own by ditching Leanne Wood.
Wood’s problem is that her politics – fuzzy anti-capitalism, distrust of ‘western’ foreign policy, heavy on the protest, light on the specifics – is exactly that of Corbyn. Brand definition has been almost totally eroded.
Plaid has two other issues: the Welsh language and Brexit. The original appeal of Wood was that she was a Welsh ‘learner’ (the polite way of saying she has very limited language proficiency) and planned to break the party out of its narrow but hugely successful role as a language pressure group.
A Welsh nationalist party which strongly advocated independence within the EU was always going to be hamstrung by Wales voting for Brexit (Wexit?). But after 18 months of equivocation, Wood has finally taken steps to reaffirm her anti-Brexit position by supporting the “People’s Vote” campaign.
Her two challengers are both men in the Welsh Assembly – Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth. The former was once an MP but quit after apparently questioning his direction in life then deciding politics was for him after all, while the latter was once a BBC Wales political reporter. Neither seem to have any real answers to the strategic roadblock that Corbyn poses for their party and are essentially personality candidates, though ap Iorweth probably would represent a retreat into language-based politics.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Wood; her party has never given the impression it was comfortable being led by a woman. However, it should also be recognised that she blew almost all of her opportunities. She had every chance to emulate the SNP’s winning combination of centrism with grievance, and didn’t manage to do even the latter very well. Welsh Labour – right or left – is, if anything, even more complacent than the pre-Indy ref Scottish Labour Party and has spent much of the second decade of devolution trying to fix the mistakes made in the first. Most people don’t really think of Wales as a bright and shining front window for Labour’s competence and dynamism in government, do they?
But while Wood escaped the ghetto of language-above-all politics, she always found trite leftism easier than offering credible policies, and as a result she is likely to be ejected.