One of the things that disturbed me in the Plaid Cymru leadership campaign was the deal that was done between Simon Thomas and Elin Jones, in which he agreed to stand down and give her his support in return for him becoming deputy leader of the party. As I noted at the time, the leader of Plaid Cymru cannot determine who will be her deputy after she is elected. It is up to the party's AMs, and only the party's AMs, to decide who the deputy leader should be.
Of course if the leader expressed a preference there would be a very good chance that she would get her way; not because she has the right to make that decision, but because after any internal election everybody is anxious to make a show of uniting behind the new leader so as to heal any wounds that might have been inflicted during the campaign.
Now I don't for a moment what to suggest that this leadership campaign has been damaging to Plaid. In fact it has been the exact opposite. We have been put in the full glare of the media spotlight, and have been shown to be everything we pride ourselves on being: an open, transparent, democratic party in which the view of every single member matters equally. And although the media have been portraying Leanne's election as a radical step to the left, I think all we have really done is elect a leader who best represents what we already stand for. One of our problems as a party was that the collective leadership did not always represent the views of the majority of party members as consistently expressed in our party conferences. That will now change.
But what will not change—at least not in the immediate future—is who our elected AMs are. It's worth reminding ourselves that the majority of AMs supported Elin and expected her to win. Most commentators and the bookmakers did too. So some of us will have sore heads because we have been celebrating Leanne's victory; but others will have sore heads trying to work out why Elin did not get elected, what it means for the party ... and what it means for them and their political futures. Outwardly, it will all be unity, sweetness and light; but inwardly there will be some serious soul-searching going on.
In the immediate future two issues have to be sorted out: who will be deputy leader, and who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues.
On the subject of deputy leader, it is up to AMs to decide who this will be in a secret ballot. My advice to Leanne is not to express any preference about who the deputy leader should be. Let your fellow AMs decide that for themselves. But I do have advice for any Plaid AMs who are reading this. The position of deputy leader is mainly symbolic, but it is important. The main problem I had with the Elin Jones/Simon Thomas "joint ticket" was that both were from the same part of Wales, and that the pairing could make Plaid look like some sort of Cardi Club. But I am very much in favour of a balanced pairing, and I think we would do well to look at how well the pairing of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon has worked for the SNP.
In this post last year I said that the leader and deputy leader should complement each other in these respects:
• One should be from north or west Wales, the other from the south
• One should be male, the other female
• One should be bilingual, the other should not be a Welsh speaker
So with Leanne as leader I think the ideal deputy leader for Plaid would be based in north or west Wales, male, and a fluent Welsh speaker. That seems to suggest Alun Ffred Jones, Simon Thomas and Llyr Huws Gruffydd as being right for the job. Alun Ffred is a very good choice in that he almost epitomizes the traditional, cultural roots of the party; Simon would not have made a good deputy to Elin because of being based in the same area, but could be a good deputy to Leanne; but I personally think that Llyr might be the best choice, above all because he has impressed me as an excellent communicator. So I'd encourage you three to consider putting yourselves forward. I don't think that the job of deputy leader should be a "runner-up prize", and for that reason I think it would be wrong for either Elin or Dafydd to be deputy leader. As I see it, the deputy leader needs to balance and complement the leader so that the party can reach out to the maximum number of people in Wales.
The second thing that needs to be decided is who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues. At present each of our 11 AMs has these specific areas of responsibility:
Ieuan Wyn Jones: Finance & the Constitution
Jocelyn Davies: Planning, Business Manager & Chief Whip
Elin Jones: Health
Simon Thomas: Education, Higher Education & Skills
Alun Ffred Jones: Business, Enterprise, Technology & Science
Leanne Wood: Housing & Regeneration
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Europe, Local Government, Communities & Transport
Dafydd Elis-Thomas: Environment & Energy
Bethan Jenkins: Heritage, Welsh Language & Sport
Lindsay Whittle: Social Services, Children & Equal Opportunities
Llyr Huws Gruffydd: Rural Affairs (inc. Agriculture, Animal Health & Welfare)
Who gets which job is something that only the party leader can decide. But the first question I would ask is whether we actually need to give every single one of our AMs a portfolio. After all, there only eight AMs in the Cabinet.
The priority is for us be able to present a coherent set of policies, and I'd like to suggest to Leanne that this might be better done by having fewer spokespersons, but ones who are able to articulate and communicate—both in the Assembly and to the public at large—how our policies fit together. I also think that some AMs might prefer not to have a specific responsibility, and would be happier and more effective if allowed a freer role.
One thing Leanne does need to be firm about is that if someone takes on a role as a spokesperson on a particular issue, they must present the party's policy on that issue, rather than their own personal views. To my mind it made a mockery of the party to have appointed Dafydd Elis-Thomas as our spokesman on energy. As we have seen all too clearly, he refuses to accept Plaid Cymru's position on nuclear power and has consistently misrepresented it. This could only have happened because our previous leader was equally against Plaid's policy on nuclear power. That sort of ambivalence needs to be put firmly behind us.
If we are serious about making significant progress as a party, we will need a greater measure of discipline and determination than we have shown before. But I'm sure Leanne will be more than equal to that challenge.