The reaction to the speech by Dafydd Wigley at the National Eisteddfod has been mixed, certainly – but reaction there has been. In itself, that is enough to suggest that people are taking Wigley and what he says quite seriously. But what precisely is he trying to achieve? Only he himself can know that for certain, but there are plenty of others willing to venture their opinions, so why not Ceredig too?
Glyn Davies suggests that this is Wigley ‘lining up his tanks’ for 2008 – presumably a hint at a leadership challenge. Ordovicius also suspects a leadership challenge here, or at least raises the question as a possibility.
Huw Lewis sees this as an attempt to split Labour and blame Labour for all the government’s failures. Homage to Catatonia in similar vein describes the speech as pure mischief making on the part of Wigley, and wishes that our politicians in the Bay would be more responsible in their approach to finance.
In a much more analytical piece, Normal Mouth questions why Wigley receives so much attention in the first place, and analyses Wigley’s record. This is an interesting analysis, with much to commend it. There are a few comments that I would challenge though.
The idea of Wigley as ‘even-tempered’ is one that Norm might wish to discuss with a few of Wigley's fellow party members, for starters. I also wonder about Ieuan Wyn Jones’ ‘superior strategic brain’. Whilst Jones is recognised as a tactician par excellence, the long term thinking characterised by the idea of strategy is another matter entirely. His tactics during the recent negotiations to form a government have been widely praised (even though they did not produce the result that he wanted); but does anyone really believe that there is a thought-through longer term strategy beyond getting into government?
And, even though Wigley's record in terms of achievements during his presidency may not look too impressive in Norm's analysis, I am reminded of the fundamental flaw in school league tables, where achievement was measured purely in terms of examination results. Sometimes, keeping things together at all in a school suffering major disadvantages and deprivation can be a bigger achievement than getting a whole host of straight A’s in a school with all the advantages in its favour. Perhaps something similar can be said for leadership of a political party in the bad times.
For myself, I very much doubt that this is the beginnings of a leadership challenge. In the first place, age is against Wigley by now, and in the second, Plaid changed its rules last year to ensure that the ‘leader’ would be the person who led the party’s group in the Assembly – and Wigley failed to regain a seat there in May this year, thus ruling him out of the leader's job.
Having a go at the left within his own party for favouring Red-Green over the Rainbow? Possibly, although I think not. One thing that we can be certain of is that Wigley has his finger on the pulse of his party in Gwynedd, and understands what the ordinary membership there think. He could even be trying to re-assure them in some way. But people tend to forget that Wigley himself has stated that he actually proposed to the Plaid group during the first Assembly that they should offer a coalition to Labour, so the idea of working with Labour is not as anathematic to him as might be supposed.
Making mischief for the Labour party? Certainly – in part at least. He’s been doing that for the last 30 years – so why would anyone expect him to stop now? It’s a deeply ingrained habit, and he and some others in Plaid have long believed that they could drive a wedge between ‘London Labour’ and ‘Welsh Labour’ In that context, he sees an opportunity and takes it. Surprise, surprise. (I’ve never been convinced by the argument, though – I think a lot of Plaid people simply don’t understand the reality and the cohesiveness of the Labour party. They might disagree with each other from time to time, but split? Never.)
I actually think that there may be a much more prosaic interpretation. Normal Mouth asks why Wigley is lionised so much, and his words given such respect. It’s a very valid question, but regardless of the reason, it is so. He has friends in the BBC and even more so in the Western Mail who admire and praise him - and guarantee coverage for his musings. Those who get treated like senior statesmen usually end up behaving as such. Could it not be just that someone who's been told that he's a wise old bird, whose words carry weight, has responded by simply saying what he thinks?