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Mon Sep 17 13:17:32 UTC 2007
Ieuan works up a summer sweat Sep 16 2007
by Matt Withers, Wales On Sunday
EVERYTHING has changed in the last three months for Plaid Cymru leader
Ieuan Wyn Jones.
The 58-year-old whose political career looked all but over just four
years ago, when a disastrous performance in the 2003 Assembly election
saw him step down, was sworn in as Wales' Deputy First Minister on
July 11 this year.
The move from the sidelines to centre stage has been rapid; Rhodri
Morgan's illness saw Mr Jones effectively manning the fort over the
summer, representing the Government at home and abroad.
The only thing that hasn't changed, it appears, is the sign on the
door of his Cardiff Bay office, which still refers to him as Leader of
the Opposition. Nobody has got around to updating it yet.
"It hasn't changed me personally," he says on the eve of his party's
conference in Llandudno. "If anything was going to do that it was the
intensity of the discussions around the coalition.
"I mean, that really was an experience that I'll never forget.
"The actual job of being a minister is obviously entirely different to
what I've done before but I feel very comfortable in the role."
Mr Morgan's enforced absence meant Mr Jones has worked almost
constantly since taking on his new role, although he has managed two
small breaks during the summer.
"Obviously it is a lot easier because the children have grown and left
home and now it's just my wife and myself, and she can come with me
more often than she could before," he says.
He has a holiday home in France to retreat to during recess and, yes,
is fully aware how this may appear to others: Plaid, after all, has
long voiced its concerns about English second home owners pricing
Welsh buyers out of the market, particularly on his home turf of North
He says: "Plaid has never said there should be no second homes, what
we've said is that they should be regulated. And I'm quite happy for
the French to regulate theirs as well.
"There should be planning permission guidelines attached saying in a
particular area it could be the proportion of second homes are higher
than we would want in a community."
On to other issues, then; but it is too tempting to recall that, were
a couple of obscure Liberal Democrats to have voted differently a few
months ago, Mr Jones could be sat in a different office, that of the
Plaid came within days of leading a 'Rainbow Coalition' of themselves,
the Conservatives and the Lib Dems before the latter party withdrew,
causing the deal to collapse and Plaid to end up in the arms of
Mr Jones insists he does not think about it anymore.
"That's one of the things that I've learnt in life – that you can't
dwell on the might-have-beens," he says.
"You always have to recognise that in politics there are twists and
turns and you expect it. And when they happen you have to live with it
at the time, and then you move on.
"It's a lesson I learnt very early on in politics. I think it's stood
me in good stead because if your life is based on
what-might-have-beens then it's a very sad life, really."
What Plaid did do during the election is promise to 'kick Labour into
touch'. It was their most effective slogan, accompanied by a rugby
boot and ball.
Those who voted for the party might be disappointed that you haven't
exactly kicked Labour into touch, Mr Jones.
"Well, I think you've got to recognise that when you're in an election
you are fighting against other parties and in Labour's case, at that
point, they were in government," he says.
"But I think we always recognised, and I think the people of Wales
also recognised, that the election was probably going to turn out
inconclusive and that we'd have to work with other people.
"And we had said – and lots of people forget this – that we would
speak to all the parties. And that included Labour. There was lots of
discussion and speculation that after the election we might be working
"Had we been in the position to form a government on our own we would
have. But realistically everybody knew that that was not likely to
Mr Jones' phrase of choice when asked about any Labour deal during the
election was that Plaid would not "prop up" a failed Labour
administration. This, he says (and he will re-emphasise this to the
party faithful), is not the case.
"This is a new government, you know," he says animatedly. "It's not
the Labour Government anymore. It's a new government, a new government
which has Plaid ministers and Labour ministers.
"And what I meant by 'propping up' is precisely that, because if you
had a minority Labour administration that looked to Plaid to prop it
up without having any sort of influence at all then, you know, that
would have been propping up.
"I made that clear both publicly and privately to the Labour Party.
"I said under no circumstances would we do that and I think they were
clear about that from the beginning."
In his first political interview since returning from his illness, Mr
Morgan chose to fire a warning salvo over the heads of his ministers,
advising them not to step out of line.
Mr Jones says he doesn't know why Mr Morgan rebuked his new Cabinet
before they'd done anything wrong. But he effectively does the same
himself, saying that dissent will not be accepted now Plaid is a
serious party of government.
"I think we all recognise that being in government is an opportunity
because you can get things done, but it's also a challenge," he says.
"You have to recognise that with decisions made in government there is
"Those decisions sometimes you have to live with.
"You may argue your position, but then there is a government position.
That's one area where we have to recognise that discipline is
"The other is, of course, that when you're outside promoting the
Government, you've got to do that bearing in mind all the time that
this is a new government, it's a One Wales government, and therefore
it needs to speak with one voice wherever we are in Wales.
"You can't have different Cabinet ministers saying different things in
different parts of Wales."
He accepts this may be difficult in those areas where Labour and Plaid
clash around the Cabinet table "because... the party has never been
here before and that's something we are learning.
"But it's a fundamental principle of government that you do that
because otherwise, of course, the whole system will collapse."
This cohesion, he says, also extend to those Plaid AMs outside the
Government, such as the previously high-profile Helen Mary Jones and
Leanne Wood, who have been made spokespeople for the party.
He says: "I think we all have to recognise that we are in government
now and everybody has to support the position of that government.
"The decision was a collective one by all the members. Actually, all
of the group members supported the decision to go into government.
"I think we have to accept that it wouldn't help the purpose of
government if there was public criticism of individuals by your own
The other key issue for the party this weekend is how they should
prepare for future elections. Vital council seats are up in May and
the party expects a general election within a year.
A concern among many of the party grassroots, particularly those
contesting seats is: how do you persuade voters to vote Plaid in order
to get rid of Labour when the two parties are working in tandem in
Mr Jones says he sees no issue. "Although we're in coalition at
Assembly level, we will be fighting Labour in council elections and at
the general election," he says.
"It's perfectly proper that you look at these elections as a straight
fight between us and Labour, even though you're in coalition in other
areas. It happens that you have certain arrangements between parties
at a local government level, you know, between Tories and Liberal
Democrats, but they still fight each other at Assembly elections and
And the 'I' word – independence – was not one that Mr Jones uttered
much before or after the Assembly election. He won't do before the
next time they go to the ballot box either, leaving the party open to
accusations it has ditched the policy as a frontline commitment.
The Deputy First Minister is so used to the question, the answer comes
out automatically. He says: "Plaid has always recognised that
constitutional change can only happen incrementally.
"So the next step from where we are now is to get some extra powers
under the Government of Wales Act 2006. We want to move to a full
law-making parliament under the Scots model by 2011.
"Independence remains the party's policy, but that's not going to
happen within the next four years. So what we're doing is putting
everything in its proper time frame and context."
As a government minister he knows he will come under fire over the
next four years – if the coalition remains intact – from those within
his own ranks expecting great things from Plaid. The issue of a new
Welsh Language Act stirs Plaid's heartland supporters like few other
issues; already campaigners are warning it must not be "tokenistic"
and has to be compulsory.
Mr Jones essentially dodges the finer detail of any other plan, but
campaigners will take note that he makes clear "rights" for the
speaker doesn't mean "compulsion" for the provider.
"People should have rights about the provision of the Welsh language,"
he says. "And there's also a proposal which is in One Wales to set up
a language commissioner which will de-politicise, I think, the thing.
"Now, that isn't about compulsion, it's about making it clear that
people should have rights in relation to the Welsh language and they
should also have a language commissioner that actually promotes using
the language and making it official.
"And none of us actually believe that the Welsh language will be saved
simply by legislation. What legislation does is it gives the language
status, it gives people certain rights, but there are a whole range of
things that need to happen."
And with that our time is up – Mr Jones is a busy man these days.
The Plaid team in the adjoining offices are putting the final
preparations in place for the conference (theme: "Making a
Mr Jones' speech will concentrate on telling his activists what being
in government means for Plaid. What with having to keep his own troops
in line in the Cabinet and Assembly, and dampening the expectations of
some of the more fervent grassroots support, his own word probably
sums it up best: "A challenge".
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