Wales: new Welsh Language Act stirs Plaid's heartland supporters

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Sep 17 13:25:08 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

"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 Wales. 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 First Minister. 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.

He disagrees. "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 together.

"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
happen." 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 collective responsibility.

"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 important.  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 party."

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 Cardiff Bay? 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
general elections." 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

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

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. M 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 Difference"). 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".

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list