I’d intended on simply voting quietly and privately in this leadership election. I’d told my friends how I intended to vote, and why. But I didn’t envisage sharing my thoughts more widely.
But as the ballot papers drop tomorrow, what’s become clear is that we’ve not really been addressing the real issues. The vacuum has been filled, for sure. Filled with the soundbites politics we’ve all become used to; pushing personality over beliefs; concepts (some of which are good) touted as policies; triangulating messages; managerialism etc. The type of PRollocks-ridden politics that has led more and more people away from trusting politicians.
The thing is, this is the easy way. This is how politics is done. Done by professional politicians to a population who are fast giving up on politics as an answer to their problems. The result of politics like this is a fast-track to the far right. Why? Because unless we do something to change outcomes for those living precarious lives, or those whose lives have dropped into real poverty, they will end up choosing the strongmen who use politics to blame others. Others are so easy to find aren’t they? Remember which politician has consistently stood up for those ‘others’. Yup, Leanne.
Meanwhile, in the real world of everyday Wales, we have multiple crises at play. We are fast approaching 40% child poverty; we pay millions to sports car manufacturers owned by the richest people in the world to make cars nobody in Wales will ever afford; and we pay public funds into the coffers on the super-rich on the promise of economic growth. And we also have the very real impact of Brexit on our doorstep. Brexit was, in my opinion, a massive two-fingers to a system that’s failed too many.
We can spend (& waste) energy blaming Westminster, Welsh Labour, Nigel Farage, the EU…., all of the above. We can even spend our energy trying to reverse the decision. In, and of, themselves important. But until we address the reasons why, we’re simply storing up these concerns for the next opportunity, to stick it to ‘the man’. Brexit doesn’t just need fighting; it needs addressing.
Economy – Over the past decade (unlike all the candidates, and most of their advisors) I’ve worked across communities in Wales, supporting lots of different people with their own small and micro businesses. In that time, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that this group really matter in Wales. They matter in communities up and down the Country. They don’t just provide financial wealth; they provide social wealth too. I’ve learnt that many of these business owners have been waiting on the promise of politicians since devolution, and all they’ve seen is a failure to deliver, apart from for a select few. They’re fed up seeing promises of the next economic nirvana resulting in nothing.
I’m clear on a number of issues. Firstly, the concept of trickle-down economics is a fallacy, which blows the idea of a big transformative project out of the water. When the state uses scarce resources to fund say, a call centre whose owners are based in India, the profits that operation make don’t stay in Cardiff; they jump over the Severn Bridge, get on a plane at Heathrow and head to Mumbai. Trickle-down is actually a cover for more extractivism that Wales has been subjected to for centuries. Only now it’s not coal and steel, it’s financial returns (oh, and water!).
Secondly, we need to start to address a world with much less work. Until politicians begin thinking properly about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the world of work, we will forever be stuck in a rut of economic dependency. Hardly addressed by any of the candidates.
Finally, and most importantly, the economy must mean something. Even if all the grandest of ideas come off, if we don’t solve the pressing social issues of our time, inequality, poverty and climate change, what is the point? It’s important for the societal construct to come before the financial. It does with Leanne.
Leadership – There have been some very personal criticisms of Leanne’s leadership style over the course of this campaign. Whether they’ve been orchestrated or not, isn’t important. What is important is creating some balance within all this negativity. Plaid’s leadership, especially at the Assembly seemed to me to have been a joint endeavour, especially amongst the three standing for Leader. The manifestos were joint endeavours, and if they failed to set the world alight, I’d suggest that failure should be collectively owned.
Outside of the politically active bubble, Leanne consistently polls well, and above the competition (internal and external). In my personal experience she has a unrivalled ability to get a message across to the general public. She is liked. In the shrill world of cut’n’thrust, bloke-centric, politics, being liked is too often overlooked as a strong political characteristic. Just think about it; do you give more time to those you like, or those you don’t? The electorate are the same. If the message didn’t quite work, perhaps it isn’t the messenger who should get all the blame?
Independence – As some will know, I’m a newcomer to the cause of Welsh independence. I’ve said before, I’m one of the increasing number who struggle to see an answer to Wales’ problems via the status quo. In fact, I do think the status quo is damaging to Wales (for the record, I think the same is true of much of England, Scotland and the north of Ireland). I think those who share my concerns over ways we’re likely to address the issues of inequality and poverty, are also persuadable to the cause of Welsh independence. They’re less enamoured by the (valid though they are) cultural arguments. The civic and cultural arguments for independence need to be brought together.
But one thing concerns me, and it relates to our own personal dependence. If Wales is to truly be independent, it needs to be able to remove its dependence on single transformational events, messianic individuals, and especially the tired old ideas from outside. Our answers lie within. Within our towns and villages, our communities and our individuals. It’s always easiest to fall back on traditional economic thinking; mimicking the global, unequal world of market efficiency and financialisation. The problem with this – it just doesn’t work, and it won’t work for Wales.
If anything, repeating more of the same old mistakes will likely push people away from the independence movement, in the same way Brexit prevailed. If we want to build a better Wales, it needs to be less about owning the next iPhone, however beguiling, and more about reducing inequality and ending poverty. That won’t be solved by markets, growth & trickle-down redistribution. It will be solved by being radical. Upholding and supporting social capital, and especially when there is a direct choice between that and financial capital. Only one of the contenders gets that; Leanne.
Alliances & Electoral Success – My concerns about the situation Wales is in helps me to be a pragmatist. Why? Because, I think we’re in deep trouble. I don’t agree with any of the candidates that we need a Plaid Government to deliver independence. We firstly need to understand how damaging the current political system is to Wales’ communities. We then need to lead a consensus of those who want to change that system – the only way to do this is with ALL the levers of power in our hands. That can’t be anything other than independence. If members of other parties buy into this vision of a different economic system in Wales, then that is sufficient for me to want to work with them.
This also brings me to the issue of electoral success. Some are expecting a change of leader to radically change the Party’s electoral fortunes. I think that is pie-in-the-sky thinking. If Plaid is serious about electoral success in the medium term, it must become a radical force; it must deliver on ‘The Change Wales Needs’; Leanne’s pamphlet.
Voting for Leanne – So I’m voting for Leanne as my first and only choice. I won’t be using my second vote. Does this mean I’m failing to participate fully in this democratic process? I’d argue not.
Rhun has yet to set out anything of substance, policy-wise. He’s talked about being a great communicator, but I wanted to know more about his politics, and that really hasn’t got out. The race is almost run, and I think he’s left it too late.
I’ve spoken with Adam during the campaign about some of his ideas. He has said he’s not prepared to give up on the big transformative projects, and his focus is clearly on ‘the economy’. This is standard fare for mainstream politicians – after all, wasn’t it Bill Clinton who famously said ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’, and you can’t get more mainstream than Bill, can you? But the economy is a social construct. The economy as it currently operates is there to make rich people richer – it creates inequality. It also destroys our ecology.
I want our economy to do more. I want it to be set to give prominence to ensuring no child starts their days in poverty in one of the richest economies in the world. That’s the language I wanted to hear, and I’ve not heard it from him.
That doesn’t mean I don’t respect both Rhun and Adam for standing. Nor does it mean, that the policy debates that they’ve raised (or plan to) aren’t worthy of serious debate. Nor does it mean, I disagree with all they’re saying. Far from it, and given we’re all members of the same party, I’d be shocked if I did disagree entirely.
However, on the substantive questions of diagnosing Wales’ current position and setting a clear political vision, there are differences, and they are significant.
An economy that is full of publicly supported companies like Aston Martin, Airbus, Ford and all the others, but fails to address inequality and poverty, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that funds billionaires over those on the edge of precarity, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that provides tax cuts to rival the lowest around to attract the entrepreneurial class and global corporations who have no foundation, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. And finally, an economy that ends up looking anything like the unequal U.K., with an overheating core and a dependent hinterland, isn’t an economy; it’s a massive con.
I didn’t want to write this blog, but I felt I needed to. If, like me, you have a vote in this leadership election, and if like me you are committed to Wales being a fairer, more inclusive country; a country where no child starts their life (and undoubtedly ends it too) in poverty, then the only way to vote is with Leanne Wood.
No politician is perfect. They’re just like the rest of us. To expect otherwise is plain daft. And to suggest otherwise, of others, is equally daft. But what I’m sure of, the desperate straits we find ourselves in doesn’t call for a mainstream leader. We need someone who’ll fight to realign our economy to better suit everyone; not try to make a bad system grow.
At the end of the day, I believe the system isn’t working for Wales, and we must change things, now. Don’t expect radical, socialist policies from anyone other than Leanne, because it just isn’t going to happen. They’ve told you they’re going the way of markets and capital. It’s crystal clear.
If you want radical, vote for the only radical on the ticket. Leanne Wood.
NB – I’ve written this in a personal capacity. I’ve not sought Leanne’s permission, or approval. She hasn’t sought to approve or censure my blog, and had she asked, I wouldn’t have obliged. The first time Leanne reads this, will be the first time you could’ve read it.