Slightly unexpectedly, I’m in the running to be adopted as the Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion at the next UK general election. This might seem like a strange career move, but it is something I am deeply committed to, and even quite excited about.
The political tectonic plates are shifting fast these days, and at every level: global, European, British, English, Scottish and Welsh. Yet the level of debate in this country about these seismic shifts is derisory. Politicians and media alike seem content to stir the disenchantment, while offering neither useful analysis nor any real alternative. Unsurprisingly, this is leaving people thoroughly exasperated and with a growing sense of rage – the ‘plague on all your houses’ response, a.k.a. ‘politicians are all the bloody same’.
But they are not. Really, they’re not. There are genuinely decent, honest people in almost every party (some more than others), but it is in Plaid Cymru that I’ve found by far the greatest concentration. Ever since I first encountered Plaid, as a member of the NUS national executive twenty-five years ago, I’ve been impressed by the vision, erudition and commitment of its members, and their ambition for Wales – and the world beyond. Although lazily derided as “the nationalists” by opponents, Plaid is firmly internationalist, progressive and co-operative in its outlook. When I moved to mid Wales thirteen years ago, I joined Plaid immediately, and have worked on their behalf, with varying degrees of success, at every election since.
|Aberystwyth Mon Amour|
When Leanne Wood was elected as Plaid leader just over a year ago, it was clear that there were some exciting times ahead. I’ve known Leanne for years, and have always been inspired by her passion, her integrity, her absolute commitment to social and economic justice and – rare indeed in a politician – her utter lack of ego. To her, the idea of a self-governing Wales is not an end in itself. It is a beginning; the much-needed chance for Wales to work out its own priorities, on its own terms, and to go for them.
After twenty years of writing and broadcasting about Wales, and of studying in depth its history and culture, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that no Westminster government, of any political persuasion, is going to look out for us. Wales will always be an adjunct or an afterthought. Policies designed for the overheated economy of south-east England are never going to succeed here.
This logjam has to be broken. Here in Wales, we have all three of the UK main parties in power: the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Westminster, Labour in Cardiff Bay. As they bicker and squabble amongst themselves, egged on by a breathless, blinkered media, it is hard to see much difference between any of them. And as they do so, our economy totters, our high streets start to look like rows of rotten teeth, cuts scythe through our cultural landscape, our hard-won health service lurches from one crisis to another, and our communities feel increasingly beleaguered.
I’m keen to be part of building Plaid Cymru towards becoming the government in our devolved Senedd. We so desperately need that to happen. So why am I taking a tilt at a seat in Westminster?
Well, that’s because one of the ingrained problems facing Plaid is getting any attention on the other side of Offa’s Dyke. Despite having been represented in parliament since 1966, and despite having three MPs (i.e. three more than UKIP!), you’d barely know of their existence from the London media. And yet, with the Scottish referendum next year and the ongoing Euro-ructions, the constitution of our country is facing changes bigger than anyone alive has ever witnessed. We need to start having grown-up conversations about this, and Plaid is keen to play its part.
|Cei Newydd / New Quay last summer, when I walked the Ceredigion Coast Path|
To that end, I think that I could be a good ambassador for Plaid, and for Wales, in Westminster. I want to help take on the kneejerk assumption, routinely heard in every debate on, for instance, the Scottish referendum, that to be an advocate of a different constitutional settlement, you have therefore to be inherently ‘anti-English’ in some way. My life and my writing both give lie to that one. It is perfectly possible to love both England and Wales, love them with a passion, but also to believe that an eighteenth century structure, one created explicitly for gung-ho imperialism, is not the best way of running either.
Although I’ve settled just outside the constituency near Machynlleth, Ceredigion feels very much like the right place for me to try this. It’s where I first moved to when I came to mid Wales thirteen years ago, where I first joined Plaid and where I learned Cymraeg. Like all mid-Walians, I rely on Ceredigion for healthcare, leisure, shopping, education, research, culture and recreation. It has the one of the highest proportions of self-employed people of any constituency in the country, is home to two universities and the National Library, and has always been a cauldron of entrepreneurship, quiet radicalism and profound cultural expression.
Of the dozens of TV travelogues I made for HTV, many of the best were in Ceredigion, from a noson lawen in Tregaron to a night camping with my dog by the lonely Teifi Pools; from a tootle along the coast road in that beautiful 1950s bus you see parked in Llanon to sailing into Aberaeron on a wooden Edwardian ketch. The thought of representing this very special part of the world excites me enormously.
|Filming Great Welsh Roads, with my late, lamented co-presenter Patsy, at Llyn Brianne|
It’s going to be a tough fight though. Ceredigion provided the most sensational result of the 1992 general election (and a rare flicker of joy on such a depressing night), when Cynog Dafis went from fourth place to win it for an alliance of Plaid Cymru and the Green Party. When Cynog went instead to the infant National Assembly, Simon Thomas won the ensuing by-election for Plaid, and held it in the 2001 election. The LibDems (it had been a Liberal seat since 1974 before Cynog) nicked it back by a few hundred votes in 2005, but then in 2010 upped their majority to a meaty 8,324.
That’s a lot of votes to overcome. But Plaid did it before; when they first won the seat in 1992, they’d taken just 16% the previous time. In 2010, Plaid won 28.3%. More to the point, we’ve had the sorry sight of the LibDems in government, so we are all too familiar now with what their smooth words look like in practice. It’s not pretty. If I win the nomination (to be decided over the next month), then I will relish taking them on their appalling record as part of this hollow, cynical shambles of a government. I cannot wait.