Rhun ap Iorwerth MS elected Leader of Plaid Cymru (16 June 2023)
By Matt Hexter, Senior Consultant

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has become the leader of Plaid Cymru. Following the resignation of former leader, Adam Price MS and the somewhat shorter than expected interim leadership of Llyr Gruffydd MS, the Ynys Môn MS, was the only member of the Plaid Cymru group to put himself forward as leader. 

It is important to consider that Rhun has not been elected because of a persuasive campaign or an ideological shift in the party since its last election. He is considered by the members of the Plaid Cymru Senedd group to be a safe pair of hands after a period of prolonged tumult. 

He was the obvious choice due the groups perceived lack of experience. A majority of Plaid’s MSs were elected for the first time at the 2021 election. He has handled large complex opposition briefs such as the economy and most recently health with competence and authority. He also came in second place at the last Plaid Cymru leadership election in 2018 so has a good basis of support amongst the party membership. 

Despite the lack of challengers to Rhun, his ascension has not come without challenge. While some Plaid MSs believe that he is not sufficiently left wing to be the Party’s leader, there is a rather larger question on gender. Former leader, Leanne Wood, stated that the new leader of Plaid Cymru should be a woman. The Former Rhondda MS said the work that was needed to be done within the party “would be easier made by a woman politician who really understands the issues of misogyny”. 

This was followed by a joint statement from Sioned Williams MS and Sian Gwenllian MS in which it was stated that they believed that a woman should have been in the contest and that Plaid should look to adopt a co-leadership model in the future, with at least one of the joint leaders being a woman.  Plaid Cymru Arfon have recently unanimously passed a motion calling on Plaid Cymru to explore creating a new co-leadership model for the future, which they hope will be discussed at the Plaid Cymru Conference in the Autumn.

What Does This Mean for Plaid Cymru?

While the lack of a contest will provide the party stability after the damning findings of the Prosiect Pawb report, it will also deprive Plaid of any media coverage that you could expect from a prolonged leadership election. 

For smaller parties, especially parties in Wales, not usually served with the level of political attention reserved for Westminster, a leadership contest would have allowed Plaid Cymru contenders to set out their stalls. They would have been able to discuss how they would change the party to better reflect the findings of Nerys Evans’ report, but also how, if they were able to form a government, they would be able to change Wales. Now the only media coverage they can expect is Rhun being announced as leader, and perhaps some coverage if there is a shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

With a general election likely within the next year or so, Plaid Cymru should be desperate for additional coverage. They will likely face a defensive election in the new Carmarthen seat, and the absence of Rhun as their candidate in Ynys Môn will make that contest significantly more challenging. 

For the many benefits derived to the party from the co-operation agreement, one significant drawback has been the ability for Welsh Labour to claim popular Plaid Cymru policies as their own. Most notably free school meals for primary school students. The absence of a campaign, and the associated coverage, will not allow Plaid Cymru to highlight their achievements to a wider audience. 

And Talking about the Co-operation agreement…

There has been a feeling for some time that the co-operation agreement had been under some strain. Labour MS, Hefin David criticised the deal earlier in the year for giving Plaid “power without responsibility”, with Ken Skates MS stating that the co-operation agreement must end, following the revelations of the Prosiect Pawb report. 

A recent statement from Llyr Gruffydd noted that there is “lots more to be done” in terms of delivering on the promises in the co-operation agreement, indicating that there may be some frustration in Plaid Cymru circles about implementing their parts of the deal. 

Rhun has remained a staunch critic of Welsh Labour Government throughout the life of the deal, however, there is no indication that he has any intention of withdrawing from the agreement. While we can expect additional information about the Senedd reform process in the upcoming legislative statement, it is unlikely that there would be any amendments, or withdrawals from the agreement until a Senedd Reform Bill has been passed by the Senedd.