After months of confident talk by Plaid Cymru that they were on the verge of taking their biggest ever haul of seats at a general election, there was much shock at the actual lacklustre results - not least in top target seat Ynys Môn. Since the general election however, I have lost count how many times I have read the following kind of explanation for this dismal performance:
"Plaid's absence from the leaders' debates was of course the biggest single factor in their opinion poll rating dipping from a record high 14% before the debates, to 9% after."
"There may have been other things that went wrong for Plaid at the election but it's hard to fault their campaign, and Ieuan Wyn Jones was judged to have performed "well" throughout the debates."
This was posted just yesterday on the Welsh Rambings site and seems pretty much representative of the 'received wisdom' on 'what went wrong'.
Only problem is I don't think its true - at least not in North Wales. Why? Lets take a look at what the North Wales voting intention polls actually showed:
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As you can see the first 'Leaders Debates' was held on the 15th April 2010 - but according to the North Wales polls, Plaid Cymru's support had already dropped from a high of 17% in January to just 10% in March - a full month and a half before the first debate was even broadcast! In fact - contrary to Plaid's 'received wisdom' - the polling evidence clearly shows that in North Wales it was Labour and the Tories which suffered from the debates, not Plaid Cymru. Considering that Plaid's vote actually increased a few points to 13% at the election you could even make the case that they benefitted from not being included.
So what conclusions can we make? Well, despite Welsh Rambings' assertion above, perhaps their campaign wasn't faultless after all. The question I would ask is why did Plaid's support plummet from a high of 17% in January to 10% in March - what happened during that period?
I still think that this announcement on January 18th (just days after the January poll) was Plaid's single biggest mistake:
Plaid's pledge to raise the state pension by a staggering 30% - although an admirable policy aim in itself - was hugely cynical politicking. As I wrote at the time:
Sounds great - all Plaid Cymru needs to do is win 324 seats in the General Election to obtain a majority and then they can implement this election pledge. Oh, wait, Plaid only actually contests 40 seats - so on top of winning every seat in Wales they'll also need to win another 284 seats elsewhere in the country… that could prove tricky so its a good job that responsibility for Pensions has been devolved to the Welsh Assembly where Plaid Cymru is currently in a coalition government with Labour - otherwise they could never implement this election pledge. Oh, wait - that hasn't happened either.
This is politics at its most cynical. Plaid Cymru have made an election pledge to Wales' pensioners which they know they have absolutely no chance whatsoever to implement. In the business world this is called 'fraud' - as an ex-solicitor I'd have thought Ieuan Wyn Jones would know something about that.
Rather than bribing voters with empty promises, far better that Plaid spent some time thinking about pledges they can actually deliver.
By indulging in this kind of 'fantasy politics' Plaid Cymru presented itself not as a responsible political party, but as party which would say anything to get votes. Furthermore my personal view is that Plaid paid dearly for this stupidity in the polls.
I'm sure that this post will generate a heap of abuse - but I think the sooner Plaid Cymru stop kidding themselves that the sole reason they did so badly was because of their exclusion from the Leaders Debates, the sooner they can find the real reasons for their dismal performance.
UPDATE: It is also well worth reading Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans' post on Plaid's performance in the general election.