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BBC Wales's Simon Morris at the conference
"Mr Jones said Plaid would not allow Welsh communities to be divided"
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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Plaid pins hopes on the valleys
Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid president
Ieuan Wyn Jones - targetting the south Wales valleys
BBC Political Correspondent Guto Harri reports from the Plaid Cymru conference in Rhondda, south Wales

If there were prizes for targetting difficult constituencies at the general election, Plaid Cymru should win it.

The party is holding its spring conference in one of Labour's safest seats. Rhondda has voted Labour since 1910, and Labour's majority at the last general election was 24,931.

If we can overturn the kind of majority that Labour has in the Rhondda almost any seat in Wales could be in our grasp - just think what kind of a message a victory here in the Rhondda would send to London

Plaid Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones
Yet Plaid Cymru - and its candidate Leanne Wood are optimistic. Are they mad? Or is Tony Blair due for a nasty shock?

Plaid has gathered its troops in the former mining town of Ystrad to prove it is serious about taking this seat and to remind its supporters that it can be done.

Video Click here to see video

After all, delegates were welcomed to the conference by Geraint Davies who won the seat for them in the Welsh Assembly elections two years ago.

It was, without doubt, a spectacular victory, and a huge psychological boost for a party better known for its perseverance than its achievements in Westminster elections.

"It was a sea change", says Geraint Davies, insisting "the feeling now is just the same as it was in the run-up to the Assembly election."

He also pointed out that Plaid Cymru also the local county council and insisted that voters were pleased.
Plaid AM Geraint Davies
Geraint Davies won the Rhondda seat for Plaid

Addressing supporters at the conference on Saturday, party president Ieuan Wyn Jones launched a scathing attack on Labour for letting down the people of Wales.

He said Wales was "a socially-excluded underclass created by Margaret Thatcher and abandoned by Tony Blair."

Mr Jones said that only Plaid offered a real alternative to New Labour.

"We have a mountain to climb," he admitted, referring to the 30% swing needed to capture Rhondda.

"But just think of the prize that lies ahead. If we can overturn the kind of majority that Labour has in the Rhondda and in other seats in the valleys, almost any seat in Wales could be in our grasp.

"Just think what kind of a message a Plaid Cymru victory here in the Rhondda would send to London."

Leadership change

Labour recognises it will have to fight for Rhondda this time round. Candidate Chris Bryant has acknowledged that Labour has been complacent in the past. But he said he believes that Plaid will be disappointed this time round.

Both Labour and Plaid have had a change of leadership since 1999.

Labour then was led by Alun Michael, a man of little charisma who was saddled with a reputation as Tony Blair's poodle in Wales.

His election had been highly controversial and left his party bitter and divided. Labour is now led by the man activists wanted at the time - Rhodri Morgan.

Plaid Cymru logo
Plaid says it is the only alternative to Labour

Plaid is the meantime has lost its popular and long-standing President, Dafydd Wigley, and Ieuan Wyn Jones is struggling to fill his shoes.

Plaid will almost certainly increase its vote across the valleys at the general election.

It is also widely expected to add the largely rural and Welsh-speaking constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr to its tally of four similar seats at Westminster.

But Labour's majority in Rhondda and in the other seats where Plaid is talking up its prospects should prevent delegates getting carried away at the spring conference.

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