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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Plaid, the president and the 'plot'

By Nick Horton
BBC Wales News Online

Ieuan Wyn Jones announces his resignation
Ieuan Wyn Jones was told that half his AMs wanted him to go

Was there an organised plot to oust the president of Plaid Cymru - or did Ieuan Wyn Jones fall on his sword so swiftly and dramatically to save his party?

As with any great political drama, the full story will take time to emerge. But private whispers of discontent amplified so rapidly into loud calls for his departure that the Plaid president felt he had no option.

But why did Ieuan Wyn Jones's position deteriorate so badly in the space of seven days?

How did he go from declaring "I'm a fighter, not a quitter" shortly after his party's election disaster on 1 May to announcing that, in fact, he was a quitter on 8 May?

Ominous

At around 0130 on Friday 1 May, the first result of the assembly election was announced, and it was ominous for Plaid. It lost the south Wales valley seat of Islwyn with a huge swing to Labour.

We weren't about to plunge a knife in his back
MP Simon Thomas

By the time the Plaid leader heard his own result in Ynys Mon, holding on to his seat, but with a drastically reduced majority - it was clear that his party would lose every spectacular gain it had made four years before.

Plaid's AMs were cut from 17 to 12. Curiously, before anyone had called publicly for Mr Jones to go, the party headquarters issued two statements denying that a change of leadership was needed.

Some senior party figures started to break ranks. On BBC Wales that evening, the Ceredigion MP Simon Thomas said he was sure Mr Jones would face a leadership challenge at some point.

Plaid Cymru conference
After the victories of 1999, Plaid thought it would build on success

On Monday, 5 May, as most attention was focussed on whether Labour might resume its coalition with the Liberal Democrats, more trouble was brewing for the Plaid leader.

His predecessor, Dafydd Wigley, warned that Dafydd Elis-Thomas should not, said Mr Wigley, be allowed to resume his position as presiding officer.

Then he cited "leadership" as one of the key failings in the Plaid campaign.

Sealed

On Tuesday, 6 May, the Plaid group met, and the party issued a statement claiming that all 12 members had backed Mr Jones.

But within hours several AMs and officials denied this. There had been no vote of confidence in Mr Jones, they said, and the leadership had not even been discussed.

The new assembly sat for the first time on Wednesday 7 May, at which Lord Elis-Thomas was duly re-elected presiding officer - with the support of Plaid AMs.

Seimon Glyn
Seimon Glyn was one of Ieuan Wyn Jones's strongest critics

But it was later on Wednesday that Ieuan Wyn Jones's fate was sealed. A group of four AMs met at the home of AM Helen Mary Jones and discussed the future of their party. There was another leading member of Plaid at the meeting.

On Thursday morning, Dai Lloyd, one of those present and also the chairman of the Plaid assembly group, went to see the leader and told him that six of the 12 AMs wanted him to go.

Later reports claimed that more members of the group told Dr Lloyd they wanted the leader out. But at least one of those has denied being part of any conspiracy and knew nothing of a meeting in anybody's home.

Figurehead

Sources within the group indicated that AMs who supported Mr Jones would have been Lord Elis-Thomas, Jocelyn Davies and Rhodri Glyn Thomas. Others had indicated that there should be a change of leadership - but not all had been consulted on the timescale for change.

The leadership has thrown away the values and the principles that had held it firm for three-quarters of a century
Councillor Seimon Glyn

Veteran Plaid figurehead Cynog Dafis questioned what exactly was said to the leader before he decided to resign. He asked whether Dr Lloyd actually told Mr Jones that the six had lost confidence in his leadership.

Dr Lloyd himself has said that he was that he was surprised by the resignation. The meeting, according to Dr Lloyd, was informal.

Mr Jones had been due to appear on BBC Wales's TV political show Dragon's Eye on Thursday evening. But at midday his appearance was cancelled, and by 1530 BBC Radio Wales had announced that the Plaid leader was about to quit.

Savaging

By then Seimon Glyn, the Gwynedd councillor who caused Mr Jones most problems at the start of his leadership by savaging his language policy, said for the first time that the leader should go.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas
There was friction when Lord Elis-Thomas returned as presiding officer

Mr Glyn said: "The leadership has thrown away the values and the principles that had held it firm for three-quarters of a century in favour of more moderate policies that in their eyes would appeal to more people.

"By making that kind of compromise they have ignored the needs of their core support."

At 1700 on Thursday, 8 May, Mr Jones emerged from the party headquarters to make his prepared statement announcing that he would go as soon as his successor was in place.

Three of the party's MPs - Simon Thomas, Adam Price and Hywel Williams, had wanted him to consider his position. But Mr Thomas denied the MPs were part of any plot.

Mr Thomas said: "What I certainly felt was that we would need a new leader by 2007. We weren't about to plunge a knife in his back."

Mr Wigley also denied being a conspirator. "I don't know what's been going on within the (assembly) group," he said. "I haven't been down to Cardiff and I haven't talked more than two members of the group during the last week."

Plot or not, Ieuan Wyn Jones's leadership was history.




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