Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 17:07 UK

Plaid to tackle its 'false image'

By Adrian Browne
BBC News

Ieuan Wyn Jones on why Wales is losing out financially

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones has told supporters they must tackle "false perceptions" about the party.

At its autumn conference in Llandudno, he urged members to stress that the party is for everyone wherever they live in Wales, whatever their language.

It is understood research for Plaid has shown a significant proportion of voters believe it is extreme and irrelevant in UK-wide elections.

Mr Jones insisted the party's "only loyalty is to the people of Wales".

With a general election certain within nine months, it is Plaid Cymru's last major conference before polling day and much of the event and a party political broadcast are seeking to challenge the negative image many voters are thought to have of Plaid.

Ieuan Wyn Jones speaks to his party conference at Llandudno
Ieuan Wyn Jones addresses supporters in Llandudno

Party strategists have long been aware of the dangers of it being seen as simply a party for Welsh speakers or rural areas, more interested in independence than the more immediate concerns of ordinary voters.

But it would seem such impressions are firmly embedded in the minds of many of the voters it needs to attract if it is to achieve the sort of general election breakthrough which has eluded it so far.

Since devolution, Plaid Cymru AMs have won in traditional Labour areas such as Rhondda and Llanelli, but in Westminster terms it remains a small party representing rural, Welsh-speaking areas, contrasting with the broader support base its Scottish counterpart the SNP has achieved.

Mr Jones told BBC Radio Wales the party was trying to understand whether there were "reasons why certain people feel they can't vote for Plaid at the moment".

He said: "We're addressing those at this conference and giving them positive reasons why they should do so."

He continued: "I think there have been occasions when we have broken through - even in the 60s and 70s we had massive votes for Plaid in the valleys of south Wales.

"But it's a different political context now, completely different, because people don't see Plaid simply as a vehicle for protest votes any more.

"They think, my God, those people are part of running the country."

Mr Jones told the conference that the party needed to tell people it was for everyone in Wales regardless of the language they speak, where they are from or where they live.

In a speech lasting around 35 minutes, Mr Jones called for a " new politics" insisting that only Plaid offered "real change".

'Principles'

Reflecting on the reasons he came into politics, he said: "I love my country and I have always wanted to see it grow in confidence, be able to stand on its own two feet, to do more things for itself.

"What I wanted is to see a political system that allowed Wales not only to fulfil its potential as a nation, but which enabled us to put into practice all those things I believed Wales stood for: principles of fairness, of fair play and giving every individual the ability to reach his or her potential regardless of background or financial clout."

Mr Jones also announced the party was launching its "biggest ever consultation" through the general election and up to the 2011 assembly poll "to ask everyone how Welsh government can help them and to ask you all to join us in that task".

Backed by the party's new slogan 'Think Different. Think Plaid', Mr Jones told delegates that "the credibility of the political system has crumbled" and Gordon Brown's government had "lost its moral compass".

Major breakthrough

"Now is not the time for a false choice between two parties who have miserably failed Wales over the past two decades," he argued.

"At a time when people in Wales feel angry and let down by the same old Westminster politics now is the time for change," Mr Jones said.

He asserted that Labour had "had it" and was "unrecognisable" to communities who "loyally supported it for almost a century".

But the Plaid leader said the change offered by the Conservatives at the general election amounts to cuts and threats to jobs and services, while protecting the "rich and powerful".

The party has three MPs, in Caernarfon, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and Meirionnydd Nant Conwy.

It hopes to more than double that by winning Anglesey, Aberconwy, Ceredigion and Llanelli.

Referendum

Such general election success would clearly represent a major breakthrough for Plaid, but would also put it in a stronger position to challenge Labour in the 2011 assembly election.

Delegates are also considering how the party should respond to a Conservative general election victory and what it should seek to extract from David Cameron in return for Plaid's support in the event of a hung parliament.

Changes to the way Wales receives funding from the Treasury and certainty over the issue of holding a referendum on further assembly powers are understood to be the prizes Plaid would want.



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