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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 13:33 GMT
Ieuan Wyn Jones: Plaid Cymru President

By BBC Wales's Political Editor David Williams

Ieuan who? It's the unkindest cut of all for a politician.

Recognition is everything and, until recently, there were those who did not know who Ieuan Wyn Jones was, either politcally or personally.

Then things changed dramatically and unexpectedly for the president of Plaid Cymru, but not in the way he would have wished.

Plaid Cymru's President Ieuan Wyn Jones AM
Ieuan Wyn Jones: Widespread recognition
It should have been an opportunity for the new leader to shine.

Appearing on BBC's Question Time programme in Caernarfon, a Welsh speaking Plaid stronghold, Ieuan Wyn Jones had an opportunity to reinforce his leadership qualities on national television.

Instead he played into the hands of his political enemies with a less than convincing performance on that most difficult of subjects in Wales - the impact of inward migration on Welsh speaking communities.

The remarks of one of Plaid's north Wales councillors about English immigrants had caused howls of protests, not least from the Labour party anxious to capitalise on their opponent's difficulties.

Ieuan Wyn Jones' response on national television raised questions about his leadership qualities and he was found wanting.

Plaid's leader, though, is a very determined man. It is this and other qualities which, over the years, has helped him to retain the volatile and marginal parliamentary seat of Ynys Mon, or Anglesey - first won in 1987.

The former Plaid Cymru President Dafydd Wigley AM
Dafydd Wigley : A hard act to follow?
If there was any doubt about his hold on the seat it must have been dispelled in the National Assembly election two years ago when he won it again for his party, this time with a thumping majority.

Now he is MP, AM and party president, but it has made little impression outside his own immediate political circle.

Ieuan Wyn is of the party's rural Welsh-speaking heartland.

A family man with three children, he has written books in English and Welsh on things as diverse as Europe (of which more later) and the Welsh nineteenth century publisher, Thomas Gee.

He has lived largely in the shadow of the former party president and his predecessor Dafydd Wigley, the MP and AM who had to stand down as president because of health reasons.

It is undoubtedly a hard act to follow and Ieuan Wyn Jones know it.

But he is not without skills of his own.

Ieuan Wyn Jones' response on national television raised questions about his leadership qualities and he was found wanting.

David Williams
His managerial and organisational abilities - he helped mastermind the party's sensational National Assembly campaign - are recognised and appreciated within his own party.

But even here there are those who point to his lack of charisma and stature.

This familiar perception of the leader irks his friends and supporters who rally to his defence.

He is new to the job, they say, and will grow in stature as did Dafydd Wigley and Gwynfor Evans before him.

Plaid's Assembly successes in the Labour heartlands has sent a shiver down the old enemy's spine.

Welsh-speaking heartland

The battle to come will be Ieuan Wyn Jones first real test of leadership.

Will the new man from the north overcome the problems of personal anonymity?

Will he succeed in retaining the party's appeal in the Welsh-speaking heartland?

Will he be able to attract potential voters in the largely English-speaking valleys?

The answers are probably No, Yes and Maybe.

Privately, the party would be happy to hold its four rural seats and gain the historically important Carmarthen East.

If they won the fourway marginal of Conwy as well and increased their share of the vote to around 15% - a 50% increase - Ieuan would be a very happy leader indeed.

For their part, New Labour, perhaps fooling themselves just a touch, point to 'their' success in achieving Objective One European money for Wales.

Objective One

Together with the loss of Dafydd Wigley, they see the political world facing Ieuan Wyn as more challenging than anything Plaid has faced before.

But New Labour seems to forget that Plaid and the other opposition parties had something to do with securing Objective One.

It was they who saw off a First Secretary and it was this, perhaps more than anything else, which concentrated minds in the Treasury and delivered Wales its European millions.

Ieuan Wyn Jones was in the vanguard of that victory.

One of the first things he did when he took over the leadership last summer was to oversee the launch of an internal consultation exercise to determine where the party membership stood on the vexed question of the party's constitutional aims.

At the end of all the soul searching the party was back to where it began, with a form of words identical to the one they had begun with.

Plaid wants full national status within the European Union. No surprises there then.

So it is against this background that a determined 52-year-old solicitor stands down as an MP to fight his first general election as an Assembly Member and leader of Plaid Cymru.

At the back of his mind, though, must be thoughts of another election - the National Assembly election in 2003.

That is the one which really exercises his mind. It is the one which he hopes will sweep his party to power; bring parity with Scotland and a place for Wales in Europe.

By the time of that election he had better hope that he is better known for the right reasons.



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