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Plaid Cymru – a new leader by March

We knew that Ieuan Wyn Jones was going to step down from his party’s top job, now we know when.

He’s set out his timetable for departure today, saying he can now do that because the review into what went wrong for Plaid in May’s election is up and running under the leadership of party big-wig Eurfyl ap Gwilym who aims to complete it by the end of the year.

Since Mr Jones and others had repeatedly said he should stay on to oversee that review, this development means he’s now free to state that that contest to succeed him will start in January.

There’ll be a 10-week election campaign and the new leader will be in place in time for the party’s spring conference in March.

When I spoke to him earlier, Mr Jones denied he’d been put under any pressure to leave earlier than his previously stated and deliberately vague timetable.

You may remember that following Plaid’s poor election performance he said he’d stand down sometime in the first half of the Assembly which meant an upper limit of two and a half years.

There were those who were worried about drift and an extended period of navel-gazing if that such a long goodbye could have led to.

But Mr Jones says ‘everyone seems comfortable’ with the timetable he outlined today.

And he points out that a March 2012 starting date gives the next leader four years to prove themselves before the next Welsh election.

But the party faces an earlier test in the shape of May’s local government elections.

Former Presiding Officer and former leader Dafydd Elis-Thomas told me today that getting Plaid councillors elected must be a priority and that it would be ‘tight’ to go into those elections from a leadership contest, but at least voters would have heard the arguments.

And that view’s important because it was thought that Lord Elis-Thomas was one of those leading calls within the party for a shorter leadership contest to be concluded in time for Plaid’s September conference.

And if he’s content with Mr Jones’ timetable, that suggests there’s unlikely to be any opposition to it which ought to prevent arguments about it dominating the autumn conference.

Incidentally, Dafydd Elis-Thomas is the only Plaid AM to confirm that he will allow his name to be put forward as a candidate and he reiterated that to me today.

Another two senior figures – Elin Jones and Simon Thomas – have said they’ll spend the summer considering and discussing with others whether or not they should do so too.

One thing everybody agrees on is that there should be a contest.

Simon Thomas told me there are ‘enough issues around the party that need airing’ and that such debate will be ‘healthy not destructive.’

For Dafydd Elis-Thomas though, the point of a contest is to make sure that members have ‘a proper choice’ of potential leaders who can ‘take new ground.’

Whatever happens, it means the end is in sight of  a remarkably long, if  sometimes turbulent, period of leadership for Ieuan Wyn Jones.

He said to me that ‘there is an element of personal relief’ that the timetable has now been set.

And when he finishes being the longest-serving party leader in the Assembly, he passes that title to the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams.



About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.


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