Adam Price’s Blog

The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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28th April 2009

The New Nasty Party?

Liberal Democrats have a knack of issuing regular pleas to ‘clean up’ politics and rid it of personal attacks….only then to go and engage in the same kind of personal attacks they criticise in others.  We in Plaid still remember the innuendos levelled routinely at Simon Thomas during the Ceredigion by-election (that he was gay-  ’because he wore a ear-ring’ apparently - and that he was a vegetarian - so what if he was, but in actual fact he was and still is a happily married carnivore).  Another typical underhand Lib Dem tactic is to question your motive, so that even where they agree with what you are saying, they imply you are not saying it sincerely, or for the wrong reason, and that they therefore still deserve the moral high ground all to themselves. 

A standard trope trotted out by a number of Lib Dem commentators recently, for example,  is that I wasn’t genuinely opposed to the new policy on tuition fees in Wales: I was ‘faking’ it for the media.  In this vein Peter Black argued:

“his prime objective appears to be to try and distance Plaid Cymru from decisions by its own Ministers in the hope of limiting the electoral damage. Once more he is trying to have his cake and eat it.”

As if the party leadership would deliberately want a headline like this.  Kirsty Williams has also accused me of ‘grandstanding’ which is a word that politicians like to use a lot (and like ‘churlish’ not a word you ever hear being used by anyone else). It essentially means ‘getting a lot of media coverage while not actually giving a tinker’s cuss’. 

Now Alison Goldsworthy of Cardiff West Lib Dems, asks, following a Freedom of Information request:

But why on earth wouldn’t Adam have used the many internal channels available to him as one of Plaid’s most influential politicians to voice these concerns beforehand.”

Well, for the record, Alison I had numerous conversations over many months with Plaid’s Special Advisers right up to my drafting the letter which was leaked to the Western Mail (believe me there are easier and less painful ways of getting publicity than drafting a four page letter of carefully worded legal argument).  I wrote publicly about my concerns in November last year. I tabled a motion to our National Council which reiterated our party policy.  I did in other words use all the channels available to me, internally and externally to try and halt the policy. 

Why?  Because I  received a full student grant in the 1980s and I would not be typing this now as a graduate if I hadn’t.  I spent four years on the executive of the National Union of Students in Wales and student financial support was the main theme of my maiden speech in the House of Commons. 

What did the Welsh Liberal Democrats do to defeat the policy - pour a bucket of spit over those of us who had the courage of our convictions and continued to oppose fees despite the difficulties this obviously created for the leadership of our party.  Together with the Tories who appeared to welcome the policy U-turn  as an Opposition party the Lib Dems were about as useful as a Member’s room chocolate tea-pot.  Two AMs (Leanne and Bethan) and one ‘grandstanding’ MP did a better job of opposition to this policy than an entire Assembly Group of half a dozen.  If the LDs were sincere in wanting to defeat this policy they would have worked with us rather than attacking us at every opportunity.  In reality they were quite happy for the policy to pass in order to milk the electoral advantage.  At no point did they try and build a coalition by reaching out to Plaid or Labour rebels.  But, then, I forgot they are the worse Coalition builders in history.    

Cynog Dafis once argued that there isn’t room in Welsh politics for the Lib Dems and Plaid.  I am beginning to agree.  But if we must have four-party politics, does the one eternally at the bottom of the pile have to be a weak centrist party with no real intellectual coherence.  The BNP or UKIP, of course, would be far, far worse.  But surely the Greens would be better.

In the meantime all these Lib-Dem attacks on Plaid will do nothing to endear Plaid supporters in Mid Wales that have traditionally voted Liberal to keep the Tories out.  With the Lib Dems openly admitting they will back the Tories at Westminster even if they could be blocked,  we will be telling our voters in Maldwyn, Brycheiniog a Maesyfed at the next election not to waste their vote on fair-weather progressives.  After all, as someone once said, what’s the point?    

Update: No discernible response to any of the above from the Lib Dems apart from this from Peter Black:

Whatever the views and actions of individual members of Plaid, they are now members of a party that has sold out Welsh students and that is something we are not going to let them forget.”

I take that as some kind of apology which I am gracious enough to accept.  But it doesn’t explain why the Liberal Democrats made no effort to reach out to people who had common ground to try and halt the policy. I wrote to every university union in Wales to seek their views (and was surprised and disappointed to find they agreed with the Government line with some important exceptions).  I am left with the distinct impression that the Lib Dems were more interested in playing ‘electoral politics’ than real politics which means forging alliances inside, outside and across parties.  The same was true in the case of the anti-war movement where the Lib Dems played very little part outside of Parliament (in the Stop The War Coalition for example) and only belatedly agreed to provide speakers for the marches.  Overall the silence in reponse to my trenchant critique of the Lib Dems is pretty deafening.  Is there anyone out there? Haranguing the Liberal Democrats is a bit like worrying the carcass of a dead sheep.   

5 Responses to “The New Nasty Party?”

  1. KirstyWilliamsAM says:
    April 29th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Adam, we are the only party opposing tuition fees in the Assembly, however we are always willing to work with others to help students.

    Why not get in touch and let’s talk about how we can campaign together on this issue.

  2. Adam says:
    April 30th, 2009 at 4:48 pm


    thanks for getting in touch. Vaughan Roderick and Peter Black confirm that this is a genuine offer so I am very happy to take it up. I am keen to work with anyone - in the short and long term - to defeat or, if that proves impossible, to reverse this damaging policy. My party has given its members a free vote on this issue - I hope Labour will do the same. My office will contact you to discuss a convenient time to meet.

  3. Richard Vale says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 9:23 am

    It was very disappointing to read your two rather vitriolic attacks on the Liberal Democrats and to see you question whether there is even room for Liberalism in Wales. Liberalism has a very long and honourable tradition in Wales, and on just about all of the major current issues, your stance and that of the LibDems is very close indeed, as any comparison of voting records in Westminster will show. That is very much to your credit, and goes a long way to explaining why you are deservedly such a highly regarded and well-liked MP in your constituency and beyond.

    Most voters in your constituency will probably not read your blog, and most ordinary voters who don’t follow every twist and turn of our politics would probably feel that this spat (and yes, it takes two to make a quarrel) shows that those involved are losing sight of the wood for the trees.

    Labour’s decades-old cynical manipulation and neglect of Wales, its opposition to giving the people of Wales a bigger say in their own affairs, and the looming prospect of a Tory government in Westminster - that is where the fire needs to be directed.

    As someone who is not a member of either Plaid or the LibDems, but who is sympathetic to both, please lay off each other! You share much more DNA than you might care to admit.

  4. Adam says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 5:17 pm


    Thanks for your thoughtful reminder of the higher purposes of politics which can all too often ben lost in all the noise and fury. I am by instinct a non-tribal politician though where I’m attacked I’ve always thought it’s better to defend yourself otherwise you allow your opponents to define you (a lesson the Democrats learned from the failed 2000 and 2004 Presidential Election cycles). I would prefer ‘passionate’and ‘provocative’ to ‘vitriolic’ as a descriptor for my blog posts, and I think the nature of this medium is that it is unmediated, direct communication, and often involves a touch of sardonic humour. But I take the point. In my defence I would say that I was aiming for a reaction which I did indeed get, so job done - and now we are going to try and find some common ground. A lot of us in politics have more of than that than we care to admit because we like to maintain the fiction that we alone have the monopoly on the truth. There are dividing lines: the national question, certainly, and to some extent, the question of class and social justice where Kirsty (rather than her party) and I probably share some common values but her party remains confused as to what it stands for: the proto-social democracy of say a Lloyd George (the honourable Welsh Liberal tradition to which you refer, and of which the ex-Labour councillor Cable is also a proponent ) or the classical liberalism of the ninteenth century which currently finds favour among the Cleggies. Historically there certainly is a lot of overlap between Plaid and Liberalism, particularly as PLaid sees itself accepting the mantle of the Welsh Radical tradition. If the Lib Dems were the radical party of the non-Labour Left that some of its members might aspire to then there would be a lot more weight to your argument The problem is that the Lib Dems in Wales (and more generally) have followed a different trajectory: tacking to the centre-right increasingly in response to Tory resurgence. It’s in that context that I argue that I’m not sure that the Lib Dems are adding much to the sum total of our understanding in Welsh politics. Harsh, maybe but a sincerely held view on my part. There is a great reservoir of ideas and traditions of the non-statist Left in Wales and Britain which Plaid have in some ways drawn upon. THe Lib Dems’ policy of equi-distance (from Labour and Conservatives) has prevented them from tapping in to that. And what we are left with I fear is a party that is issues-based but without a fully worked out philosophy of why it says what it says on any of them. Nevertheless where we agree on an issue, whetever ther underlying reason - as we do on tuition fees it’s right that we should together. Point taken.

  5. Richard Vale says:
    May 4th, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Diolch yn fawr, Adam. Ateb diddorol dros ben - bron digon i fy argyhoeddi o achos Plaid! Ga i awgrymu peth arall, sef darn am y digwyddiadau diweddara’ ynglŷn â’r LCO Iaith? Yn ôl Welsh Ramblings mae Paul Murphy wrthi’n tanseilio’r broses ymgynghori.

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