Welsh Labour members say yesterday’s election of Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood will not be enough to attract voters disillusioned by the Westminster coalition.
Ms Wood, who joined the party in 1991, will be the first female to lead Plaid and will take over from Ieuan Wyn Jones, who has led the party for 12 years.
She won against Elin Jones by 55.1 per cent in the final round of the election contest, and is a Welsh language-learner from Rhonda. The party, which traditionally draws its greatest support from north Wales, is hoping Ms Wood will appeal to a wider audience across the country.
“Leanne is definitely the right person to take us forward,” said Osian Lewis, the Plaid Cymru candidate for Penarth. “She will combat that perception with Plaid that it is a party for Welsh speakers. In terms of taking on the Labour party we definitely chose the best candidate.
“We have managed to get some good coverage in the media. I think that people will see we have a new leader and this a good opportunity for us to get our message across.”
But former council leader Russell Goodway said Labour would remain the only option for people wishing to vote against the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the council elections next May.
“I think very little of the election contest,” he said. “I guess for the majority of people Plaid is not on the radar. Most people won’t have known there was an election for the leadership.”
Following the news of her success Ms Wood promised to deliver real independence for Wales. She aims to create a decentralized Welsh economy, encouraging small businesses and giving devolved power to local communities.
But Mr Goodway, now a Welsh Labour party councilor for Ely, said he thought this promise would be damaging and not everyone within Plaid would support independence.
“Any advantage that she gets coming from Rhonda will be negated by her aggressive policies for independence,” he said. “People in Wales don’t like aggressive policies, certainly all the opinion polls show there is no support for independence in Wales.”
Ralph Cooke, Labour councillor for Trowbridge, said he believed Plaid’s party leader Neil McEvoy was damaging its reputation and Ms Wood could do nothing to counter-act this in Cardiff.
“Plaid has a very bizarre council group leader who is very unpopular, he has even upset his own party members,” he said. “I don’t think Leanne will do a great deal for council elections.
“What you find with elections is that it usually gives the party a boost for a while. The measure of the leader is whether it will last and I don’t think Leanne will have that gravitas. I couldn’t really see it making a difference.”
Speaking after her election Ms Wood paid tribute to her Elin Jones and Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who ran against her, and said this was the start of a new chapter for the party.
“The election is over, now the real work begins,” said Ms Wood. I may not be the leader of the official opposition, but I intend to lead the official proposition.
“Our task now is to build on the work of all those who have gone before us. We may be small, as a party and as a country, but we can stand tall if we stand together.”