Change and challenge: How Plaid Cymru hopes to be heard in a UK General Election

Rhun ap Iorwerth told his party its MPs “go there [the UK Parliament] to be Wales’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Wales.” Credit: PA Media

Plaid Cymru’s conference in Caernarfon is an opportunity for the party to present itself as ready for a UK General Election.

It’s certainly turned a corner from its Spring conference a year ago when then leader Adam Price was facing serious discontent.

He stepped down two months later following a highly critical report which found a “toxic culture” of misogyny, harassment and bullying within Plaid Cymru.

Those I’ve spoken to here in Caernarfon - even those who were very worried last March - acknowledge things have improved, although they accept there’s still some work to do to meet all the recommendations of the Prosiect Pawb report.

Plaid Cymru's leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, also addressed the party conference on Friday. Credit: ITV Wales

Rhun ap Iorwerth, who became leader last June, has spent much of the intervening time building bridges between different parts of Plaid Cymru that had been feeling cut adrift.

But if the party has turned a corner, there is another challenge waiting: in UK General Elections, Plaid Cymru is always at risk of being squeezed by both the Conservatives and Labour.

So it’s no surprise that the conference has seen repeated attacks on both and an attempt to tell voters what’s distinctive about Plaid Cymru.

In his speech, Rhun ap Iorwerth said that his party’s MPs “go there to be Wales’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Wales.”

As for Labour and the Conservatives, he said: “Red or blue – history has taught us that the London parties will always view Wales through a rather distorted prism.”

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Speaker after speaker here in Caernarfon has won applause for attacking the Conservatives, but also for attacking Labour.

Rhun ap Iorwerth conjured up “The sight of Rachel Reeves walking in lockstep with Jeremy Hunt” as did Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts, who told members: “Labour in 2024 look up to Thatcher as a blueprint. She was a ‘visionary’ according to one Labour front bencher. Another celebrated the ‘decade of renewal’ that followed Thatcher’s 1979 election.”

She criticised the “consensus between the two main parties,” which she said “cannot solve the crises we face today.”

Plaid Cymru is always at risk of being squeezed by both the Conservatives and Labour in a UK General Election. Credit: PA Images

That language was echoed by the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, who has been a guest at the conference.

He said the two parties are the only ones offering to “break up the cosy Westminster consensus.”

That approach is made more difficult by Plaid Cymru’s three year co-operation partnership with Labour in Wales.

Not a coalition, it has nevertheless seen Plaid MSs working closely with Labour ministers to deliver certain policies, most prominently a roll-out of free school meals to all primary school pupils.

It’s proof of a mature approach to politics that means Plaid Cymru policies are actually put into action, according to senior figures who also say it hasn’t stopped them opposing and attacking Labour in areas where they’re not cooperating.

But it risks muddying the waters at least and you can be certain that the Welsh Conservatives will do their best to remind voters about it.