Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, has denied that she “bottled out” of standing as a general election candidate, arguing that strong voices were needed at the Welsh assembly to fight the next UK government.
Wood told the Guardian that a beefed-up Plaid Westminster team would help defend Wales against the Tories if they win a large majority – but despite being the most recognisable and charismatic Plaid figure by far she has decided not to put her name forward.
“I’ve weighed it up. It was a difficult decision for me,” said Wood. “I do believe that many crucial decisions are going to be made in Westminster over the next couple of years but we also need strong voices in our national assembly because it’s under threat.”
Wood’s predecessor as leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, has said he wants to stand in the Ynys Môn – Anglesey – constituency, a key Plaid target in June.
But Wood said: “The elections to our national assembly in 2021 are going to be crucial to change the course of Wales’s fortunes and I’ve decided to remain in the national assembly to prioritise that 2021 election and the need to defend our country.”
Wood launched Plaid’s general election campaign in Bangor, north Wales, with Anglesey as a spectacular backdrop just across the Menai strait. The party is using the slogan “Tarian Cymru” – “Defending Wales”, once a clarion call for Welsh Labour.
She said: “Labour have failed to defend Wales. Since the vote to leave the European Union we have heard more about Gibraltar than we’ve heard about Wales. It’s essential that we in Wales have a team of representatives who are ready to fight for the Welsh national interest. Labour have proved themselves unable to do that. They are divided, they use most media opportunities to attack their leader. We need strong voices to defend Wales in Westminster and a Plaid Cymru team will do just that.”
Wood continued: “Wales is in grave danger. The Conservative party wants to see this nation under London control. They’ve never liked devolution. They seek a mandate to continue with austerity, privatisations, cuts to frontline services.”
She said an emboldened Tory government would try to “rob” Wales of millions of pounds and threaten its industries, jobs, universities and farming sector.
For the moment, Plaid’s aim of securing independence for Wales appears to have been sidelined. Wood said: “This election is going to be more about survival, I think. We have a very big job of defending Wales to protect our communities.”
Asked about voters who planned to back the Tories because they thought Theresa May would be strong in Brexit negotiations, Wood said: “Remember the Tories’ record in Wales. They have a long record of neglecting Wales and causing us harm. Why would you want to give them a stronger mandate to do even worse to us?”
Ynys Môn is set to be a fascinating battleground. Labour just held Plaid off in 2015 (by 229 votes) but a poll published on Monday suggested the Tories could win this time around.
On Anglesey, leisure centre administrator Karen Owen said she would be backing the Tories. “I haven’t always voted Tory and I was a remainer but I think Theresa May is best-placed to get us through Brexit.”
Elizabeth Barlow was on her way to play a round of golf. She has always voted Tory and will do so again – but said she wouldn’t be distraught if Ieuan Wyn Jones won. “He’s a decent man and I know he’s done some good for this area.”
Street cleaner Kelvin Owen said it was Tory for him too. Asked about Jeremy Corbyn, he replied: “He should be in the Monster Raving Loony party.”
Paul Jones, 43, is a swing voter. “I’m undecided. I’ll weigh it all up and make my decision,” he said. “But I like Plaid Cymru. I don’t think London cares much about north Wales. Any money there is seems to stay in Cardiff and south.”
Still, it is not a foregone conclusion. Shaun Williams, 19, who works in a cafe, voted for Brexit but is not sure where he will put his X when he votes for the first time in a general election. “Probably not the Tories, maybe Labour. I’ve still got some thinking to do.”