What Plaid Cymru can learn from Neil McEvoy

Neil McEvoy AM

Ifan Morgan Jones

If you’re not already an avid follower of the website State of Wales by Owen Donovan, it is well worth a look.

A recent post, Where’s the centre ground in Wales? caught my eye as it discussed many of the issues that we’ve been grappling with on the pages of Nation.Cymru over the past months.

Owen suggests that the old ‘left’ and ‘right’ labels may be out of date and that the new battle is between the populists on one side and technocrats on the other.

Interestingly, Owen places Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats very firmly on the technocratic side of this new axis.

Meanwhile, UKIP and the Conservative party are near the populist side.

If you’re a populist, you tend to think that there’s an out-of-touch elite running things for their own benefit, in a way that doesn’t serve the best interests of the people.

If you’re a technocrat you tend to consider the will of the people to be quite a dangerous thing (the death penalty, anyone?) and prefer to depend on the experts’ view of what actually works.

This reminds me a little bit of the old Thinking/Feeling divide in the Myers and Briggs personalities test.

That is, does an individual do what they ‘feel’ is right or do they consult the evidence and then attempt to act as rationally as possible?

The battle between the populists and the technocrats is currently ongoing in every political party in Wales, bar perhaps the Lib Dems and UKIP.

Labour has been taken over by Momentum, and the Tory party has been taken over by Eurosceptics.

And, as Owen notes, Plaid now faces its own internal populist vs technocratic battle, with the leadership pitched against Neil McEvoy and many of their own members.

Independence

You may presume that as a university lecturer I’d be firmly on the side of the technocrats within Plaid Cymru. But it’s not quite that simple.

There are three reasons to question what experts have to say:

  • They have blind spots. They’ve risen to prominence within a system which has its own biases and assumptions. Think about the Civil Service in Whitehall. They are no doubt experts, but there’s a diversity problem: Most have an Oxbridge education and come from a similar cultural background.
  • They are experts in one thing. An expert in providing drinking water choosing the site of a new reservoir isn’t there to think about the political and psychological effects of drowning a village.
  • They’re naturally cautious. Their entire career depends on being right. As such, they tend to be quite conservative when it comes to their recommendations.

As such, a national movement that is too technocratic is unlikely to be able to excite people with a grand, sweeping vision of a transformed society.

Experts don’t do grand and sweeping, they do the nitty-gritty.

To encourage people to vote for change, a national movement needs to give people a little of what they want as well as a little of what they need.

There are utilitarian arguments for independence and there are emotional arguments for independence – both need to be deployed.

What Neil McEvoy and his merry men and women recognise is quite simple: that sometimes people still don’t want something despite what the experts say.

Look at the two issues to which he’s campaigned on recently: the felling of trees at Waterloo Gardens in Cardiff, and the dumping of mud from Hinkley Point in waters outside the city.

In both cases, the expert view is clear: The trees need to be felled to provide flood protection, and there’s nothing radioactive about the mud.

But Neil McEvoy has realised that people’s gut feelings on these issues also count. People like the trees, and they don’t like the idea of ‘nuclear’ mud being dumped near their shore.

And who is to tell them that they’re wrong? The flood defence experts don’t know anything about the benefits of greenery on mental health, and people can’t be blamed for being worried about potentially nuclear mud.

It’s the job of politicians to take the holistic view and balance what the experts say is best with what the people actually want.

Not doing so is dangerous for democracy because it leads to pent of frustration with the establishment that can spill over into acts of self-harm.

Brexit was a good example of this. Technocratic politicians simply ignored concerns about immigration and a loss of sovereignty because experts told them they were on the right track.

The end result was a much more damaging backlash than if they had gotten to grips with people’s concerns, no matter how ‘irrational’ they were, in the first place.

In the long run, Plaid Cymru may need to rediscover its populist side if it is to make any headway in convincing people that a new Wales is possible.

The firmly technocratic approach just isn’t appealing to a population that knows very little about Welsh politics, and cares even less what Plaid’s latest policy ideas are.

They don’t need to become UKIP, or Trump, or even Momentum. But there is surely a middle-ground between the populist and technocratic wings within the party that can be straddled.

In doing so they can achieve something that Labour and the Tories have not: To heal a divide before the party is consumed by civil war.


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kim erswell
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kim erswell

Neil is one politician who puts a smile on my face…Diolch, Neil!

JD
Guest
JD

He really is the best we’ve got. I honestly hope he will lead Plaid or form his own party. Nothing else will change things in Wales.

russellelliott
Guest

Neil never fails to put a smile on my face too!

Angharad
Guest

Fascinating article. I’d just make one observation on the supposed divide between the populist and the technocrat.

Believing there is an out-of-touch elite running things is not incompatible with believing that the “will of the people” is dangerous. This is especially true in a system where a government can have absolute power with a minority vote.

Think JRM. If you dare.

Alex Heffron (@AlexHeffron88)
Guest

Excellent piece. Spot on. It’s the balance, opposition, and middle-ground of those two seemingly-opposing forces where governance should exist. They should both influence the other.

Pen-Cloch
Guest
Pen-Cloch

“The flood defence experts don’t know anything about the benefits of greenery on mental health, and people can’t be blamed for being worried about potentially nuclear mud.” Bravo IMJ

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

A good analysis; dw i’n cytino evo chi. The only AMs that I can think of who have any fire in their bellies are Andrew RT, Mohammed Asghar (once in a while and on very local issues) – and Neil McEvoy. The rest are like finance department managers in a local government office debating how to spend this year’s budget. McEvoy is like a nugget of gold in a sea of radioactive mud. Wales has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing issues and causes that a party could pick up and run with – LDPs and the… Read more »

Benjiman L. Angwin
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Benjiman L. Angwin

The term technocrat is rather biased. What we are seeing is a new ideological war developing. Populism is not the answer because it leads to division and hatred. What we are seeing in the world today is an increasing divide between Liberal viewpoints and Populist ones. Corbyn and the Tories, Podemos in Spain, and Syriza in Greece are Populist. Justin Trudeau, Macrón, the Liberal Democrats and the coalition government in the Netherlands, are on the other, Liberal side of this new divide. Welsh Nationalism needs to come to terms with the 21st century. The war between socialism and capitalism now… Read more »

Phil Steele
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Phil Steele

This ‘technocrat’ / ‘populist’ dichotomy seems to me to describe the symptoms rather than the fundamental problem, which is neoliberal capitalism exploiting new technologies to eat its own children, like Saturn on the rampage. In its greed it destroys class, jobs, communities, cultures and languages. A party such as Plaid Cymru should not be doing a pick-and mix of tactics like Tony Blair, but grasping the nettle and fighting with more imagination and conviction than their rivals (well that shouldn’t be too hard!). By radical action, self-determination becomes a real asset, not just a piece of wistful, wishful thinking. We… Read more »

Edeyrn
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Edeyrn

Indeed imperialism which morphed into corporate capitalism is truly cancerous and will eventually cannibalise itself through sheer hypocrisy and contradiction

Margaret Hall
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Margaret Hall

I agree, Phil. I actually think that “technocrat”/”populist” is a false dichotomy but it suits the real people with power — who are not the politicians but the 1% of ultra-wealthy people who pull the politicians strings — to set the population at each other’s throats. Divide and rule is working as it always has to keep the powerful in power and prevent everyone else having any say in what happens in their country.

Oh dear
Guest
Oh dear

Too true. It’s the Asshole Effect. The sense of entitlement and superiority of AMs who hobnobb with lobbyists is shocking to us lesser mortals. The haughty elite wouldn’t give you the time of day. So quick to judge and condemn from on high. Same as having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich/powerful are way more likely to prioritise their own self-interests above the interests of other people. They are more likely to exhibit characteristics we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes. As inequality mounts and the policies entrenching it remain, as politicians are increasingly drawn from the top… Read more »

Anarchist and Welsh Nash
Guest

This is a fair summation of the present situation by IMJ. The problem is he seems to think there is a means to reconcile the technocratic and populist wings of Plaid, in a kind of new middle way approach. This reminds me of the Third Way that Tomy Blair tried to flog to the electorate at one stage. It was of course an empty shell. And quickly abandoned. The truth is Plaid are imploding. Completely. There’s nothing any one can do about it. In a way it’s terrifying to watch. What’s interesting that the imploding features of both the Tories… Read more »

Neil McEvoy
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Neil McEvoy

My bosses are the voters. I am there to represent their concerns. My political antennae is guided by all the conversations I have. Re: Roath Brook: an expert view to avoid destroying the park is the temporary lowering of Roath lake, which engineers say can be done. Re: nuclear mud: I think it is irresponsible to rely on 5 samples only below 5cm from 2009. The job of Plaid is to provide solutions. When we do that and communicate them effectively, Plaid grows hugely. We don’t do it anywhere near enough across Wales. I wish we did.

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

Well said. Technocratic solutions to two environmental problems, leading to two decisions that would prove popular (or ‘populist’). Lower the lake and take the boats off for a while, and do a more thorough analysis of the mud.

Pen-Cloch
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Pen-Cloch

“The Leadership were desperate to appear moderate and not scare off the middle classes, and in doing so, they left many of their cores supporters feeling a deep sense of betrayal”

Page 139 of Arguments Yard, the Autobiography of Attila the Stockbroker.

Here he is describing the Labour Party of 1986/87. It is so appropriate for Plaid Cymru today, it is unreal.

CambroUiDunlainge
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CambroUiDunlainge

When a nation is visibly disintegrating culturally and economically I think the greater the problems of the nations people. So in a country thats doing reasonably well populism is dangerous and reason rules. But in our situation there’s a lurch towards populism because we’re literally getting to the point where if you’re not engaging with the will and needs of the people then you’re simply not engaging with the people at all. The direction of populism is also dependent on the people leading it – thats where the broad church needs to come in (like the SNP) so that populism… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
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CambroUiDunlainge

Did write this once… not sure if it got moderated or I hit refresh by accident (food was calling so I was in a rush). Wales has a lot of problems. More problems the country has usually means its people have a lot of problems too… as in comparison to a stable nation like say… Norway. When the people have more problems it means “populism” must be engaged with. If its not then people feel their politicians are out of touch or even ignoring them. Two things can happen next – a party becomes a broad church and puts the… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I look in different directions, I see see the rabbit in the field. Let’s shoot. It’s trespassing. I shall plant mines and trip wire. It runs in circles. Hopping, and enjoying the freedom of an open field and garden . Pity it breeds, too many you see. Soon there will be a three,and four. Just the same . Running around with bobbed tails . One is called Peter, he’s Mr Mc Gregor’s worse enemy. The others are topsy, flopsy and cotton tail . For ever young. A wonder of Beatrix. Nature had much to give and learn from. The seasons… Read more »

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

That sums it up nicely (in your unique style).

kim erswell
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kim erswell

Neil is Cymru’s Ghandi, Martin Luther King…potentially. To quote, Ghandi – “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win…” I have the feeling those words will be proved true.

russellelliott
Guest

Or how about Moses, leading his people to the promised land, I’m sure Neil could part Cardiff Bay if he asked the sea in his inimitable style

Max Wallis
Guest

Populism may be grounded in instinct, but may be rightly suspicious of technocrats. As in the Roath Brook struggle, they challenged the low value given to trees by NRW’s flood-engineers, were scathing of their promises to plant new trees and spend lots of (our) money to recreate the destroyed parkland. We know a diverse ecosystem takes decades to mature. Those populists were rightly sceptical of the plans to excavate a river-sized channel for our little Brook. Instead, they endorsed arguments for the alternative strategy of trapping or containing peak flood waters in existing lakes (Roath Park Lake and Llanishen reservoir)… Read more »

Michael Costas-Michael
Guest
Michael Costas-Michael

Neil McEvoy is a delusional liar,when he was deputy leader not long ago he was happy to cut down trees in Bute Park.He was happy to try to build a school on a park.so much for green policies. McEvoy simply takes any opportunity for cheap self publicity. He states that by lowering the water in Roath Park lake the flooding problem will go away.what nonsense,it’s about the tidal flow in the stream that leads to the River Rumney as well as the flow from any storm overflow from the lake. His disciples like Max Wallis are happy to go along… Read more »

kim erswell
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kim erswell

Seem’s you have a lot of personnel bitterness towards, Neil which leaves questions marks over what you say – in my mind – Michael. It reads sourly.

Dyl
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Dyl

Populism is an exploiter of the populous. I don’t think plaid have anything to learn from adopting the politics of exploitation. ,

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

Rather a neat explanation. And would concur. Populism defined as ” a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against a privileged elite”. Populism is reshaping the world writes the Economist. The challenge of the political class. Led by charismatic leaders referring to “them and us” to Free trade and immigration, as the sores of the populous. Keying into our fears and anxieties through of lack of control, and unfair distribution of wealth. Globalisation . Unheard and marginalised. Down trodden, exploited and taken for granted. Only the establishment and status quo matters. Familiar ?… Read more »

russellelliott
Guest

Succinctly put Dyl

Neil McEvoy
Guest
Neil McEvoy

Just for context, Cllr Michael Costas Michael was the Labour councillor who saw Fairwater go from 80% Labour to 60% Plaid. After losing, he was placed in another safe seat on the other side of the City. I’m confident Cardiff Plaid will win that seat next time also. I think it’s great he reads Nation.

Abertaweman
Guest

I joined Plaid in the 90s and I remember the conferences before Devolution. It was a members party – and it was a collection of activists exchanging ideas on how to get Plaid to break through in their local areas.For instance If we picked up a council by-election victory in Cefn Cribwr or Holyhead – we got together and discussed things and tried to apply these methods in our areas. Dafydd Wigley was an incredible leader and he was not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve to push home his points. I remember when he visited Swansea before… Read more »

Lyn Thomas
Guest
Lyn Thomas

Having lived in Fairwater at the time that Fairwater Plaid put out those leaflets campaigning against the massive over expansion of Cardiff and the building on our green spaces, I can categorically say that those leaflets were not racist. They were suggesting that the increase proposed in housing was not to meet local demand. That the growth would suck the life out of the valleys – to no one’s benefit. This is something that is being repeated through out Wales, and indeed we see it in England too. Inflated projections leading to speculative building for vast profit, with the real… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I see the tulip lined ornate streets, in the valley where I live, mock Tudor and Elizabethan style homes, thatched houses along a silver gladed river, all with gold door knockers, and lawned gardens. Once the industrial capital of the world. A powerhouse of energy and wealth. Sufficient to build the beginnings of thriving sea ports at Cardiff and elsewhere. From whence the coastal cities and towns greatly prospered. Are we owed a return of good will and investment in our stagnant valley towns. I say yes. But what of our futures. The fast occurring domitary enclaves of the richer… Read more »

Robert Williams
Guest
Robert Williams

Isn’t the essence of political leadership to use the expertise of experts, but set it within a context of human understanding and empathy? Very often it is the case that ‘The gentleman in Whitehall knows best’, but his technocratic competence needs to be modulated by the political nous of the gentleman/lady in Westminster – or Cardiff Bay.

Keith Parry
Guest
Keith Parry

I have disliked Labour since Neil Kinock, the red haired left wing wonder campaigned against self rule in 1979. The next Labour Government will solve all problems Kinock belowed. All voting No in 1979 gave us was eighteen years of Thatcher and Major. Come 2017 all voting Labour has given us is May and rule by the DUP. A great pleasure in 2008 was with Neil McEvoy taking a seat on Cardiff Council from Micheal Costas Micheal. Cllr Micheal speaks for himself above. The current Labour run Cardiff thinks Cardiff should be a suburb of Bristol and in the past… Read more »

jim humphrys
Guest
jim humphrys

Story goes, he was waiting for the eurostar train in London one time, and someone shouted “Oi, the gravy train leaves from the other platform”!

Max Wallis
Guest

Is Michael Michael’s likening me to David Icke just abuse, or does it betray a deep-seated prejudice and ignorance of environmental standpoints? One of Neil McEvoy’s strengths is his listening to people and readiness to challenge Labour’s authoritarianism, which may or may not be backed by technocrats as they twist technical arguments to suit their political choices. In Cardiff, Cllr Michael and the Labour leadership suppress technically-back points on increasing traffic congestion and air pollution, in order to press on with concentrated central development and provision for buses and ‘Metro’ squeezed down. It may be populist to support freedom-for-cars but… Read more »

Michael Costas-Michael
Guest
Michael Costas-Michael

Nats,I feel your pain. You want a messiah to come and lead you but all you got is a fantasist in McEvoy. Are the people that write these posts on the same planet,we even have one stating that McEvoy is Plaids answer to Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Nah he’s not a messiah just a very naughty delusional fantasist. I tend to think of him as a poor mans Trump except Trump is more truthful. Are you people really that desperate to rank this fool in the same bracket as Ghandi and Martin Luther King.really. Read the rubbish by Keith… Read more »

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

I’m loooking forward to, Neil’s response…

russellelliott
Guest

Michael, there’s no need to go and bring facts into this, that really is punching below the belt! When the plot ends, as it surely will shortly, I just wonder if S4C can have the screen rights to the story, it would make a great Cymru Noir series!

sibrydionmawr
Guest

You sound like a vile and nasty troll the like of which I thought had disappeared, even from the Welsh Labour Party which used to be infested with such repugnant individuals many moons ago. Seems the mask has now slipped and Welsh Labour (at least the Cardiff variation) once again exposes it’s grotesque visage.

But then, I guess you could just be a poor loser.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I used to paddle as a child on the edges of all that looked a little our of my depth. I considered that both healthy and from within. A ltlle older and I still believed in the same doctrine, because I realised that we all have limitations as well as strengths. But most of all I thought that good manners and respect for an alternative view or civility to each other didn’t mean weakness but a source of strength. Then there are bad losers.

Michael Costas-Michael
Guest
Michael Costas-Michael

Kim.Do you mean Neil Ghandi or Neil Luther King ??? I’m sure he will grace us with his thoughts after he comes back from walking on the water.?

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

You’re getting to sound like Protic now. The man never shuts up.

sibrydionmawr
Guest

Certainly as poisonous.

Max Wallis
Guest

talk about delusions! We had the actual recording of the Planning Committee that Cllr Michael so inaccurately remembers, from when they held a special meeting to rewrite the Minutes in order to falsify the actual Motion passed at Committee. Because we had the recording, the officers did not dare pretend to the Court that the words on the officers’ report had .been amended in Committee. Making public their own videos of Planning Meetings, as the best Councils do, has limited the scope for fabrications as practised in Cardiff. Does Cllr Michael now agree with Neil McEvoy that the solemn warning… Read more »

Neil McEvoy
Guest
Neil McEvoy

I saw this on the BBC and thought you should see it:

Concerns over councillor Michael Michael’s Cardiff council deal – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18107947

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Welsh local democracy at work. Plus he labels those who want to change the status quo as ‘fascists’.

Richard Bramhall
Guest
Richard Bramhall

The mud very probably contains radioactive hot particles that the official monitoring hasn’t seen because CEFAS used inappropriate techniques. Don’t look, don’t find. This stuff is potentially lethal and will blow ashore to end up in people’s lymph nodes. The demands for thorough testing are justified on a cost benefit basis alone (cheap to do the tests, costly to treat the cancers), in addition to issues of trust and democracy.