I was proud to read Plaid Cymru’s 2021 Senedd manifesto. Our manifesto had swathes of good, bold ideas to address the biggest issues facing Wales. At the end of reading it all, while agreeing with basically every policy I came across, if you had asked me to name a handful of policies to sum up our message to the electorate - I would have been stumped. At 126 pages, our pitch to the electorate was a sprawling collection of policies, statements, and aims. No matter how good they are, if people can't remember our policies and aims - what purpose do they serve?
Compared to Labour's 69 pages and the Conservatives' 42 pages, we were the exception. Our manifesto in 2007 was 36 pages long. In 2011, our manifesto had 54 pages. Our 2016 manifesto was bilingual, but was roughly 100 pages per language. Our recent record of 126 pages is a symptom of a growing problem.
Of course the high page count alone is not necessarily that big a problem. The real problem is our best and boldest policies and our most persuasive messages get buried. They're buried under many other policies that sound similar or address the same issues.
Plaid needs to do this more than other parties because of the Welsh media deficit. We get so few chances to be heard by the people of Wales. So, let's make them count. That's why the vast majority of our media work should be built around the policy priorities that we democratically decide.
This is why I hope our New Year’s Resolution in 2022 will be to prioritise. We need to keep our radicalism, but have a streamlined policy offering. In other words: we need to do less, better.
Now, before anything else, I want to make clear that I understand the hard work that goes into writing our manifestos. I also get that making our manifesto and policy programme more streamlined will need those writing it to say 'no' to a lot of policies and ideas. It’s a difficult job to prioritise some policies above others. But, it must be done if we are to win.
Our Plaid Cymru manifesto for the 2007 Assembly election had the right idea. It prioritised its policies. It specified the seven key policies for Plaid Cymru. Snazzily (or maybe cheesily) named "Seven for '07", these policies could be repeated in adverts, in debates, and on the doorstep. By talking about these policies, our canvassers and media-people would always be ‘on message’. Even better, each policy was targeted to a different set of voters that we needed to win over so we could gain seats.
Each of these 7 key priorities was also extremely specific - they were policies such as universal affordable childcare, a laptop for each child, and grants for first-time house buyers. And it worked. The powerful campaign, built on the clear priorities in the manifesto, put us in a position to enter Government.
Returning to our 2021 manifesto, it did specify “five main goals” in the corner of page 10. However, these goals were not specific. These goals were “the best start in life for every child”, “a plan for the whole country to prosper”, “a fair deal for families”, “the best national health and care service”, and “tackling the climate emergency.” The goals had three policies attached to each of them, but this system lacks the cut-through of the 2007 campaign. This symbolises the problem of us lacking prioritisation.
Luckily, we have set out many of our priorities in the Co-operation Agreement. And, the Agreement gives us concrete policy changes and white papers from which to build. The most obvious priority of ours in the next manifesto would be to pledge universal free school meals for secondary school pupils. Other priorities could be things such as reaching net zero by 2035 and abolishing tuition fees for students working in Wales. These are just potential priorities I’ve made up to explain the idea. It will of course be up to our democratic bodies, most importantly our Conferences, to decide on our priorities.
I’m arguing that this year Plaid Cymru should specify a handful of policies that matter most and should front our campaigns. It isn’t only that these policies will, on their own merit, win over voters or groups of voters. It is also that these policies will prove who we are as a party and whose side we’re on. For example, a party prioritising universal free school meals is on the side of children and parents.
So, this New Year, I hope Plaid Cymru makes a resolution to prioritise. The earlier we get started, the better. We can still keep our radical, bold, socialist offer to voters - but this way we can make it easier for us to get heard. A shorter, streamlined policy platform will help our party tell voters who we are, what we stand for, and why they should support us. It will help put us in a position to win the next Senedd election.