‘The morning had been golden; the noontide was bronze; and the evening lead.’
So said Churchill about the career of Lord Curzon. But these words could also summarise the leadership of Plaid Cymru by Leanne Wood – a leadership that came to an abrupt and rather humiliating end on Friday.
Most observers of politics outside Wales, and plenty of people even within Wales, only really became aware of Leanne Wood after the televised leaders’ debates during the 2015 general election. By that point, she had actually been leader of her party for more than three years. Wood was a surprise leader – even to herself. First elected to the Welsh Assembly in 2003, she was probably best known for being booted out of the chamber for referring to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’. During Plaid Cymru’s four years as an Assembly coalition partner to Labour from 2007-11, Wood was never one of Plaid’s government ministers. Although widely liked, politically she was a marginalised figure, regarded as too radical for the party leadership.
When Plaid sought a new leader in 2011, Wood publicly hesitated over whether or not to stand; even when she did throw her hat into the ring, she rather disarmingly admitted to doubts over whether she could win. Yet win she did, promising a new and more radical direction for a party that looked north to the growing success of the SNP with undisguised envy.
Yet after the glory of an unexpected leadership victory, harder realities soon hit home. Like Jeremy Corbyn some years later, Wood found that years as an obscure backbencher are a less than perfect preparation for the challenges of leadership. She made efforts to polish her image, but her speech making and interview technique also needed plenty of work.