Leanne Wood sets out Plaid Cymru’s plans for the coming year – where addressing injustice against women will be centre stage
Next year’s general election will be significant for women — if women want it to be.
There is a great opportunity opening up to shift away from the politics-as-usual, broken Westminster model which is run by the Establishment elite for the Establishment elite.
By doing something different this time, by backing an alternative to the “big three,” the Greens in England, the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales, women have a chance to make a mark.
Our task will not be straightforward. The broadcasters have opted not to reflect the real range of choices facing voters next May.
Our three parties — all coincidentally led by women — will be excluded from televised leaders’ debates. This despite the fact that a hung Parliament after the election is possible — likely even — and despite the fact our three (alternative) parties could hold the balance of power, with real implications for everyone.
Our platforms deserve to be heard. It is unacceptable that viewers will hear only a similar, narrow range of views represented by four shades of Westminster grey. This is a question of basic democracy.
Not being on TV will not stop Plaid Cymru from taking our progressive message to the people of Wales at every opportunity and with added vigour.
The Party of Wales is committed to ending the costly, failed austerity experiment.
We advocate a rebalancing of power and wealth in Britain, enshrined in law, that will see investment in areas of need and in sectors of the economy that can lead to sustainable economic prosperity.
The London city-state and its financial sector have benefited greatly at the expense of much of the rest of the UK.
An economic rebalancing alongside a political rebalancing is vital in order to further meaningful social justice.
Austerity has further increased inequalities. Clear examples of the regressive nature of austerity can be found in all areas of policy, most notably in social protection.
Changes have been cruel and damaging and have entrenched many of the disadvantages faced by women.
The economic position of the majority has deteriorated throughout the course of the recession, but the position for women has been made even worse.
Universal credit paid to one member per household risks jeopardising women’s financial independence. For those in abusive relationships, this can be dangerous.
That danger is compounded by the austerity-driven changes to the rules for legal aid.
Women’s access to justice has been championed by Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd, who has also worked tirelessly to secure ground-breaking legislation for greater support for the victims of stalking as well as winning legal recognition for psychological abuse as part of his campaign against domestic violence.
Ninety per cent of non-working lone parents are women. Many lone parents — already struggling in many instances — will see some of the most severe cuts of all the reforms, and Plaid Cymru has been vocal in our opposition to such cruel attacks, which will only worsen incidences of child poverty.
It’s not enough though to just oppose. So what are our proposed solutions?
Plaid Cymru is committed to a living wage for all — which in Wales would mean a pay rise for over 250,000 people, including a large percentage of women who often find themselves in low-paid work.
A living wage would also go some considerable way toward addressing some of the concerns expressed by working people about the effects on wages as a result of increased immigration.
The case for a living wage has been made even stronger since the publication of economic data which confirmed what many suspected — that the so-called “recovery” has been limited to a spreadsheet recovery, masking the great inequality that exists in wealth and prosperity.
Addressing this economic inequality brought about by the politics of austerity must be a central theme of the forthcoming election.
I very much hope that women will make sure that women’s pay inequality and the continued inequality of opportunity afforded to women and girls will feature prominently.
I hope too that women, trade unions and working people will join us in Plaid Cymru in insisting that industrial relations becomes a key debating point in the coming period.
Another weapon in our battle against the far-right will be the ability of strong institutions to represent and defend working people and minorities, to protect the hard-won rights and gains that have been secured for all but especially for the worst off — in many cases by those returning from the front line after 1945.
That trade unions have been severely weakened and sidelined is part of the reason why the populist right has been able to take root in many communities. This has to change.
Since the intentional deindustrialisation of many communities in the ’80s, the subsequent erosion of union and workers’ rights has left a significant vacuum in political debate as well as a void in the pursuit of high standards of pay and working conditions.
Britain contains Europe’s most prosperous metropolis. Yet we live in one of the most unequal states on Earth, with a growing, dominating culture of zero-hours contracts, low pay, poor terms and conditions, fewer public holidays and a lack of employee participation — all, we are told, are essential in the name of economic success.
None of it holds true. It just results in a race to the bottom, with those at the bottom losing the most.
The case against austerity needs to go hand in hand with the case for improved industrial relations.
Will those arguments be put by any of the four shades of Westminster grey?
With the “big three” pledging more cuts, more austerity and the fourth shade blaming immigrants, Europe and those with disabilities for all of our ills, it will be up to us, the women, to challenge the Westminster consensus and demonstrate that hope through a new politics and a new society is not only possible, but achievable too.
Leanne Wood is leader of Plaid Cymru: The Party of Wales. Her recent lecture to a Compass Cymru meeting on tackling the far right and improving our industrial relations is available on the party’s website.