Spring Conferences are well-known as set-piece, managed ways of reinvigorating the party membership and activists. In that sense it is obvious that nationalists are going to be feeling pleased with themselves after an event that showcased professional use of technology and the internet (with Plaid now being talked about as a party that 'gets' the internet, ahead of its opponents), a fresh and youthful image and a clear sense of purpose.
But it's not automatic for any party to be so enthused during a mid-term rally, as Plaid conferences in the past have rarely matched the same level of confidence that is now coming across in the media, and according to the few opinion polls the same sense of vibrancy is also having an impact on voters.
To be responsible for the Economic Development portfolio in government at a time of recession is a huge undertaking and not one you'd expect any politician in a capitalist country to be able to handle without taking a massive hit to their popularity and credibility. Consider the huge demonstrations in Ireland and London for example. Ieuan Wyn Jones, who has sometimes been not hugely popular with the left in Plaid Cymru, has managed to save Welsh jobs in a competent manner. While all the levers for the economy remain Westminster's responsibility, Jones has ensured that the Welsh response (such as it is) has at least been focused at workers rather than banks.
It's clear that Plaid is continuing to position itself as the credible party of the radical left in Wales. Even the party's more moderate figures (such as the aforementioned party leader) stressed that message in their speech. Plaid is pushing an economic message that is qualitatively and ideologically different to that of New Labour and the Tories, and although there is still alot of work to be done there were welcome words about sustainable development and co-operation, rather than privatising and undercutting. I am not saying that Plaid is moving any further away from the centre at this point, but that the party's appeal has always been based on being 'different' and having a passion and radicalism that the mainstream parties do not have.
Let us not have any illusions in Gordon Brown. He has not intervened in any socialist manner. He has concentrated on saving the financial institutions. Under his stewardship our welfare state has been undermined and eroded to the extent that we are going to be worse affected by the recession than most other Western countries (more so than France or Germany, for example). This is further compounded by New Labour's refusal to include a welfarist or socialist element in its bailout programme. Save the Children reported that only the far-right administration in Russia (out of all the most powerful states) included less support for children than the UK did in its bailouts for the economy.
With this in mind, I think that at a time when Labour is haemorhaging support all over the place, Plaid's vote at the coming elections will either hold up or increase. The polls suggest that Labour does best in Wales when it is "Welsh" Labour and when it is pushing left-leaning policies. Be that as it may, Plaid are consistently outflanking Welsh Labour by claiming credit for the progressive nature of the devolved administration. This is a fundamental characteristic of devolution- people want things done differently to Westminster, they don't want more of the same. The only way that Labour in Wales can outmuscle Plaid is by embracing Welshness and social democracy, and that is a path that will inevitably lead them into further conflict with the Ben Bradshaws and the Paul Murphys.
Whatever happens in Welsh politics, global history in the past 6 months suggests that now is a time for new ideas. The possibilities for Plaid Cymru to profit from this are manifold. They are our only hope if we want to see a 'different' Wales emerge from the recession. The UK is by far one of the most pro-market states in the European Union- and we will suffer most because of this. The UK's model is not one to follow and is one we need to break away from as we come out of the crisis.
Just a bit of analysis for a boring Monday!