Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, has opened her party’s conference with a strong attack on Labour in Wales, urging voters to take another look at the party before the Welsh assembly election in May.
Seeking to replicate the success of the Scottish National party, which made big electoral gains this year at the expense of Labour, Wood accused Labour of taking voters in Wales for granted.
She said Carwyn Jones, who heads the Labour-led Welsh assembly, and previous Welsh first ministers had “taken people for granted and rewarded long-term loyalty with incompetence, inaction and indifference”.
Wood told her party’s conference in Aberystwyth: “There is nothing kind about 17 years of unbroken Labour rule in Wales … There is nothing about Wales that cannot be fixed. There is no challenge that cannot be overcome by a determined Plaid Cymru government.”
Earlier, the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, praised Wood for being modern, principled and passionate and said she had proved her leadership qualities in last year’s general election TV debates.
Wood earned loud applause when she told delegates: “Not one inch of Welsh soil will be fracked under a Plaid Cymru government,” adding that Westminster was pursuing regressive anti-renewable energy policies.
Earlier, she said years of Labour rule had reduced Wales to a “second-class” nation.
Wood also told Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday that Welsh workers earned less on average than employees in England and that NHS waiting times were longer in Wales. Plaid has made health a central issue before May’s election.
Wood has said that Plaid wants to ringfence health spending so it becomes a national priority again. The party wants to recruit 1,000 extra doctors, create specialist cancer diagnostic centres across Wales and scrap care fees for the elderly and people with dementia, at a cost of £226m.
However, she told BBC Radio Wales she was unable to put a figure on the overall cost of reorganising the NHS by abolishing health boards and integrating the service with social care offered by local councils.
“We want to see health services run in a very different way,” she said. “I can’t give you a figure for that … there will be a cost but it has to be absorbed with the overall reorganisation of local government.”
At the last Welsh assembly election in 2011, Labour ended a coalition with Plaid to govern alone, despite being one seat shy of an overall majority. Since Wood, a former probation officer, took charge Plaid has yet to make big gains in either the EU or UK elections.
Despite a rise in her public profile during the election debates, Plaid failed to add to its three seats in Westminster, although it came close to winning a fourth. Plaid has 11 seats in the Welsh assembly.
Wood has acknowledged that her party has gained more attention since she appeared in the TV debates. But she has said the increased media coverage was not a “magic wand” and Plaid had more work to do before they could enjoy the SNP’s kind of electoral success.
Wood – who will be standing for election in the Rhondda constituency – said she did not think of the May poll as “death or glory” for her leadership.
This article was written by Mark Tran, for theguardian.com on Friday 23rd October 2015 18.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010