Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood: Time to shake up the system – BBC News

Image caption From Tonypandy to the Senedd – Leanne Wood as a teenager and today

When Leanne Wood first walked through the gates of her old school, a career in politics was not part of the plan.

She left after her GCSEs to work in a factory but the money was poor, as were the conditions. So when she got better exam results than she expected she went back to do her A-levels.

In those days she dreamed of being a television newsreader. Moira Stuart was a big role model, she said.

Now she is back at Tonypandy Community College – or “Pandy Comp” – this time to speak to sixth formers.

And she has a new career aspiration in mind – winning May’s assembly election.

Year 12’s Georgia Harrison wants to know why someone from the traditional Labour stronghold of the Rhondda opted for Plaid Cymru?

Ms Wood said being a traditional Labour stronghold has held the area back. Voters are not listened to, she said, and it is time to “shake up the political system”.

Media captionLeanne Wood tells pupils Plaid Cymru can make a difference

The message to this group of teenagers in the Rhondda – most of whom are too young to vote – is the same message Plaid will take across Wales in the election campaign.

But are voters listening?

There is not a huge amount of polling data yet, but what polls there are suggest Labour is still out in front, with Plaid battling for second place.

“The polls are not where I would like them to be at the moment,” Ms Wood told me.

“I would obviously like to see some improvement, but I think that will be achieved by making sure that we communicate with people on the ground.

“We know that there’s a limit to how much of our message we can get across through the media so it is all dependent on the grassroots conversations.”

Plaid’s media profile was boosted last year when Ms Wood took part in the general election leaders’ debates alongside David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg and Natalie Bennett.

But the added publicity failed to translate into winning more seats in Parliament, in contrast to the near clean sweep of seats achieved by the Scottish Nationalists.

The goal for Plaid now is to capitalise on that enhanced profile and to demonstrate that they are talking voters’ language on the issues that matter most.

Nine key policies – three each on health, education and the economy – will form the core of the party’s assembly election campaign.

It’s “absolutely clear” that those three issues are voters’ top priorities, Ms Wood said.

“And so they are our top priorities as well, and all of our focus has gone into providing solutions in those areas.”

But does she encounter people who pigeonhole the party, who think Plaid prioritises the Welsh language and the constitution above everything else?

“There are still misconceptions about Plaid Cymru,” she says.

“I was in a meeting last night in Mountain Ash in the Cynon Valley talking about just exactly these things.

“It is up to our party workers to make sure that we scotch those misconceptions.”

Ms Wood is the first Plaid leader not to come from a Welsh-speaking background. She is also the party’s first female leader.

Now she hopes to achieve another first – to become Plaid’s first First Minister.

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