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Carmen Smith: The Gen Z Baroness Plaid Cymru Didn't Vote For

Carmen Ria Smith made history on 13 March 2024, as she became the youngest member of the House of Lords, taking the title of Baroness Smith of Llanfaes, two days before her 28th birthday. Her achievement surpassed the previous record held by Charlotte Owen, who last year became the youngest member of the upper House at the age of 30 following her inclusion in Boris Johnson’s controversial resignation honours list.

Whilst Baroness Smith’s appointment hasn’t caused as much controversy in the media as Baroness Owen’s did, her nomination as the candidate for Plaid Cymru has raised questions over the democratic legitimacy of her ascension to the Lords, within her own party.

Following the retirement of Plaid Cymru’s only member of the House of Lords, Dafydd Wigley, the party held an internal election process to decide who would succeed him in the Lords, by letting party members decide. The results revealed that former MP Elfyn Llwyd won the most votes with 180 to Smith’s 70 and party stalwart Ann Griffith’s 40 votes.

However, in an email to party members, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) declared Carmen Smith the winner making her Plaid’s newest representative at Westminster.

The decision came as a result of an NEC ruling that would increase female representation at Westminster, prioritising a female candidate over any male one. In an email to party members on December 5th, chief executive Owen Robert’s wrote:

“Last week, members took part in the process to elect nominees to become Plaid Cymru representatives in the House of Lords.

“As returning officer, I am pleased to announce the results are as follows and are in accordance with the temporary orders passed by the NEC (National Executive Committee) to promote the representation of women: 1 Carmen Smith; 2 Elfyn Llwyd; 3 Ann Griffith.

“Plaid Cymru has again made a formal request for three representatives in the second chamber as promised since 2007, which would reflect our democratic representation in the House of Commons. We will nominate peers in the order agreed by the party if and when opportunities arise.”

After being confirmed as the party’s nominee for the House of Lords, Baroness Smith took to X to announce to her followers that she “will be fighting for a fair deal for Wales” and “will be unashamed in advocating for a fairer, more sustainable, and ultimately independent future for Cymru”

Democratic legitimacy aside for one moment, Plaid Cymru – the Welsh nationalist political party meaning ‘the Party of Wales’ – advocates for the abolition of the House of Lords and the eventual need to never have any representatives at Westminster, through an independent Wales. And Baroness Smith has been very vocal in her quest to see the dismantlement of the upper chamber, in spite of the fact that it will be providing her with a generous salary and perks for however long she ends up staying. 

This is all very reminiscent of when UKIP used to do well in the European elections during the mid-2000s – mid-2010s, sending MEPs to cause chaos in Brussels and when the Brexit party had a strong contingent following their strong performance in the 2019 EU elections.

For the Plaid members, who had voted for Elfyn Llwyd – the winning candidate – it seemed disenfranchising to see another person selected over him. The decision called into question how democratic the process is and whether it was worth even being a Plaid Cymru member, if there is little power in the meaning of voting for internal matters like this.

While Baroness Smith has far more experience than Baroness Owen did when she entered the Lords – being a former Deputy President of NUS Wales and Chief of Staff for Plaid Cymru – her position as a lobbyist for the wind energy firm, Bute Energy has called into question her further intentions. Bute have come under fire from several local communities throughout Wales for their plans to build new pylons in order to extract energy out to their customers in England and Scotland, which in-turn destroys the natural landscape and thus hits the tourism industry, giving zero benefit to Wales.

Having essentially parachuted Baroness Smith into the position of their sole representative in the House of Lords, Plaid Cymru are very happy to see her take on the role, as it increases the diversity of voices across the Westminster spectrum. Despite the fact she was not the representative their members elected. It is also to be welcomed that her arrival will increase the representation of younger voters, as we face stark economic challenges – through both a crisis in housing and the cost of living. Plaid Cymru’s commitment to increasing female representation in Westminster is also admirable, even if they are hypocritical, in desiring for the abolition of the Lords and the eventual departure from engagement with ‘Westminster Politics’.

Image: Times Magazine

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