SPRING conference season kicked off last weekend with Plaid Cymru hosting a two-day event at Newport’s Riverfront theatre.
With May’s council elections less than two months away the mood among party members and supporters was buoyant and seeing Newport host what is a fairly significant event in the Welsh political calendar is certainly something to be welcomed.
Of course we got all the usual rhetoric about how Labour and the Conservatives were failing the people of Wales and Plaid was the only party which would stand up for their interests, not to mention the endless retorts on Twitter.
But the conference was overshadowed somewhat by the ongoing row around claims of bullying lodged against South Wales Central AM and Cardiff City Council member Neil McEvoy.
Mr McEvoy is hardly a man known for mincing his words and on Friday, which coincided with the first day of the conference, he was suspended from the authority for a month after an independent tribunal found a comment he made to a council officer constituted as “bullying behaviour”.
And this is all anyone has wanted to talk about despite valiant attempts by party figures to change the subject, not helped by an appearance at the conference by the embattled AM himself on Saturday, in which he said he still plans on running in May’s election.
Leader Leanne Wood kept a brave face but by the end of the two-day event had clearly become more than a little sick of the endless questions about whether Mr McEvoy would be suspended from the party and whether not doing so was a tacit approval of his actions.
And it was all anyone wanted to talk about in the party’s weekly pre-First Minister’s Questions press conference this morning, despite a fairly limp attempt to get us to talk about today’s spring budget.
Although the Argus hasn’t covered the story in anywhere near as much depth as our colleagues elsewhere in the Welsh media as Mr McEvoy’s sphere of influence falls largely in Cardiff, outside our circulation area, the potential implications of the row for the party are significant.
Today, he was also suspended from the party’s Assembly group and an internal inquiry into his behaviour is currently ongoing.
In theory at least this could lead to him being kicked out of the party.
Although smarter people than me have said this is unlikely, if Plaid ultimately feels it has little choice but to give him his marching orders, the row could do more than just damage the party’s reputation.
Although the party enjoyed a brief period as the second-largest group in the Senedd following last May’s Assembly election, in which it won 12 seats, one more than the Welsh Conservatives, in October they were knocked down to 11 after former leader Dafydd Elis Thomas left in October to sit as an Independent, bringing them level with the Tories.
So losing another member would demote Plaid further to the Assembly’s third-largest party, with the Tories moving back into the position they occupied in the previous Assembly term as the official opposition.
This would not be insignificant for the party which just last May seemed on top of the world, with Ms Wood having turfed Labour veteran Leighton Andrews out of his Rhondda seat and the party arguably wielding the most power it has had since the 2007-2011 coalition.
Of course Mr McEvoy could take his own initiative and change his allegiance - he would be the third AM to do so in this Assembly term alone following Lord Elis-Thomas and former Ukip Wales leader Nathan Gill.
Strangely enough, when yours truly went onto the handy online database of images Plaid makes available for use by the press to find a picture of Mr McEvoy to use for this column, a photo of him speaking at last week’s conference was nowhere to be found, despite Ms Wood apparently having had her picture taken with half of Newport.
All things considered maybe giving him a wide berth isn’t the worst idea.
Next up in the spring conference cycle is the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who are holding their event in the somewhat less salubrious surroundings of a Swansea secondary school this weekend.
As always, I’ll be reporting live on Twitter at @ArgusICraig, and we’ll have full coverage on the Argus website and in the following Monday’s paper.