Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What has Labour done for the Rhondda?

If you haven't seen it, take a look at this short film report produced by the Guardian newspaper.

With only a day of campaigning in Scotland left we have just lived through one of the most remarkable weeks in the history of Britain for many, many years. Nobody knows how it will end, but one of the things the campaign has done despite massively biased media coverage, is to expose the huge gulf which separates the understanding and experiences of communities in different parts of these islands.

A few days ago No supporters staged a big rally in Trafalgar Square in London. The main speakers were Bob Geldof and the comedians Eddie Izzard and Al Murray, once 'edgy' and radical figures turned rich members of the establishment.


Izzard's CBE will soon be in the post, and having received a knighthood already, Geldof must surely be in line for a peerage. How they think that they can win over the Scots by standing in Trafalgar Square in their Gucci shoes waving union jacks is a mystery.

Travel a few miles from there to Essex where the Clacton by-election campaign has kicked off, and once again for people in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of northern England we could be on a different planet.

Head south-west from Essex to Surrey and Sussex as I did last year, and you are in a world of expensive gastro-pubs, private schools and wall-to-wall Chelsea tractors. If they think of Wales at all it is as a destination for mini-breaks in holiday cottages, boutique hotels and adventure sports - the sort of thing you can see in the Sunday travel supplements every week.

Whatever we wake up to on the 19th of September, we can be sure that no amount of jubilees, Hyde Park concerts and Team GB events will ever put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.

[Thanks to BlogMenai for the shamlessly copied Trafalgar Square picture]

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Dylan Thomas: White Van Man

Unless you own the Celtic Manor luxury concrete bunker on the outskirts of Newport, it is unlikely that you have noticed the economic boom which BBC Wales insisted would be kicked off by the recent Nato summit.

No sooner had they arrived, spent a few hours talking and dining, than they were off. The steel security fences have come down, and life has returned to normal. In most of Wales you would not know it had even happened, had it not been for the breathless reports on the telly.

The fact that this was all taking place miles away down the M4 must have had the press office in Carmarthenshire burning the midnight oil. How could they get in on the action?

Having failed to get President Obama to come and admire Kev's bungalows in Llanelli, or Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Towy Community Church's bowling alley, someone had the bright idea of taking Dylan Thomas's replica writing shed to Nato.

Look! Here it is parked outside the Nato conference venue:

Dylan's writing shed visits NATO summit

No, I didn't know that Dylan Thomas wrote in the back of a white transit van either, but this is the picture which the press office chose to illustrate its piece Dylan's Writing Shed Visits Nato Summit.

Note the complete absence of any Welsh on the van. Perhaps it says "Sied cyfansoddi" on the other side, facing the jet fighter parked on the lawn.

The Council's Principal Arts Officer told the press office that she was very keen to lure President Obama into the replica hut, along with other world leaders, to show them the replica boiled sweets and replica jacket.

Whether any of them did set foot inside, we don't know. As the press office hasn't issued an orgasmic piece on what it would probably call the "presidential pilgrimage to see the bardic shed" (or van), we can probably assume that neither Obama nor any of the others took the trouble.

The council is immensely proud of the "bespoke" replica shed, and Meryl Gravell no less has popped up in numerous press releases to sing its praises. Let's hope for her sake and that of the press office staff that they are not woken in the middle of the night by the sound of rattling ghostly glasses, obscene language and a strong odour of whisky because, to be perfectly frank, Dylan Thomas would not be very pleased to be a tourist promotion gimmick at a meeting of military top brass, presidents, prime ministers and associated hangers on.

On a tour of the US in 1952 he memorably told a professor in New York that he was a Communist. That was at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts. On his final tour in 1953 he gave a free reading to the Socialist Party of America.

Whether he was ever a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain is not known, but there is no doubt that Thomas was well to the left. More to the point, he was strongly and consistently anti-war.

In his poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London he makes the point that politicians who "seek to politically exploit the death of innocents are as culpable and cynical as those who cause them".

This quotation is taken from an interesting article on Thomas's politics by Sean Ledwith writing in Counterfire. He would have been horrified at the thought of being eulogised by the ruling class, Ledwith says.

Thomas also famously ranted that he was "sick of all this Celtic claptrap about Wales. My Wales! Land of My Fathers! As far as I am concerned my fathers can keep it."

That was in reaction to attempts to commercialise and stereotype his Welshness. 

Carmarthenshire County Council clearly does not know much about Dylan Thomas, and we can safely assume that the military types at the Nato conference haven't spent much time studying his life and works either.

Before it went to the Nato summit, the shed was the council's prize cultural exhibit at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli.

Showing its customary tact and cultural awareness, Dylan Thomas's replica shed was the council's main cultural contribution to this great national celebration of the vitality of the Welsh language and culture. A dead poet who wrote only in English, when there are plenty of living poets from Carmarthenshire writing in Welsh; Menna Elfyn, Einir Jones, Dylan Tudur Jones, Mererid Hopwood, Eurig Salisbury and Catrin Dafydd, to name but a few.

Here's Catrin, in English. Somehow I don't think Kev and Meryl would approve of any of our living poets. If any of them have writing sheds, they would be well advised to be cremated in them when the time comes to avoid being turned into fairground attractions at military junkets.

The shed was last seen trundling off towards Ireland.

Dylan’s shed en route for Ireland

Monday, 15 September 2014

Return to sender

"Dear Friend", Calum Higgins wrote recently on a leaflet distributed to people in Carmarthenshire, "I am contacting you about registering to vote. At the moment, if you wanted to vote at any election, you couldn't - because you are not on the electoral register".

This came as a surprise to some of the people who received it because they were very much on the electoral register. Coming from a county councillor and parliamentary candidate, the leaflet nevertheless seemed to be speaking with the voice of authority, and it worried them.

A complaint ended up with the Electoral Commission which says that the Labour Party has now agreed not to distribute the leaflet any more.

The leaflet also talked about protecting people from "Plaid cuts". This was equally puzzling because Plaid is in opposition in both Carmarthenshire and at a national level, as well as being opposed to Labour's austerity plans.

Expect more of the same over the next nine months.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Wales for Yes

Hundreds of people turned out in Cardiff yesterday to show their support for independence for Scotland - young and old, from all parts of Wales. The event began with a beautiful and moving introduction from Iestyn ap Rhobert and ended with a powerful rallying call from Leanne Wood.

Caryl Parry Jones performed a brilliant version of the Proclaimers' Cap in Hand, and Gwilym Bowen Rhys sang a fantastic version of Dylan's Blowing in the Wind. You can watch them all here.

It is hard for us outside Scotland to understand the effect the campaign has had on the Scottish people, but 97% of the electorate there has now registered to vote. The political apathy which has allowed successive Tory and Labour governments to get away with their wars and growing social inequality for so long has been swept away there. Whether slightly less or slightly more than 50% vote for independence on Thursday, the writing is on the wall for the union and what Eurig Salisbury, the Welsh poet, recently called "this crappy status quo".

If this is bad news for the Conservatives, it has put the role of the Labour Party into even sharper focus with its hierarchy defending privilege and the status quo. The gulf between ordinary people and Labour's bosses has never been greater.

We are constantly told that there is no demand for self-government or independence in Wales, but a few weeks ago TV presenter Dan Snow held a Better Together rally on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff. Less than a dozen people showed up. How different it was in Cardiff yesterday.

What we saw there was not an aggressive, ugly nationalism of the sort we can see stirring in England, but a yearning for a fairer and better society, free from the constraints of an elitist union which has neglected and taken Wales for granted for so long.

The times really are changing.