Thursday, 23 February 2017

Llangennech - The Dark Arts (Updated)

Update 24 February

The Western Mail this morning apologised to Cymdeithas yr Iaith for the impression yesterday's article gave that its members were in any way involved in vandalism.

Later in the day it went further and announced that the police had said they did not believe the tyre slashing was connected to the schools issue.

Within 24 hours, this very damaging story fell apart. As one commentator said, we are now left with not much more than a claim that one unnamed friend of somebody else who did not want to be named said that someone else had been rude to them.

The best defence the journalist could come up with was that two of the parents had said that there was a link. It would be funny if the damage done was not so serious.

Despite that, the paper is still claiming that the Llangennech story only became "a national controversy" when Leanne Wood raised it in the Senedd last week, presumably in the hope that readers will have forgotten all the media coverage the story has received over the last two years.


When Carmarthenshire County Council approved plans to phase out the English stream in Llangennech on 18 January, there was reason to hope that the campaign waged for the last two years by the anti-Welsh medium group would finally come to an end.

It was a very divisive and ruthless campaign fought by a group of about six or seven families using very questionable tactics. It was backed by elements within the local Labour Party (remember that Cllr Tegwen Devichand was one of the first to pitch up outside the school gates), and also brought in UKIP, the notorious anti-Welsh bigot Jacques Protic and quite possibly other groups on the hard left and extreme right.

To quote Michaela Beddows who told this blog:

"You would not take one bullet into a battle you would take all the ammunition you could take and that is exactly what I am doing."

Villagers complained of harassment and intimidation; posters such as these appeared around the village:

Unfortunately, the campaign did not throw in the towel on 18 January. Although it should have been obvious to all that it was pointless to carry on and would exacerbate tensions, the campaign group called in Neil Hamilton, with several Labour activists and a candidate being involved in the decision and the planning.

Lee Waters AM was aware of what they were planning and could only say "be careful".

The group also cultivated other contacts with UKIP, including an individual who is a member of staff of the Welsh Assembly working for a UKIP AM. He has made threatening remarks against Cymdeithas yr Iaith members and is understood to be coordinating a similar campaign elsewhere.

It was only at this point that the tide turned against the campaigners.

Hamilton's visit was followed by a deluge of revelations of the way in which Labour members and activists had worked with their counterparts in UKIP, and Michaela Beddows was found to have shared EDL material on Facebook.

It was a bad week for the so-called dual stream group, but Michaela Beddows told the press last week that she was determined to fight on, and now a counter-offensive has begun.

First, an entirely one-sided piece appeared in Private Eye painting the campaigners as victims of a monstrous county council. It could almost have been scripted by Jacques Protic whose website is currently screaming "Carmarthenshire County Council declares war on the residents of Llangennech".

Private Eye does not have journalists on the ground, but relies on a network of contacts, nearly all of whom are media insiders. Protic is very unlikely to be one of those, and the campaign group in Llangennech would not have been able to plant the story with the magazine. The most likely source for that gem is someone in the Labour Party's spin machine.

Hardly had the print dried on that than the Western Mail came out with an even more dramatic account yesterday morning. Someone had slashed the tyres of cars belonging to three* members of the campaign group who were also complaining of being harassed in the streets and shops.

[*The Western Mail piece begins by saying that four vehicles had their tyres slashed before telling us that police are investigating damage to three cars]

Sensationally, in its print the version paper ran the story under a picture of a handful of members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith welcoming the council's decision in Carmarthen last month.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith has always based its campaigns on the principles of non-violent protest and direct action. While it may very occasionally paint slogans on walls and occupy an office or two, it never targets individuals and never damages their private property. It is also a fundamental rule that if you break into an office or carry out similar "direct action", you wait until the police turn up and face the consequences. It's called civil disobedience.

To imply, as the Western Mail did, that members of Cymdeithas were somehow behind the tyre slashing or intimidation of campaign group members is utterly false, and senior journalists on the paper know that.

In fact, Cymdeithas yr Iaith was asked by supporters in the village to keep a low profile so as not to inflame an already sensitive situation before the 18 January vote, and it complied. It has even come in for criticism on social media for its lack of visibility and apparent detachment.

For the record, Cymdeithas yr Iaith is independent of any political party, and it has frequently criticised all political parties, including Plaid.

The story has deeply upset people in the village, several of whom have been in contact, with more expressing their views on social media. They see the story as a pack of lies, and say that there have been other tyre slashing incidents in and around the village which had nothing to do with the school campaign.

Unlike the "dual stream group", there was no organised pro-Welsh medium campaign. Not because there was not a significant body in favour of the change, but because for better or worse those in favour preferred to keep a low profile, avoid confrontation and maintain what they would see as a dignified silence.

It was the traditional Welsh response of turning the other cheek and refusing to respond to aggressive tactics.

Anyone who has met any of the parents who want a Welsh-medium school would know that these are not the sort of people who yell abuse or spit, and there is now anger in the village that the newspaper should have dragged the community through the mud.

Gary Robert Jones (or Poumista to use his Twitter handle) is one of the two Labour candidates for Llangennech in the county council elections, the other being Jacquleine Seward, a prominent member of the "dual stream" group.

Jones, who the other day told Huw Edwards that he was not a "valid" journalist, had a very busy day on Twitter yesterday.

First, he claimed that several people had been reported to the police and he warned others commenting on the story, including village residents, that they needed to tread carefully if they did not want to be reported as well. Who had been reported, he was asked?

"Nationalists", he roared. For "Nationalists" read anyone in the village who is fed up with the objectors and their campaign.

Cneifiwr suspects that Gary does not really want to win the election in May.

Then later on he was back on Twitter saying that the tyre slashings had nothing to do with the school issue.

So who was responsible for planting this story with the Labour leaning newspaper, and who stood to gain from it?

We now know that there have been other incidents of tyre slashing in the area, and none of those was reported in the newspaper. We can rule out Dyfed Powys Police as the source.

The Western Mail does not have anyone on the ground, and so reports of the tyre slashing and tales of verbal abuse must have come from someone living locally. According to Gary Jones again, although there is no way of verifying this, the victims of the tyre slashing told him that they had not linked the vandalism to the schools campaign.

The story claims, completely inaccurately, that the Llangennech affair became a "national controversy" when Leanne Wood raised the matter in First Minister's questions last week.

In reality, the Llangennech row has been covered on numerous occasions by the BBC, the Western Mail and other media sources over the last two years.

So who might stand to benefit from a story with hardly any basis in fact which paints the anti-Welsh medium objectors as innocent victims of a campaign whipped up by Leanne Wood and her shock troops in Cymdeithas yr Iaith?

No prizes for guessing the answer to that one. Just as with the Private Eye story, if Gary Jones's claims are true, the finger of suspicion has to point at the army of spin merchants employed by the Labour Party.

The Western Mail has done for Llangennech what the Sun did for Liverpool.


Anonymous said...

The trials and tribulations of the Labour Party in Llangennech and Llanelli have highlighted a sad tale of denial and decline.

Whilst trying to make sense of the behaviour of Beddows, Roberts, Waters et al, I am reminded of this quote from a Knight's Tale.

'You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting'

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article. The anti-Welsh group are a bit of a cesspit, with Labour members sharing EDL, Britain First and working with Ukip against their own party's education policy!

Tonight Gary Robert Jones has released a statement saying "The incidents of tyres slashed is a criminal act, and had nothing to do with the dispute in Llangennech, and residents have not linked it" so give him his fair do's.

Just hope Wales Online/Western Mail will retract and apologise for their disgraceful smear story about Cymdeithas (with a picture of two schoolgirls)!? Surely that's a solid case for legal action if anything is.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@23.44 I have updated the final sections of the piece to reflect Gary Jones's comments on Twitter.

Anonymous said...

Considering the outrageous nature of yesterday's events as outlined above, one is left completely agog by Lee Waters (AM for Llanelli) implying that those that have expressed their dissatisfaction and asked for clarification and proof are 'trolling'. It would seem that Labour, the campaign group and the press are free to make any allegation, spin any story or weave any lie, but anyone who takes exception to their behaviour is a 'nationalist' (not the good British kind, but the very bad Welsh kind) or a nasty online troll. And through all of this, our apparently mute MP, Nia Griffith, has been somewhere in Staffordshire (Copeland?) listening to locals' concerns and generally being dutiful. Oh well, as long as the people in Staffordshire are OK, right?

Anonymous said...

While I don't think it was fair on the WM to target cymdeithas yr iaith, I'm fairly sure if the tyres of pro Welsh parents had been slashed as the met to discuss the issue we would naturally draw the conclusion that it was probably the opposite side that had done it. If the shoe was on the other foot I think this blog post would be very different.

Ianto said...

Excellent and thought provoking as always. Dark arts indeed. When it comes to the "tyre slashing" incident, as soon as it became obvious the police weren't going to back up the connection, whoever did encourage the report to the papers is now going to be back pedalling, claiming it wasn't them and trying to show themselves as perfectly reasonable. Something to bear in mind.

Yeah, I saw a little spat on social media about Cymdeithas yr Iaith not getting involved. As often the case in these matters, the attempt at stopping the media from printing biased stories by getting certain people to keep quiet, not saying anything that could be misunderstood by obtuse or biased people has not resulted in the media not printing biased stories, and has perhaps simply resulted in making the other side of the issue even more heard. I don't know.

Jac o' the North, said...

Anon 10:53 We now know that those who had their tyres slashed never claimed it was the work of the other side. The police have stated that there was no connection between the tyres incident and the school dispute. Which must call into question whether the spitting and other unpleasantness ever happened.

You may believe what you wish to believe, and the version others have chosen to promote, but the emerging facts are very different.

Anonymous said...

This perfectly exemplifies the problem we have at the moment. Either people are willfully ignoring the facts or they have severe reading difficulties. I don't know how many more times it can be said and in how many more ways : The tyres of those pro the changes HAVE been slashed, as have the tyres of people who are indifferent. There has been a spate of this in Llangennech since last year. This predates the decision and the current row. It has only ever been considered as the act of vandals or criminals in the village - nothing to do with the school issue. Maybe people would grasp these facts if I explained it through the medium of interpretive dance... or shadow puppets?

Jac o' the North, said...

Anon 11:06 Far from ignoring the facts I am stating them. It's you and others who are either confused or else have chosen to deliberately misrepresent the facts and invent incidents.

To clarify things all you need do is repeat after me, 'I now accept that the tyre slashing incident in Llangennech was unconnected with the school dispute.'

And while you're at it, maybe you could give us your valued opinion on the spitting and intimidation reported in the same Western Mail article.

Anonymous said...

Just for clarification, the tread carefully comment posted by myself (Poumista) was about the alleged assault at a community council meeting, I didn't want it dredged up again for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

We know it was reported to police, we also know that the ombudsman was called it. We also know that the ombudsman was furious with having been called in as the allegations were unfounded. What I don't understand is why can't we talk about it? The investigation is not ongoing. The only reason that you would not want it dredged up again is that it is deeply embarrassing and would further highlight the deplorable tactics used during the course of your no-holds-barred campaign.

Draenog said...

That's interesting Poumista that you state 'alleged attack' on your post above but on Twitter you've actually stated that you witnessed the assault. Shame on you all!