Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Guardian and Llangennech

Most readers will be aware of the Guardian's extraordinary hatchet job on the Llangennech school row published last week.

The relatively short article (here) managed to pack in so many distortions and inaccuracies that it would take pages to list and respond in detail to all of them.

Suffice to say that the piece provoked a storm of criticism, with Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government's LibDem Cabinet Secretary for Education, her predecessor, Leighton Andrews (Lab) and Huw Edwards among the more prominent figures condemning it.

As usual Llanelli's two elected representatives, Lee Waters and Nia Griffith, have had nothing to say about events in their constituency which have been making waves across the UK.

In the days that followed publication, the Guardian was forced to make a number of corrections to the original article to remove some of the most glaring errors, although the corrections are grudging and fall well short of an apology.

Among other things, the original article gave the impression that Save the Children opposed teaching through the medium of Welsh. It turned out that the two authors of the article, freelancer Louise Tickle and Guardian reporter Steven Morris had not actually spoken to Save the Children, and the charity later issued a statement making it clear that Tickle and Morris had quoted a report on education in the Asia Pacific region out of context.

More on the possible source of this misrepresentation in due course.

The newspaper then published a response from Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett highlighting the benefits of bilingual education, and in a separate comment piece on Nation.Cymru the academic Ifan Morgan Jones also makes the point that Welsh medium education should really be called bilingual education because the aim of these schools is to produce children who are equally at home in both languages.

Huw Edwards, who grew up in the village and has followed the story closely, summed up his reaction with this Tweet:

Inaccurate and nasty.

Carmarthenshire County Council finally approved plans to phase out the English stream and establish a new primarily Welsh medium school in the village at the beginning of this year, and the decision came at the end of a long and protracted consultation process under a policy introduced by the previous Labour-led council.

That should have been the end of the row, and it is a fair bet that just about everyone in Llangennech, whatever their original views about the change of language designation, would have hoped they had heard the last of it. It was time to move on, consign the bitter and nasty campaign against bilingual education to history and give the school a chance to get on with doing what it does very well.

But as we know, a tiny hardcore of protesters numbering roughly a dozen out of a population of around 5,000, elements within the local Labour Party and more sinister elements from outside the village had other ideas.

And now after a couple of months of quiet, the Guardian has sought to reignite the row with a one-sided account written unchecked and unquestioningly from the perspective of two of the most vociferous anti-Welsh campaigners.

It is this aspect of the Guardian story rather than the wider educational arguments for bilingual education which will be dealt with here.

There is a huge amount of information on the Llangennech school dispute which the two authors of the article, Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, could easily have found if they had wanted to check the claims being made by Michaela Beddows and someone identified as "Alice Morgan". For reasons best known to themselves, they did not.

Since "Alice Morgan" has previously made numerous media appearances, including TV interviews, under her real name, and since just about everyone in the village knows her real identity, let's not maintain this pretence. Alice Morgan's real name is Julia Rees.

"Anti-Welsh bigots and fascists"

Rees begins by telling the Guardian that, "we've been told we are anti-Welsh bigots and fascists".

Let's deal with the fascist bit first. Michaela Beddows was suspended from the Labour Party after it emerged that she had shared EDL material on Facebook. The group, of which she was one of the more vocal members, also engaged with UKIP and brought Neil Hamilton to the village to stir things up even more - after the final decision on the school's future had been taken.

For someone who always protests that she does not understand politics and is just an ordinary mum, she certainly knows how to use a dog whistle (WKDwax is Beddows' Twitter handle):

UKIP would argue that it is not a fascist party, but it certainly contains fascist elements and the party shares many characteristics with other neo-fascist groups.

Guardian readers would have drawn their own conclusions if they had been presented with the facts.

That brings us to anti-Welsh bigotry.

Not only did Beddows, Rees and the rest bring in UKIP, they also established a close working relationship early on with Jacques Protic, the virulently anti-Welsh author of the notorious Glasnost website.

Protic visited the protesters and advised them on their campaign. He almost certainly had a large hand in creating their website, Keep Llangennech Primary Dual Stream. The website has since been deleted, but this previous post gives a flavour of the semi-literate rubbish which filled its pages, including claims that children were being taught Welsh "illegally" and that children were upset when the rest of the school sang "penblwydd hapus i ti" to them rather than "Happy birthday to you", the song's highly complex lyrics being too much for them to deal with.

Protic famously uses a whole battery of pseudonyms on social media, including Steve Stacey and J Jones, and can even be found conducting conversations with himself in which, for example, posts a comment to some article, only for Steve Stacey or J Jones or other fictitious characters from the same menagerie to pile in agreeing with each other.

Here's "Steve Stacey" making a considered comment about education and the Welsh language on Twitter:

In case you didn't get it, "Yaki" is Stacey-Protic's insulting name for the Welsh language, a corruption of iechyd da (good health).

Stacey has only 20 Twitter followers, and Beddows is one of them, just as she also follows and interacts with Glasnost and the rest of Protic's zoo:

A psychiatrist would have a field day with Protic's behaviour online, but it seems that if Steve Stacey is an aggressively abusive aspect of his online personas, "J Jones" is at the more intellectual end of the spectrum, specialising in quoting bits of research out of context in support of his crusade against the Welsh language.

It may be a coincidence, but the misquoting of the Save the Children report looks very much like a J Jones speciality fed to Louise Tickle, the Guardian's "award winning" freelancer.

Does all of this amount to anti-Welsh bigotry? You bet it does.


That brings us to Julia Rees whose comments form the backbone of the Guardian article. In common with several other members of the hardcore protest group, Rees is a Labour Party activist. She is pictured in this piece wearing a red rosette while out canvassing, and the same piece shows her with the Hamiltons.

Rees became something of a poster girl for the anti-Welsh campaign group because unlike the rest, she can actually speak Welsh, and she appeared earlier this year representing the group on the S4C current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar.

Part of the Guardian interview which may strike readers as odd is her claim that "although we speak Welsh at home", her eldest son had felt "overwhelmed" by being taught mainly in Welsh and had become depressed and unhappy.

Why would a child - who we are led to believe was brought up with Welsh as his home language - feel overwhelmed by the language in the Welsh stream of his primary school, only to have his life transformed for the better when he was moved to the English stream?

Perhaps there were other reasons for his feeling unhappy, or perhaps Julia Rees was being less than truthful. Perhaps Welsh was not really the home language after all, as has been suggested by some who know the family.

Rees's second child also began school in the English stream at Llangennech, and there both of them could have stayed until they moved to secondary school, but she decided to take them out and move them to another English-medium school nearby.

She tells the Guardian that she chose English medium for her second child because he was assessed as having special needs. Remember that she claimed that theirs is a Welsh speaking home.

Beddows, on the other hand, has long argued that children with learning difficulties from non-Welsh speaking homes cannot cope with Welsh medium education.

The only conclusion we can draw from this is that both women believe that there is something about Welsh which makes it inherently unsuitable for anyone with special needs or learning difficulties, no matter what their first language.

By that logic, countries all around the world would be switching to English language education.


Julia Rees's decision to request anonymity despite previously appearing in the press and on TV under her real name seems to be part and parcel of another of the tools in their propaganda war, which is to portray themselves as victims. Here's the Guardian quoting an unnamed mother, who may or may not be Julia Rees or Michaela Beddows:

One mother said she was now too frightened to walk down to the Co-op in the village to buy a loaf of bread. “It’s got that bad. Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I’m really scared at the moment. I’m not sure it’s good for the reputation of the Welsh language.

Readers may recall how a few months ago the Western Mail published an entirely false account of  abuse and intimidation being directed at the Beddows/Rees group, claims which it had to retract one by one over several days. The Western Mail article began by suggesting that Cymdeithas yr Iaith were behind tyre slashings in the village.

It first had to issue an apology for that utterly baseless claim, and then had to backtrack further when Dyfed Powys Police said that there had been incidents of tyre slashing across a wider area, and that in their view there was no link to the school dispute.

Finally, the newspaper had to report that Dyfed Powys Police had received no complaints about abuse, whether it was a claim that one member of the group had been spat at, or anything else relating to the school row.

Bearing in mind that the Western Mail's false allegations appeared several months ago and that all has been quiet in the intervening period, the latest claims of abuse in the Guardian look even more suspect.

Looking forward

Llangennech was not the first dual stream school to be transitioned, and it will not be the last.

Michaela Beddows, Julia Rees and the rest are entitled to their views, but they lost the battle in Llangennech, and they discredited themselves and their cause in the process.

It was a campaign based on lies, distortions and bigotry.

The decision to phase out the English stream from Llangennech school is not going to be undone, so the timing of the Guardian article and the decision by Beddows and Rees to resurface now have to be understood in a wider Welsh context.

Nothing would please Protic and his helpers more if other education authorities and school governors were deterred from changing the language category of schools by the example of Llangennech.

Those of us who followed events in Llangennech have learned a great deal from that campaign and know what to look out for.

We cannot allow the education of our children to be determined by a tiny handful of bigoted extremists.


Lesley said...

Cyneifiwr, this is an excellent analysis of the "facts" that were disgracefully misreported by the Guardian - a newspaper that I buy daily and have, until now, trusted to bring a high standard of journalism and truth to its readers. What on earth was the editor thinking in allowing this rubbish to be printed?

I am incensed by the misrepresentation of the true situation. All children in Carmarthenshire are taught both languages whether through the medium of Welsh or English; there is no such thing as learning only Welsh. And if my children's experience is anything to go by, being bilingual definitely facilitated the learning of other languages.

We've had enough of being another outpost of the English Empire; we have to oppose these warped attempts to crush the Welsh language.

Anonymous said...

Llanelli Labour Lee Waters and Llanelli Labour Nia Griffith with their apologetic nodding to the British Nationalists that Wales cannot stand on its own and their casual allowance of extreme bigots in their party has shown them to be amongst the worst AM/MP in Welsh history. Top three. With Alun Cairns.

Jac o' the North, said...

What really concerns me is the ease with which these bigots have been able to gain uncritical publicity. We know Protic has been advising them, but I can't help wondering if they have someone more influential in their corner.

Anonymous said...

Question. Why is Mr Protic getting himself involved in a dispute 150 miles away from where he lives ?

He was a County Council candidate in his own Aethwy Ward on Ynys Mon in May 2013, and secured a derisory 177 votes (3%). He was utterly rejected by the good people of Aethwy and finished bottom of the poll.

His own people, in his own ward, thoroughly rejected his message.

This May, he decided not to stand a second time. He knew that the result would again make look isolated and foolish.

So - Llangennech. What on earth leads Mr Protic to believe that he understands the needs of a community at the other end of Wales, when his own neighbours have utterly rejected him and his misguided crusade at the ballot box ?

Anonymous said...

Talking of links between Llangennech Labour and Jacques Protic, the community councillor for Llangennech, Steve Hughes (@StephenShughes , or "STEVO" on Twitter) has a rather enlightening episode on his Twitter timeline.

He reacts to the Guardian article by saying on 20th June "Interesting report from the Guardian on the decision to turn Llangennech to W-Medium only. Pros and cons on both sides." Inaccurate (Welsh only), but trying to appear even handed and reasonable.

Yet when Huw Edwards complained about the article on Twitter and Jacques Protic (in his guise of the Steve Stacey account mentioned in the article replied "Grauniad caving in against Taffia zealots. Article was 100% accurate and fair. They should also have mentioned the "nonsultation". ", "STEVO" went out of his way to "like" the tweet.

A rather odd, childish, and weird tweet to "like". Unless, of course, he knows him from elsewhere, or is a fan of his work in general? So it seems that certain types are being caught young (doing his A levels, by the look of it) by those Labour members coldly and calculatingly in cahoots with the far right (and anyone else) to further their objectives. Carry on training him up, he seems to be coming on well!

Anonymous said...

Dear Cyneifiwr
Thank you for your clear and penetrating analysis. So unlike the woeful lack of skills of the two Guardian reporters. This article should be used in journalism degrees (in year one as it illustrates blatantly poor reporting) to illustrate the need to 'go to the source' and to 'confirm' facts.

Steven Morris seems to have a brief to cover south west England and Wales from the content of his recent publications (link above). Maybe if newspapers such as the Guardian did not see Wales as merely a place north of Devon we might get informed reporting. Thanks goodness for you and other bloggers,

Lesley said...

The Guardian article has raised a storm - there's a new full-page one in today's paper.

Cneifiwr said...

A comment from Emlyn Uwch Cych who was unable to get past the Captcha software:

Same old, same old. I remember Alan Squeak and his 'Education First' crew back in the 1980s and 1990s raising fears about all the poor children being unable to cope with WM.

He ploughed a very lonely furrow in this 1993 debate, for example:

Welsh-medium is the best for Carmarthenshire and for Wales, whatever the English nationalist quislings might argue.

Unknown said...

Public opinion, the overwhelming demand for bilingual schools, and raw facts about the benefits of bilingual education are not going their way. The only weapon these bigots have in their arsenal is misinformation. Unfortunately it is a devastating weapon. It is apparent that there is a highly organised clandestine campaign being wrought aimed at unermining bilingual education. They only need to sow their dirty seed of doubt in the minds of parents who are considering sending their offspring to bilingual schools to have an impact on the demand for such education.