So the Welsh Labour conference has been and gone, and while most of it was enough to draw a snore from even the most die-hard Labourite, there were some bits of interesting news from Llandudno.
I'll just make it clear from the outset that Rhodri's speech and "interesting" are not words I'm going to put together. It shows how desperate the media is for a bit of political news during the boring season that Rhodri's speech was considered even remotely newsworthy. What did he say? He said that there would be investment in health and education (really, who saw that one coming!), he said that there would be difficult decisions ahead on the environment (haven't we been saying that for a decade?) and finally he broke the huge shocking news that Labour would be fighting against Plaid in the May elections (Oh. My. God!).
Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy told us that we care more for services than for devolution, the exact same words he's said in every speech and interview since he became Welsh Secretary again (actually, as I pointed out before, the exact same words he's said since he FIRST became Welsh Secretary!)
No, far more interesting was the talk coming from the Cymdeithas Cledwyn tent. This is the Welsh Speaking part of Labour, whose meeting I was once lucky enough to gatecrash by accident. The time I saw them in action Rhodri Morgan and Beti Williams were being heckled and booed by an audience that was supposed to be Labour members. With his answers to questions (or, more accurately, his non-answers to questions) drowned out by the sound of rain on the roof Rhodri was accosted by an old lady who told him that the noise was God's way of telling him to shut up!
While I'm sure things were far more civil at this meeting, the shots fired by certain high profile Labour members were just as powerful as the words of that old lady. King -to-be-Carwyn and Eluned "We don't do Welsh in Brussels" Morgan were the ones quoted delivering cannon-ball sized shots across the bows of the ever-strong Valley contingent in Welsh Labour. When they said that the 2007 elections were lost due to the anti-Welsh agenda of the valleys it was not hard to see who was sitting in their sightlines. Step forward Leighton Andrews, Huw Lewis and of course the pathetic Chris Bryant. While there was clearly a little bit of blame-shifting in the allegation that it was the anti-Welsh ramblings of the valley types that lost Labour the election, there's undoubtedly truth in it.
Labour has no presence in West Wales at the Assembly. And when I say "West Wales" I don't just mean Llanelli! There is not a single Labour AM in the North or South West, most of which forms the so-called Welsh language heartlands. Labour lost big seats in the West (even though Nia Griffiths MP still hasn't realized it!) And is there any doubt after the attacks the Welsh language have had from Labour over the years.
While it's very refreshing to hear Labourites being so open about their anti-Welsh problems, it's a bit rich for them to try and pin the blame on a few rouge elements in the valleys. After the 1999 drubbing of Labour, where they lost big seats in the valleys, Labour went nasty. With the help of the newly-formed Welsh Mirror and the ever reliable journalist Mr Paul Starling they made a conscious effort to dump the Welsh speakers. The tactic was simple and effective. Welsh speakers are a minority that Labour decided they could win without. Facing electoral danger from plaid, Labour decided to turn Welsh politics not into Labour v plaid, but into monoglots v bilinguists. The thinking was that if they could identify Plaid with the bilinguists and themselves with the monoglots they'd be guaranteed big wins.
Looking back at that part in politics you shudder by how nasty things were. Hardly a day passed without the Welsh Mirror deriding a prominent Welsh speaker as racist. While some Labourites denounced the tactic (Paul Flynn in particular) most, including those at Cledwyn, sat back and hoped the plan worked. Eluned herself caused a stir at the time when she and Mrs Kinnock refused to speak Welsh to a group of Welsh language children visiting Brussels. When one of the Children asked Mrs Kinnock why she answered their Welsh questions in English, Eluned jumped in and told them 'leave Glenys alone, you have an obsession with the Welsh language'. The presentation became a bit of a slanging match which I would have paid good money to see!
The anti-Welsh tactic paid off, with Labour getting a working majority at the next election and Plaid thrown into the curry-conspiracy madness (another Welsh Mirror coined phrase!). But the cost was huge, both to Wales and to Labour. The relationship between Welsh and English language Wales was badly hurt, as a Welsh speaker I still come across people who see all of us as racists. While Plaid eventually recovered from the assault, Labour was damaged badly out West. I know a lot of Welsh speakers who see Labour as a bigger enemy of the Welsh language than the Tories even.
While it is very refreshing to hear parts of Labour doing the political version of standing up at an AA meeting and admitting their problem, their words will not have much effect while Chris Bryant and his lot keep up with crap like the train announcement early day motion!