I'm the Hen Ferchetan. This is my take on the world through the eyes of Wales. While mostly about Welsh politics (that most famous of dour topics!) I try to scatter some humour around, but I doubt anyone but me will find it funny! Have a read, and if it bores you then feel free to never come back!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Rhodri Gets Tough

So finally, at long last, after 8 years and one month into his job, Rhodri Morgan grows some cahoones. In an essay he wrote for a new book on Welsh politics the First Minister finally bites back at a few parts of the Labour Party that he has usually lain down before.

Firstly he launches a pretty damning critic of the Blair and Brown legacy. He ridicules Brown's attempts to convince us all that being British means tolerance and decency by pointing to New Labour's record of:
"bulging prisons, record incarceration of children, fortress-like asylum policies, and a progressive erosion of the distinction between ‘anti-social’ behaviour (where solutions ought to be sought primarily through social policy)and criminal conduct (which falls to be dealt with by the criminal justice system) provides an uncertain background of evidence.”
Damning stuff. He also criticises the attack on Iraq, something which he embarrassingly refused to do a few years back (when it actually mattered). But Rhodri isn't finished yet, he then turns to his own Welsh party.

Echoing views that Eluned Morgan and Carwyn Jones said in February's Welsh Labour Conference (but which they later backtracked on in the Western Mail letter page) Rhodri states that a big reason for Labour's collapse in West Wales (they do not hold an Assembly seat West of Swansea) was their public image of being anti-Welsh language. While Rhodri is careful enough to state that he doesn't believe his party is anti-Welsh language his admission that:
"it would be foolish to deny that, from time to time, strands in the party have acted in ways which have given it credibility"
is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Strands in the party? Now I wonder who he could possibly be talking about there?

It's very interesting to see Rhodri's admission that the Tories have managed to reposition themselves in front of Labour in the "pro-Welsh language" front. This would have been unimaginable only a few years ago, but there's no doubt that Welsh-speakers now feel that Labour is the party who opposes their quest for more rights not the Tories.

There are two reasons for this; yes the Tories, in the Assembly at least, have repositioned themselves well to the fore of Labour on this issue and, as Welsh-speaking Tories will always be quick to remind you, it was the Tories that (eventually) gave us the Welsh Language Act and S4C.

Perhaps more importantly though, they only have 3 Welsh MP's at the moment. So while Labour's numerous MP's lash out at the Welsh language from London, their Tory counterparts don't get much publicity when they do the same. So while the Tories in the Assembly have managed to redeem themselves to some extent, their MP's haven't - they're just being ignored. When, as is likely, the Tories find themselves with many additional Welsh MP's come the next election, it will be interesting to see if we'll still be thinking of them as pro-Welsh language?

So with the looming Cardiff v Westminster fight is about to begin over the Welsh Language LCO (believe me, the Housing LCO bickering is merely an undercard compared to the mess that the next one could cause) Rhodri has drawn a pretty big line in the sand. The question is what side of that line will the reminder of his party stand?

6 comments:

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Surely that will depend to a degree on who the MPs are? In the event that Glyn DAvies wins Montgomeryshire (Sir Drefaldwyn, if you prefer it that way) he would presumably be the leader de facto of the Welsh Tories at Westminster - in which case it would be extremely hard to tar them with an anti-Cymraeg brush. Or Alun Cairns, who speaks Welsh as a first language.

Although of course David Davies will still be there no matter who wins...

Lenin Cymru said...

With their back-tracking over devolution following the Lord Wyn Roberts report, I think the Welsh window-dressing of the Tories is being revealed as shallow already.

Glyn Davies, has refused to condemn the report, which reverses the commitment they gave in the All Wales accord to support a referendum. I wouldn't count on him as any salvation.

The article is interesting, it does give the sense of a very exacebated man, forced to attack the regressive Labour MPs in Westminster as the only way to keep the One Wales coalition intact.

Anonymous said...

This is a classic example of the politics of identity being confused with the traditional socio-political economic narrative normally referred to as left versus right or perhaps authoritarian versus libertarian.

We all need to accept that in post-devolution Wales the nationalistas would continue to agitate along the axis of identity deficit and perceived historic nation victimhood, attempting to absorb the left-right dichotomy into a cultural identity debate.

The danger for Labour in Wales is to think that the way of combating this narrative is by trying to “out-Welsh” Plaid Cymru.

It is simply not possible for Labour to try this approach, moreover, it is utterly doomed to failure.

Put it another way, by trying to push further along this “Welshness” line Labour is allowing Plaid Cymru to dictate the terms of the debate both strategically and tactically.

To that extent I have to take my hat off to the nationalistas, for their fleet footedness.

They have implanted in key areas their Trojan Horse cadres who perpetuate this supposedly “cool” image of Cymru, where it is considered “cool” to do something because it is Welsh, not necessarily because it is desirable or intrinsically good for its own sake.

If something has great merit, every effort will be made to say that it is so because it is Welsh, not for its intrinsic goodness and value.

This thinking has even driven nationalistas policy thinking in the National Assembly.

So when the time comes to discuss the new legislation in the pipeline a big “hullabaloo” is made about the forthcoming Legislative Competence Order (LCO) on the Welsh Language.

This is such a travesty, it beggars belief. At a time when the world economy is facing a serious threat of a deflationary slump, with monumental implications for the lives of people up and down the breadth of Wales, what exercises the nationalistas ensconced in Cardiff and their friends in Higher Education and various quangos?

You guessed it. The Welsh Language.

Frankly, if this was not a serious matter it would be funny. But instead of tackling child poverty and the need to bring new clinical interventions to our health service and win more export markets for our companies in difficult times, what are they worrying about?

You guessed it. The Welsh Language.

Let me tell you this truth. Nobody owns the Welsh language, for that matter nobody owns any language on this earth.

Language is there to facilitate communication between peoples all over the world in every aspect of our lives.

If the amount of agonising and energy and financial resources put into the language issue was instead channelled into boosting the Welsh economy, we would have one of the highest economic growth rates in the Western world!

Let’s focus on bread and butter issues. People in Aberdyfi have worries about gas and electricity and food prices just as much as those in Shotton, Bethesda and Ebbw Vale.

All politicians in Wales want to do the best for their constituents, whether they speak Welsh, English, Hindustani, Farsi or Turkish.

Being Welsh is not a political fact. Living in Wales is.

So Welsh Labour needs to be bold and focus on issues that are at the sharp end of people’s lives every hour of every day. Secure jobs, safe schools , efficient council services, clean environments, investment in new industries, opportunities for retraining, healthy eating, good care in the community etc.

Hen Ferchetan said...

Half-Blood - yes there will possibly be Tory MP's who are pro language and pro-devolution, but the same is true of Labour MP's (Paul Flynn especially). But they are usually drowned out by their publicity hungry anti-language anti-devolution counterparts (Peter Hain and David Davies respectively).

lenin - all true, but there is a distinction between the welsh language and further devolution - Rhodri's essay was about the language.

anon - even though i don't agree with your conclusion I can't fault your post for quality. But it's totally wrong to suggest that the issue of the Welsh language is dominating time at the Assembly to the detriment of all other issues. The proof of that is that the current dust up is over social housing - nothing to do with the language a all. And i can't even remember the last time there was amajor debate in the Senedd about the language. And you're right that Labour will never be able to "out welsh" Plaid seeing as how "being Welsh" is probably the cornerstone of Plaid Cymru while Welsh Labour is a sbbranch of a bigger party, but Rhodri knows well that they have to a least "out-Welsh" the Tories or they'll never get those West seats back.

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