Y Barcud Oren #10

Ah, the summer, that mystical time when politicians stop being lazy in their grand offices and spread their laziness across the land (or not, of course, though I suppose you can judge for yourself using the Western Mail’s list…) The summer was never going to be politics-free, however, particularly in Wales where everyone has to factor in their annual visit to Senedd-on-Sea.

Considerably Welsher than yow

Or to be more accurate, Senedd-by-the-Lakeside, as this year’s National Eisteddfod was held in Bala. With Rhodri’s 70th birthday (his promised retirement date) little more than a month away, it was time for Bridgend AM Carywn Jones to really not actually launch his campaign for the Llafur leadership with his speech to Cymdeithas Cledwyn, the party’s Welsh language group.

The Eisteddfod performance was an important step in establishing the main theme of Carwyn’s eventual leadership bid, namely that he is Rhodri Morgan incarnate, honest guv. South Walian, Welsh-speaking, academic and bumblingly ineffectual, Carwyn’s pretty much got the act down. The speech itself, however, was Blair all the way; reaching out beyond the core vote, redefining social justice, focusing on small-scale initiatives and large-scale platitudes…

The yin to Carwyn’s yang was quick to respond. Huw Lewis, the AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, is trying to make history by leading Labour into a post-defeat veer to the left before they’ve even lost. His blogged response to the speech was straight out of the “You’re Welsh, You’ll Vote Labour” school, warning against alienating a core vote that apparently doesn’t exist anyway because anything any Welshman might describe as a value is held by Labour and thus uniquely identified to them anyway. Add in a dash of “we need bold (read: crypto-communist) ideas” and we have the recipe for what should be a highly entertaining bout of Labour eating its own young as and when Rhodri jumps.

(Oh, and by the way Huw, don’t try and invoke The West Wing, you’re on my turf there and your future in that game looks about as bright as John Heffinger’s…)

He’s a nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…

The real political row of the Eisteddfod, however, was saved for after everyone had come back from the Maes.

Back in March, the Assembly Government had given a one-off grant of £100,000 (over and above their regular contribution of just shy of half a million pounds) to the Eisteddfod to offset difficulties in raising local funding in rural Meirionydd. During the Eisteddfod itself, Freedom Central’s Jeremy Townsend published a piece about political influence on arts spending in Wales, responding in large part to earlier comments by The Next Lover Of Lembit Opik™ that the Welsh National Opera had been arrested at his behest for failing to be properly Welsh.

Jeremy referred to the one-off grant for the Eisteddfod which had turned a profit in 2008, comparing its treatment to that of Brecon Jazz Festival (which was saved at around the same time with no such Assembly largesse) and warning that, with budgets tightening, political control of arts funding might lead to a greater degree of cultural insularity.

Plaid Cymru’s response was to grab hold of the wrong end of the stick and start beating about the bush with it. Fixating on the fact that Bala was described using that grand old English-language idiom, the middle of nowhere, Elfyn Llwyd and Adam Price took the battle into the mainstream media, bandying around accusations that the Liberal Democrats corporately were out of touch with the realities of Wales and guilty of gross cultural imperialism.

This response ignored the odd salient fact or seventeen. In the first instance, increased visitor numbers or no, the Eisteddfod had fundamentally needed the one-off grant to be held in Bala; that its location had necessitated increased government support was not in question. Secondly, again regardless of increased visitor numbers, Bala is an hour by car from most of the population of north Wales, three hours by car from half the population of Wales overall and forty-four years by rail from anyone anywhere; that it qualified for description with an idiom meaning “geographically isolated” was also not in question.

But Plaid’s attack went further, essentially suggesting that the Liberal Democrats were fundamentally against the Eisteddfod being held in north Wales, or possibly at all. Again, nothing could have been further from the truth, as Jeremy had explicitly said that his suggestion was that the Eisteddfod be held in urban centres during the recession to reduce the need for subsidy. Of course, you’d never hear such a radical opinion voiced, say, by the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ keynote speaker on the Maes itself…

As a coda to the row, Daran Hill wrote an excellent piece at WalesHome.org asking why Plaid and the Lib Dems spend so much time attacking each other, on the blogosphere and in the mainstream media, when they agree on so many areas of policy and when much of Plaid’s intellectual inheritance comes from Lloyd George.

In many ways, however, he answered his own question by quoting the key segment of Adam Price’s second blogged stab at the subject. Having laid the groundwork in his first piece by pointedly describing Jeremy as “a Newport activist” (which, as his brother points out, is code for “not really Welsh”) he warmed to the subject even further, outlining a supposed set of values; “urban not rural, modern not traditional, British not Welsh”.

And therein lies the problem; not that we can be described using those words (we most certainly can’t) but that he and his party can be described by the opposite of them. Plaid may have been Lloyd Georgian once, but if they continue to believe that urban, modern life is fundamentally “not Welsh”, that half of the population of the country are beneath contempt, they certainly aren’t Lloyd Georgian now and I suspect we will continue to hold them beneath contempt as well.

Continuity of non-governance

Beyond the politicking there was some governing to be done and as ever, Labour were doing an excellent job of not doing it properly.

Just before the recess we had the remarkable saga of the first-class civil servants. An FOI request by Kirsty Williams had revealed that the 34 credit card holders at International Business Wales had spent £718,434.17 in a year, including one who had spent £70,000 on air travel alone. But before the minister responsible (one Ieuan Wyn Jones, mucker of this parish) could respond, Rhodri himself waded in, describing the accusation that civil servants had travelled first-class as an “outright lie“. Except, of course, that it wasn’t, leaving Rhodri to reflect that if you’re going to pull out the politician’s A-bomb, you’d better be right about it.

And then in the last week, just to prove that it never rains but it pours, the Minister for Local Government unveiled his response to the Auditor General’s damning report on Anglesey Council. Anglesey had long been the perfect example of why councils run by independents don’t work and Dr Gibbons had been tasked with appointing a new managing director to start to sort thing out. Last Wednesday, he unveiled his troubleshooter, who doesn’t speak Welsh.

Cue the usual suspects complaining that a non-Welsh speaker couldn’t do the job effectively (on an island where 70% do speak it, quite possible) and would anglicise the authority (I refer honourable members to the answer I gave some moments ago…) Still, it could have been worse, he could have been suspended from his previous job as chairman of an NHS trust because of disagreements over national policy (his version) or concerns over failure of governance at the trust leading to serious consequences for quality of patient care (their version…)

Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something. Y Barcud Oren means ‘The Orange Kite’.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Wales.

One Comment

  • Ni fyddai hi’n syniad da inni ymddangos fel plaid sy ddim yn cefnogi’r Steddfod mewn ardaloedd fel Meirionydd.
    Cofiwch bod rhan fwya o’n ASau yn dod o ardaloedd tebyg!

3 Trackbacks

  • By Y Barcud Oren #11 on Mon 14th September 2009 at 3:46 pm.

    […] the Assembly was established, been published bilingually. Nevertheless, just before heading off to Senedd-by-the-Lakeside the Assembly Commission decided that the £250,000 annual cost of producing the full translation […]

  • By Y Barcud Oren #11 – Freedom Central on Mon 14th September 2009 at 6:40 pm.

    […] the Assembly was established, been published bilingually. Nevertheless, just before heading off to Senedd-by-the-Lakeside the Assembly Commission decided that the £250,000 annual cost of producing the full translation […]

  • By Y Barcud Oren #12 – Freedom Central on Mon 12th October 2009 at 9:22 pm.

    […] campaign launch reflected the manifesto he’s been hawking around the country ever since, namely that Llafur should break with history and have their traditional […]

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