Monday, November 17, 2008

What is Welsh

Writing in a book entitled 'Politics in the 21st century' Rhodri Morgan has insisted that the Labour Party must become more 'Welsh'. Martin Shipton's report on this in today's Western Mail is here. This has been interpreted by some as being a veiled attack on Don Touhig, Alun Michael and Kim Howells. What occurred to me was the question 'What does he mean by this'? Firstly he refers to a 'perception' that Labour is anti-Welsh - but since he also claims that "The charge is of course false", he must believe that the problem is presentational. I suppose he's watched the Labour Party under Blair and Brown achieve so much electoral success through 'spin' that he believes the 'perception' that Labour is anti-Welsh can also be transformed through 'spin'.

Another rather more complex question that occurs to me is 'What is Welsh' when referring to a political party's policies. Is it a commitment to a bilingual Wales, a willingness to financially support Welsh culture, or support for the transfer of more powers to the National Assembly - or what? Last week I read of a report from an London University which implied that to be Welsh meant to be socialist - conveniently forgetting that Mrs Thatcher almost attracted more votes than Wales-based Michael Foot in 1983.

And then there's the matter of how this discussion might be relevant to the Conservative Party. Often, I hear and read assertions that we are 'Welsh'. I very much want us to be - but I know that just calling ourselves Welsh Conservatives is not enough. Across most of the world, the political party that is most associated with regional distinctiveness and cultural diversity is the right-of-centre party. It should be us in Wales. I want it to be us in Wales. How do we make it us in Wales. And the biggest question of all for me is whether I'm right in believing that it matters.

Normally, I try to post on the basis of my opinion. This post just asks a lot of questions. Answers on a postcard please, or just comment.


Lenin Cymru said...

You should start by condemning the Lord Wyn Roberts report which reverses your party's previous support,as outlined in the All-Wales accord, for a referendum on full law-making powers for Wales.

You should also reverse your Conservative party's opposition to any proposal which would give the legal right to Welsh language services provided by the private sector.

You should then establish an independent Welsh Conservative party which backs your own previously well-argued support for Welsh independence.

If you can't do those things and you fail to stick by your pro-Welsh talk, you shouldn't be standing for a political party, because you will exposed as having no principles, no backbone and no purpose.

Agincourt Longbowman said...

The Welsh historian Gwyn Alf Williams once famously posed the question 'When was Wales?'. If you are a Welsh nationalist it is easy to argue that Wales is not just a geographical expression as one Anglican argued in the 19th century. The problem, however, is that there has always been more than one Wales. Before the First World War an American academic divided Wales into 3 areas which he described as Welsh Wales which was basically Welsh speaking rural Wales, English Wales of the borders and South Pembrokeshire and American Wales which was basically the industrial area of South Wales. Perhaps someone today needs to look at what unites the different parts of Wales. Most people in South Wales particularly if they don't speak Welsh have very litle in common with North Wales. Parts of the old coalfield areas of South Wales have much more in common with similar areas in England than they do with parts of rural Wales. In a similar way the accents, attitudes of border areas in Mid Wales have much more in common with their cousins in Shropshire and Herfeordshire than with areas further west.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

When I moved to Chicago lots of folks asked me, "What a lovely accent you have, where are you from?" I would reply that I'm from Wales, but I often got the response, "Wales?" On the east coast where I am now based the locals ask me the same question, but less often. Perhaps people around the Washington area have a better grasp on what it means to be Welsh or they are too polite to ask "What is Welsh?"

Anonymous said...

that damn 1983 election has a lot to answer for Gwyn, well that war that preceded it if we are honest. Thats the only thing that go Thatcher back in. Damn those argies in fact. It was the falklands and nothing more.

Glyn Davies said...

lenin - A bit too intemperate to be constructive. You see things in the Roberts Report that I do not see. As far as I can see, there is no political party that wants a referendum before 2011. If the momentum had not been allowed to dissipate by the Coalition partners, and a referendum was likely, the Roberts Report may have addressed the issue differently.

Similarly, I don't think any political party is going to insist on increasing costs on to the private sector in the foreseeable future. Lets see what is in the Welsh Language LCO - if it ever sees the light of day that is. This too seems a bigger problem for the Coalition than it does for us.

Personally, I do think there is a case for a more independent Conservative Party in Wales, but this does raise practical issues beyond the principle.

agincort - This can probably be said of most nations. A key role for the National Assembly is building a Weslh nation - which is why the focus on the M4 corridor has been such a disappointment.

Christopher - I'm told that a lot of Americans think Wales is a part of England - and that really does annoy.

anon - there is no doubt that the way in which Mrs Thatcher dealt with the Falklands Conflict assisted her electorally - as it should have. The point I make is that it had the same impact in Wales as in England.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Yeah Glyn that is what I was trying to say, but just couldn't get myself to say it. It's got to the point where its very tedious for the nth time explaining where Wales is. So I sometimes say, "You've heard of Stonehenge? Well, the Celts-Welsh built it". Doesn’t really answer their question, but they usually nod in some kind of non-legally binding agreement with me.

With regard to your thread - Glyn, I have thought long and hard what being Welsh should mean to Welsh-expats like me.

Specifically, sometime ago I asked myself a fundamental question, "How can one best help Wales?"

I answered that question, but it spawned a new question, “How to affect the answer”.

Today I came up with a possible solution to the answer, and it has nothing to do with "42" (re Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) ... the solution to the answer might or might not surprise you.

Anonymous said...

Lets face facts, Michael Foot, and his successor Neil Kinnock did for the labour party what Dr Shipman did for geriatrics.

Both Foot and Kinnock were unelectable; Michael Foot for being old and Welsh and Kinnock for being ginger and Welsh.

The Labour party were unelectable in the 1980s and into the start of the 1990s when John Smith took over; decenters from within the ranks were severly chastised, this mentality has now spread to the wider community with the introduction of ID cards, CCTV and various other draconian measures the Stazi chooses to put in place.

Valleys Mam said...

What is Welsh - its not being English
and why cant people get that. Its different country , different history and culture.
What Rhodri means I guess is how can he appeal to those who are not voting for us, thats policy and action not semantics Mr Morgan

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...


I raised similar points, primarily because i was confused whether the FM meant 'Welsh Language' or 'Anti-Devolution'.

There needs to be some grip of reality here, you are no anti welsh for not being a fervent supporter of more powers. I am also dumbfounded when i hear people question the democratic mandate of Welsh MPs, with the implicit understanding that AMs have some divine right to rule over them.

The UK Parliament is sovereign, that is fact whether people agree with it or not. Also, those Welsh MPs have a far bigger mandate in terms of votes than an AM.

penlan said...

A few random thoughts following Valley's Mam accurate quip about not being English:

a)Culturally we are more distinct from the English than either of the Scots and Irish.Politically,the opposite is true.

b)There is little rancour between the Welsh and the English.I have found that we are welcome there.An English friend who has lived in both Wales and Scotland once commented to me that his origin did not matter in Wales but it was a problem in Scotland.

c)I think that we remain astonishingly different peoples both in physical appearance and and state of mind notwithstanding centuries of proximity and political union.

d)Although the Welsh/Anglo Welsh ,North/South
divides exist,we do not have any community which defines itself by its opposition to another.We are one people (and Rhodri wants our votes.....)

BM said...

Valleysmam "we are not english" comment interests me.

I was born and raised in the midlands but married a welsh man (who doesn't speak welsh and his grandparents are english). I am learning to speak welsh, I think the culture is so important I've sent my children to a welsh designated school. I also feel irritated when people think wales is part of england. (In the same way i used to feel irritatated about people's attitudes to people from the midlands, or the north for that matter).

Am I welsh or english? I want wales to beat england in rugby but I'm happy when England does well in football. My cultural identity is confusing and I would suggest that the same goes with a large number of people living in Wales, and everywhere else for that matter, so I think the question is impossible to answer.

How do we want the place we live in to be governed is a completely different question, and whilst we want that governance to allow room for our culture to grow and breathe, and to also be shaped by the particular circumstances of our geography and societal structure, I don't think we have to have to necessarily make big statements about "What is Welsh".

Glyn Davies said...

VM - its an odd relationship I feel that we have with England. I see England as our best friend, except when the whistle blows for kick off. For 80 minutes they become my enemies, in a way that no other team does. Its most odd.

s and th - I think Iagree with you. I favour law making powers, but from the perspective of wanting to see a stable British constitution. The main reason I would like to be an MP is to commit myself to a constuctive working relationship between the Assembly and the UK Parliament at Westminster.

penlan - Thanks for such an interesting comment. While I agree that what I think of as Welsh culture is very different from the rest of the UK, it is also very seperate from many of the people who live in Wales.

Its true that aside from some very limited mindless anti-Englishness by a tiny few, there is little rancour. And I've never sensed any anti-Welshness in England - apart from the superscillious attitude of some of the London based media. But the North has to tolerate that as well.

Wales is not one people, and this acan be said of most nations in the world. I want Wales to move closer to being 'one people' and have been hugely disappointed by successive Assembly Governments to contibute to this process.