Theatre in Wales

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"Without us they'd be third world countries”

A Political Diary

Meidia and Commentators , Politics of Wales , May 30, 2019
A Political Diary by Meidia and Commentators 2nd March: Western Mail. Laura Macallister is in full blast: “If we’re not careful, Wales is in danger of transmogrifying into a runt nation, united by far less than that which divides us - geography, demography, transport infrastructure, economics, never mind politics, Brexit and language - and poorly served by a tired political class of public servants apologetic about ambition and lacking the hunger and drive to make us better.

“A week in which the chair of the Assembly’s External Affairs committee said that the strategic approach to Wales’s relationship with the rest of the world had “all too often” been “patchy and incoherent.”

5th March: Martin Thomas, Lord Thomas of Gresford, a Liberal Democrat, in a House of Lords debate.

“In Wales we regard Sir John Redwood not so much as the architect of devolution but as its cause. As Secretary of State between 1993 and 1995, two years before the 1997 referendum, he attacked the non-governmental organisations delivering services in Wales with Thatcherite zeal, halved public funding to the Welsh Development Agency and cut his own Welsh Office staff, outsourcing to the private sector.

“He banned the use of the Welsh dragon on a leaflet entitled Wales in Europe and refused to second staff to ensure a Welsh presence in Brussels. He boasted that he had returned £100 million of the funding allocated to Wales, unspent, to the Treasury. He travelled home to Wokingham every night to avoid staying in Wales, refused to sign documents in the Welsh language because he did not understand them, and his rendition of the Welsh national anthem remains a YouTube classic that is very dear to our hearts.”

And on Europe.

“Brexit involves abandoning EU mechanisms that have delivered the most generous regional assistance that Wales has ever seen in favour of a shared prosperity fund of indeterminate size and effect. This fund will be in the partisan political control of a UK Government, dominated by England, whose instincts are, as my noble friend Lord Wallace pointed out, incorrigibly centralist. I do not think Wales will get a fair deal. European funds have been distributed on the basis of ​need but I strongly suspect that this shadowy new fund will be distributed, like the Barnett formula, on a crude headcount.”

March 23rd: A million people between Trafalgar Square and Westminster and I find I am next to Peter Kellner, pollster supremo, also husband of Baroness Ashton. After being introduced to his family we talk polls briefly. The statistical plus or minus 2% accuracy is built-in. In a multi-party set-up, establishing representative samples is ever more difficult.

No official Labour participation for the march although it is leaked that Tom Watson will speak. Big cheer when he appears. Even bigger for Nicola Sturgeon. The organisers introduce some young people from Ireland. They are direct and emotional.

“Please do not return us to the world that our parents grew up in” implores a young woman.

Her voice is the one that should take precedence, and will not.

March 26th: Enter Parliament via Portcullis House. David Lammy at next table. McDonnell, Rees-Mogg, Rachel Reeves, Soubry, Umunna pass by. An hour's observation of Commons business. Many recognisable faces: Bercow, Bryant, Hancock, Redwood, Skinner, Thornberry, Clive Lewis, Crispin Blunt, Liz Kendall. The business is sober, respectful, obvious cross-bench co-operation on foreign affairs. Jonathan Edwards, out of my line of sight, speaks. I do not agree with him but I respect his viewpoint.

March 27th: Among the demonstrators outside. Pass by Steve Bray, Port Talbot numismatist, who is on the news most nights, either in voice or person.

Me: “You've got your own wikipedia entry.”

Bray: “Have I?”

One shaven-headed protester is on his own with a hand-written square of cardboard. “Rothschild SORROS [sic] BBC SKY = FAKE NEWS”. That man in the White House has a lot to answer for.

Red-cheeked man stands by Commons entrance with a large sign and a pointing finger. “This way to a nation betrayed.”

Me: “That's not quite right. There are four nations. And two want to be in Europe.”

Him: “Them! They're just small appendages. Without us they'd be third world countries.”

This is a regular with English nativism. Assumed ownership of the other nations combined with irritation at their impertinence and lack of deference.

May 5th:: Sunday Politics on TV: Kevin Morgan on the point of devolution- “make the quangos more accountable and that's been achieved. The devolution dividend- the public pound didn't work hard or smart in Wales in the first ten years. One of the biggest problems of all was that the Welsh government treated leaders and laggards the same, got the same grants, the same treatment where we should have been discriminating in favour of good practice.”

Victoria Winckler from the Bevan Foundation: “My biggest disappointment has been that the figures on poverty have not changed. We haven't seen the kind of progress that was aimed at in those early days. There's a vicious circle that needs to be turned into virtuous circle.

“Money was just chucked over the wall in the hope that it would land in the right place. But we didn't have the Assembly scrutinising those claims and that's where we had a weakness across the board...Rather than challenge we just had things fading in and fading out of fashion. It needs a strong media.”

May 10th : Eluned Morgan at the Department of International Politics at Aber. Her subject is the new ministerial role, International Relations and the Welsh Language. I am seated by a man who did not vote for her as leader; the reasons are revealing. “He's a steady pair of hands” he says of the First Minister. In the current turbulence if that is what Wales requires, well, it's a view.

She is impressive by any standard, her will to make Wales matter in the world manifest. I lob my own question about Wales' emerging cyber-security cluster.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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