Theatre in Wales

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Out of Europe- “hill farming, forget it. It’s dead"

A Political Diary

First Minister and Natural Resources Wales , Hay Festival , May 25, 2013
A Political Diary by First Minister and Natural Resources Wales The Hay Festival, on the afternoon of its first Saturday, is sunny and seething. It is the day, in particular, on which the programmers have clustered a lot of history and politics. Wales’ National Librarian, until a few weeks ago, is to be sighted now as a plain enthusiast for books.

The Minister of Education is on a platform, relaxedly off-duty, trading banter with a brace of historians and flying the flag for his native Rhondda. A BBC stalwart, who really knows his stuff, is sweetly hand-in-hand with a four-year old daughter. A television critic, blonde of hair and black of dress, flies past with purpose, as does the economist peer with the wild white hair and the editor-at-large with the wild black hair.

The programme for the day comprises sixty-four events. That makes inevitable some tough choices. Anne Applebaum on Eastern Europe coincides with Herefordshire MP, and backbencher of high principal, Jesse Norman. Applebaum’s husband was once one of the thousands of stranded Poles in exile after the Jaruzelski coup. Now he is among Europe’s most highly regarded Foreign Ministers.

Emyr Roberts is newly appointed Chief Executive for the newly created Natural Resources Wales. He does a capable job of introducing the new amalgamation. His is also, for Hay, an uncommon bilingual voice, pointing out that ‘Cyfoeth Naturiol’ has a rather different sense to it. His interviewer, an environmental journalist of repute from a London broadsheet, dryly responds that his introduction has sounded as if assembled by officials. A nuclear power station environmental officer in the audience expresses surprise that such a range of obligations can be executed with no more than two thousand staff.

The formation of Natural Resources Wales, adds the First Minister later in the day, has logic behind it. The Cabinet in Cardiff wants a unified opinion rather than three organisations with views at variance.

But, says an insider in the audience, organisational culture does not wither when it is merged into a larger organisation. It may but, from the empirical evidence, only with brutality. If the top two managerial layers are got rid of, en masse and within a week or so, it can work. That is the private sector way.

The interviewer wonders whether the environmental debate, which ought by rights to be in the public arena, may vanish behind closed doors. Natural Resources Wales has a massive remit. Tight-packed, cash-generating conifers versus biodiversity, dolphin colonies versus visitors with outboard motors, these are political decisions. The proposed marine conservation zones around Llyn are, say their opponents, going to cost ‘nearly’ two thousand jobs and ‘nearly’ sixty million pounds. These ‘nearly’s’ are not good, but it is unclear from the lively question-and-answer session quite where the politics are now located.

Emyr Roberts is refreshingly steeped in detail. He really does know larch disease, red kites and effluent hazard. That kind of primary knowledge is absent from the discussion between Jesse Norman and Geoff Mulgan. Hay audiences talk as they shuffle toward the exit. The cluster around me is in noisy agreement that ‘the Locust and the Bee: Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future’ is unconvincing stuff. The book itself, of course, may well contain the meat.

The First Minister an hour later states that the challenge of an intention, specifically Wales’ inbuilt sustainability commitment, is ‘to take the Bill and turn it into something tangible.’ At seven PM, Hay’s blackboard outside the Landmark 100 tent is marked simply ‘C. Jones.’ Geoff Mulgan in the afternoon has repeatedly drawn attention, and made comparison, with smaller jurisdictions. But the United Kingdom is never going to be an Iceland or a New Zealand, or a Wales. For a start C Jones is present on his own, with not a civil servant or policy wonk to be seen, just a Premier with a group of engaged citizens.

He opens with a mention of the long queue nearby that has assembled to hear the Chancellor of Portsmouth University. ‘Even my wife has gone’ he says ‘She hears enough of me talking already.’ The ostensible subject is the Sustainability Bill, but as it has yet to be drafted, it is a little premature. The discussion moves about and, not for the first time, the grasp of detail on show is remarkable. C Jones knows his jurisdiction in a way that a Westminster counterpart could not. A polity like one from Tamar to Tyne (by the time the Romantics of UKIP have done their stuff) is simply too big.

C Jones seems to know at first hand the traffic that can clog Newtown at the wrong time. He is clear in response to a local questioner that Bronllys needs more housing association accommodation. He knows the exact numbers for Wales without Brussels. And he speaks in plain language. Take out the CAP and ‘hill farming, forget it. It’s dead.’ An arts writer is an observer, not a government spokesperson, but the event in its spirit of openness and exchange, the good humour, the sense of mutuality between political representative and the represented is cheering.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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