Mel Witherden

Mar 132017
 

In which I try to explain how Plaid Cymru became a serious political party in the 1960s, why it was derailed in the 1980 and 1990s, and how we’ve ended up with a self-emasculating party that sees no role for itself other than as Labour’s little helper.

BLOWN INTO THE LIMELIGHT

I can write about the 1960s with some authority because I was there, I was involved, and I knew many of the players. Most weekends would see a gang of us pile into a hired transit van to attend some rally or protest, and there were real issues for us to focus on; we had Tryweryn (plus the other drownings), Aberfan, the Investiture – how could anyone not believe that Wales would be better off if she was independent?

There was a widespread perception among those I mixed with of there being a broad nationalist front, with Plaid Cymru as the political wing. Many people I knew were members of both Plaid and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society), I even knew people who were members of Plaid, CyIG and the Free Wales Army. There was most definitely ‘overlap’.

Though Plaid’s leadership, Gwynfor Evans especially, attributed the bombing campaigns to MI5 and sought to distance the party from them. Whatever the response, the truth is that in the 1960s Plaid Cymru rode the coat-tails of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru and the FWA to became a serious political party, winning Carmarthen in the 1966 by-election and pushing Labour close in subsequent by-elections in the Valleys.

‘That Charles is a lovely boy, Mam . . . I think I’m in love!’

The lesson was clear, get the people to focus on Welsh issues, particularly exploitation and injustice, and Plaid Cymru would reap the electoral reward. Without the reaction to Tryweryn and the protests of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, it’s unlikely that Gwynfor Evans would have beaten Gwilym Prys-Davies in Carmarthen. And Gwynfor’s victory in July 1966 is often cited as the inspiration for Winnie Ewing winning the Hamilton by-election for the SNP in November 1967. Can we go so far as to attribute the impending independence of Scotland to the greed and insensitivity of Liverpool Corporation?

Plaid Cymru’s leaders don’t like being told that the party owes its boost in the 1960s to Owain WilliamsJohn Jenkins and Cayo Evans, but the party certainly lost impetus when MAC and the FWA were broken up. With little to excite and involve the voters Plaid Cymru’s support in the 1970s fell back in the south, but the party entrenched itself in the west and the north, appealing primarily now to Welsh speakers, a trend that damaged its appeal outside the Fro Gymraeg.

Again, I speak from personal experience, having stood as a Plaid Cymru candidate for both Swansea city council and West Glamorgan county council in the mid 1970s. I’d knock on a door, introduce myself as one of the local Plaid Cymru candidates and often get the response, ‘Sorry, love, we don’t speak Welsh’. There was rarely hostility, more the feeling that whatever Plaid Cymru might be (and few knew, or cared), it was definitely a party for Welsh speakers only. Plaid Cymru in the 1970s and 1980s was a national party with a very narrow appeal just bumbling aimlessly along.

PLAID GOES LEFT, AND GREEN, AND DISAPPEARS UP ITS OWN ARSE

Nineteen-seventy-nine was a significant year in Wales for three main reasons.

On March 1st, St David’s Day, Wales rejected the Labour Party’s devolution proposals, with just 20.26% in support. Despite it being a Labour initiative most Labour politicians, led by Neil Kinnock and George Thomas, campaigned vigorously and viciously against devolution.

Then on May 3rd Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were elected to power in Westminster, with the party gaining 32.2% of the Welsh vote and eleven of the thirty-six Welsh seats. In the general election of 1983 – and despite the war in the south Atlantic and the losses suffered by the Welsh Guards on the Sir Galahad – the Tories still gained 32% of the Welsh vote. From a high point of 11.5% in the general election of 1970 Plaid Cymru’s share of the vote slipped to 8.1% in 1979 and 7.8% in 1983.

Finally, on December 11th, we saw the first holiday home arson attacks by Meibion Glyndŵr.

Plaid Cymru continued to bumble along, going nowhere. The party was so rudderless, so unattractive to voters outside of the rural west, that the MG campaign was unable to give the boost that MAC and the FWA had done in the 1960s, possibly because holiday homes were not an issue in the areas where Plaid needed to grow. Plaid Cymru was a weak party of dispirited members, ripe for change, or takeover . . . preferably not a takeover by nationalists.

Gwynfor Evans stepped down as president in 1981 and a new generation stepped into his shoes. First, Dafydd Wigley, who’d been elected MP for Caernarfon in 1974, and then, more significantly, from 1984, Dafydd Elis Thomas, who’d been elected in the same year for the neighbouring constituency of Meirionnydd.

Now things begin to get strange. Because although the obvious problem was that Plaid Cymru was not getting enough support from the anglophone Welsh, under Dafydd Elis Thomas the party started reaching out in other directions, primarily to the hairier fringes of the Left, and to even more hirsute elements of the environmental movement. It will be noted that none of these new ‘allies’ had a snowball’s chance in hell of increasing Plaid’s vote in Swansea East or Merthyr or Wrecsam.

Another in Plaid’s hierarchy keen on ‘reaching out’ was Cynog Dafis, who believed there was common ground between Plaid Cymru and the Greens. These Greens were of course overwhelmingly English and many of them were openly dismissive of Welsh identity. As far as they were concerned, they had moved to ‘the country’, not to someone else’s country.

The Plaid-Green Summer Solstice Conference, Pontrhydfendigaid, 1991

This contempt was returned in kind, for most Plaid Cymru supporters had no time for the Greens, and some, especially those involved in farming and other activities, thoroughly detested these arrogant interlopers who threatened their livelihoods. Yet to Cynog Dafis the hippies and the rest were “those who had moved here to live for progressive and enlightened purposes”.

This episode provides us with an example from thirty years ago of Plaid Cymru’s leadership being out of step with the party’s rank and file, and of course the wider population. Guilty of going off on tangents that did nothing to address Plaid Cymru’s fundamental problem. I wrote a few years ago about this rather silly flirtation with the Greens in Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of Englandandwales.

AN AMERICAN FRIEND

When he was Plaid’s head honcho Dafydd El’s consort was an American named Marjorie Thompson. An interesting woman from an impeccably WASP-Republican background who, after a stint as assistant to a Republican Congressman, crossed the Pond and soon joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, rising to be chair of that body. More remarkably, perhaps, she also served as chair of Scottish CND, though this is not mentioned in her Linkedin profile.

I’m not sure when her relationship with DET began but it lasted some seven years and intrigued observers. Having served her time among the ‘progressives’ in CND and other groups Ms Thompson eventually joined Saatchi & Saatchi, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite ad agency, in 1997, and returned ‘home’, as it were, by joining the Conservative Party in 2009.

I seem to recall that there was interest at the time in a brother of Marjorie Ellis Thompson who, it was alleged, worked for a US intelligence agency. But I could be mistaken, it was all a long time ago. Maybe someone remembers?

By 1992, after all the changes, and all the ‘reaching out’, Plaid Cymru’s percentage of the vote in that year’s general election barely moved. Nevertheless, the party did hold its three seats in the north west and Cynog Dafis added Ceredigion and Pembroke North, almost certainly due to the thousands of bearded ones turning out to vote for him.

Though the only constituency that saw an official Plaid-Green alliance was Monmouth, where the candidate Mel Witherden got 0.8% of the vote, the lowest Plaid vote in the country. Witherden was quite open in stating that many Greens were anti-Welsh in a racist and colonialist way.

Plaid was now firmly located on the political left, it was a ‘welcoming’ party concerned with all manner of ishoos and -isms, and more interested in the opinions of Islington than with what people were thinking in Islwyn.

DESIGNED TO FAIL

Plaid Cymru, the party I joined in the mid-’60s because it – and I – wanted to make Wales a better place for the Welsh people, had become a regional rainbow alliance for which nationhood and independence were dirty words. Wales no longer mattered except for the votes and seats it provided that then allowed the Plaid leadership to rub shoulders with other ‘progressives’.

This party had no chance of winning seats outside of the Welsh-speaking areas, where most of Plaid’s voters supported the party for cultural reasons, and didn’t really care about Plaid’s policies (even if they knew what they were). If this electorate had one concern it was the influx that was breaking up communities and slowly destroying a Welsh way of life.

Plaid Cymru had no intention of making a stand against colonisation; in fact, as we’ve seen, Plaid’s leadership was happy to co-operate with elements of this influx. Never was an electorate taken for granted and treated with such contempt as Plaid Cymru’s rural voters. It’s no exaggeration to say that Meibion Glyndŵr spoke for these people better than Plaid Cymru.

Courtesy of BBC

Plaid Cymru was successfully subverted in the late 1980s and early 1990s into a political party that would never get more than 10-12% of the vote in UK general elections and therefore pose no threat to the integrity of the UK state. It would have been easy to interpret this catastrophic re-alignment to foolishness, were it not for the removal of Dafydd Wigley in 2000.

In the first elections to the new Welsh Assembly in May 1999 Plaid Cymru gained 28.4% of the constituency vote (Labour 37.6%) and 30.5% of the second or regional vote (Labour 35.4%). In addition to predictably winning its western, rural seats the party also won Llanelli, Rhondda and Islwyn. This result sent shock waves way beyond Wales.

In June 2000 an internal plot removed Dafydd Wigley, persuading him to cite health grounds for ‘his’ decision. Seventeen years later he leads a full life travelling up to London regularly to sit in the House of Lords and is actively involved in many other, more worthwhile, activities.

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

In my previous post I wrote of the strange case of Plaid Cymru councillor and AM Neil McEvoy, stitched up on a ludicrous ‘bullying’ charge by the Labour corruption machine and then, instead of being supported by his party, he found Plaid’s leadership siding with Labour and assorted organisations on Labour’s Third Sector payroll such as Welsh Women’s Aid.

In that post – and if you haven’t read it then I urge you to do so – I talked of the ‘consensus’, a delusion prevalent among Plaid Cymru’s hierarchy that they and ‘Welsh’ Labour are natural allies in the fight against the forces of darkness. This results in Plaid Cymru refusing to take Labour on in the way that the SNP has so successfully done in Scotland. But it goes deeper than that, and it’s more sinister.

Like all advanced states, the UK has a ‘permanent government’ which may or may not be made up of military brass, top businessmen, intelligence chiefs, senior civil servants and others. Whatever their attitude towards the Labour Party – and this will vary depending on who’s leading Labour – they understand full well that Labour is the bulwark against Welsh nationalism simply because it’s the largest party in Wales.

Equally, those I’m talking about understand that due to its corruption and incompetence, and the quality of its elected representatives, Labour in Wales is highly vulnerable, and must therefore be protected from any threat to its hegemony. The best way of doing this is from within. From within Plaid Cymru.

It’s no coincidence that Dafydd Wigley, Plaid Cymru’s most successful ever leader, was removed when the party he led threatened to dislodge Labour in the Valleys. And no coincidence that it was done with a palace coup.

Now Neil McEvoy, a politician from a different mould to most other Plaid MPs and AMs, is gaining popularity in working class Cardiff, so he is stitched up by Labour and hung out to dry by his own party.

To achieve this control over Plaid Cymru the permanent government doesn’t need many on the inside, just enough, in senior positions, to ensure that the right kind of left-liberal losers are recruited and promoted, and that nationalists, or anyone threatening Labour’s domination, is sidelined.

THE DOG IN THE MANGER

Since the Neil McEvoy affair blew up I have spoken with people I know inside Plaid Cymru and they are surprised, annoyed or outraged by the actions of the party leadership. No one I have spoken to supports the party leadership. The confusion extended to surprising quarters, like Martin Shipton in the Wasting Mule. Plaid’s leadership must know that they’ve got this one badly wrong.

But then, this is exactly how Plaid Cymru has been programmed to react in a situation like this. As I said earlier, Plaid Cymru was “subverted in the late 1980s and early 1990s into a political party that would never get more than 10-12% of the vote in UK general elections”, achieved by the simple expedient of taking the party in directions that made it unattractive to the great majority of Welsh voters.

Update that figure for devolution and we are talking of less than 25% in Assembly elections. Anything higher sets the alarm bells ringing in the marbled corridors of the permanent government. And action is taken.

 

Plaid Cymru since the bright young things took control has been a party promising everything to everybody . . . and delivering nothing, apart from minor concessions allowed by our masters to delude the rank and file that their leaders can deliver, and that the long-heralded ‘breakthrough’ is just around the corner. The ‘breakthrough’ that never comes . . . and was scuppered from within when it threatened to happen.

But perhaps Plaid Cymru’s most useful role has been as a dog in the manger party, because for as long as Plaid is in place, gaining just enough votes, it blocks the emergence of an alternative that could confront and defeat ‘Welsh’ Labour.

MY MESSAGE TO PLAID CYMRU MEMBERS

Whether you accept my theory or not, you know that your party is going nowhere. Which means that you are probably confused or disappointed by the treatment of Neil McEvoy, your party’s most effective politician.

You know that ‘Welsh’ Labour is there for the taking – so why is Plaid Cymru propping up this stumblebum party?

Or ask yourself why your party is so unattractive that Ukip got more votes in the last general election. And not just in Clwyd, but in Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymni, Swansea East, etcCome on! wise up!

My belief remains that Plaid Cymru has been compromised. For appearances’ sake, and to block the emergence of a credible alternative, it is allowed a certain level of support, in return for which it must deal with anyone threatening to upset the status quo.

To make Plaid Cymru the party it should be, the party most of you want it to be, you need to give our people the message of hope they want to hear. But to achieve this you must remove the deadwood at the top of the party.

Plaid Cymru needs a new leadership prepared to put the interests of Wales and the Welsh people first, no matter what other parties, the commentariat, or the ‘progressives’ of Islington, may say.

♦ end ♦

Nov 102014
 

As I informed you in MBrig Oubridge 1ay, I have broken with the habit of a lifetime and stopped voting for Plaid Cymru, a party I ceased to believe in decades ago. One of the reasons for my losing faith in Plaid Cymru was its infatuation with the Green Party, and its desire to cover Wales with wind turbines (a position from which it has now retreated). So, as you might guess, among the parties I shall definitely not be voting for in future is the Green Party of Englandandwales. I’m dealing with this subject now because there is talk of another electoral pact between Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

Plaid began to get seriously enamoured of the Earth-botherers back in the late 1980s, which was almost certainly connected with the fact that at the June 1989 European elections the Green Party (formerly known as the Ecology Party) gained 99,546 votes in Wales, 11.1% of the total votes cast, and a massive increase of 10.9% on the party’s performance in 1984. In fact, the Green’s total vote was not far behind Plaid Cymru’s 115,062. Someone in Plaid Cymru who could do big sums calculated that if the two numbers were combined then the result would be, well . . . a big number. That’s my take on it, but Cynog Dafis would have us beleve that the links between Plaid Cymru and the environmental lobby go back further, as he explains in Plaid Cymru and the Greens: Flash in the Pan or a Lesson for the Future? which I advise you to read, as I shall refer to it later, and also because I get a mention! (Did I really say that!)

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The first test of this love-in came at the 1991 Monmouth by-election following the death of Sir John Stradling Thomas when Mel Witherden stood as a Plaid / Green candidate. He came fifth, with 277 votes, behind the Monster Raving Loony Party. Admittedly, Monmouth is not ferile ground for Plaid, but the Plaid candidate at the 1987 General Election got 363 votes. (There was no Green candidate in 1987.) In the 1992 general election Witherden stood again, this time winning 431 votes, an improvement of sorts. Though the real significance of Monmouth was what the candidate said some time later. In essence, Witherden confessed that many Greens refused to vote for a joint candidate because, quite frankly, they were anti-Welsh, and displayed crude, colonialist attitudes. Which was no more than many nationalists suspected, and for which some of us had clear evidence. Damning proof of Green attitudes from a Green Party member.

The sort of attitudes Cynog Dafis was to learn about the hard way. In the paper linked to above he talks of meeting leading Greens from Arfon and Meirion, John Nicholson and Chris Busby, who were outraged that community councils in Gwynedd conducted their business in Welsh (which presumaChrisBusbybly prevented them from taking over the meetings), and that their kids were being taught Welsh in schools. Dafis says, “I tried to respond, rather lamely, and through rational defence rather than counter-attack, but I came from the meeting feeling quite shaken”. Rarely does one come across a passage from a leading Plaidista that so perfectly sums up Plaid Cymru’s fundamental weakness when confronted with naked racism and colonialism. In such circumstances “rational defence” will get you nowhere. When faced with colonialist bigotry like that the only response must be: ‘You don’t like Wales the way it is? – then fuck off home!’

(Following the Fukishima nuclear accident in 2011 Busby sought to capitalise by selling his anti-radiation pills online and suggested that the Japanese government was deliberately spreading cancer throughout the country in order to hide or disguise the ‘clusters’! He has a number of companies selling £25 reports, his self-published books and assorted medicinal products that experts believe do nothing except enrich Chris Busby.)

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Despite this insight into the Green colonialist mindset Cynog Dafis stood at the 1992 General Election on a Green-Plaid ticket in Ceredigion and Pembroke North. He gained the seat from the sitting Liberal Democrat MP Geraint Howells with a majority of 3,193. To a number of nationalists at the time, myself included, Howells was a good old stick, a Welshman of the old school, and preferable to Dafis, especially if the latter was going to dance to some hippy tune for the duration of the parliament. Though there remains some dispute as to whether Dafis was ever a joint Plaid-Green candidate, certainly, the official record lists him for posterity as a Plaid Cymru candidate, and some grouplets within the Green Party insist he was never formally adopted. Whatever the truth of his position, Plaid’s leadership, Dafis to the fore, had convinced itself that the party needed Green votes to win Ceredigion, and perhaps other seats.

So were the Green votes influential, even decisive? Well, let’s look at the neighbouring constituencies where no deal was struck to see if they can point us towards an answer. To the south, in the Pembroke constituency, the Green candidate got 484 votes, or 0.8% of the vote. To the east, in Brecon & Radnor, the Green candidate limped in last with 393 votes, or 0.9% of the vote. Moving north, into Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, there the Greens – in the form of Busby’s mate, Bill Pritchard – were ecstatic over their 471 votes and 1.8%.  Though in Carmarthen the Greens couldn’t even find a candidate. The flash-in-the-pan nature of the Green Party’s 1989 Euro election result was betrayed at the first ‘serious’ election, which also told us that Plaid Cymru would have comfortably won Ceredigion and Pembroke North without any pact or agreement with the Greens.

After which it was all downhill, and to cut a long story short . . . in July 1995 the inevitable, yet amicable, parting of the ways came, and here’s an extract from the statement announcing the divorce, taken from Dafis’ document: “‘a bridge was built between the indigenous people of Wales and those who had moved here to live’ for progressive and enlightened purposes”. (I bet you want to read that again!) So condemning Welsh community councillors for speaking their own language is progressive and enlightened! Now if I’d made up that statement in an attempt at ridicule or sarcasm I would be rightly criticised, but a Plaid Cymru luminary who bent over backwards to accommodate a bunch of arrogant, dictatorial and often racist immigrants can write such bollocks without any sense of irony. But that’s all in the past, and I’m not a man to bear a grudge (yes, that is sarcasm) so what of today’s saviours of the planet?

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One worth noting, for the wrong reasons – though I assure you I have no evidence that he sells pills of any description – is that five-letters-a-day (to the editor) man, John Childs, who has opinions on just about everything. I mention him because he has imposed himself on the Treboeth neighbourhood in Swansea, an area close to my heart, and indeed close to where I was raised. I recall my father telling me that, pre-war, once you’d left Brynhyfryd Square and started walking up Llangyfelach Road into Treboeth you automatically switched from English to Welsh. Treboeth was the home patch of Daniel James (‘Gwyrosydd’) writer of Calon Lân. Also where Dewi ‘Pws’ Morris has his roots, and I understand Cynog Dafis himself was born there. Nowadays the name Treboeth is seen in newspapers and other publications on a daily basis when people read the opinionated and offensive drivel of an English environmentalist.

Another who feels Swansea cannot do without him is young Ashley Wakeling (or Ŵakeling?), who is contesting the upcoming by-election in the Uplands ward. ‘So who is he?’ I hear you ask. Young Mr Wakeling is a student, and last year he was the Green candidate back home in Maidstone. Here we have a young Green who knows nothing about the city he’s just moved to, but clearly believes that such ignorance is no obstacle to him standing for election to the body running that city. It’s incredible. I sincerely believe that no one should be allowed to stand for election tMatt Cookeo any local authority until they have lived in the area for a minimum of five years. Why should we demand that taxi drivers have more local knowledge than those getting paid to run a city? Another candidate recently announced was Matt Cooke in Torfaen.

Then we have the much more mature – at 27 – Chris Were, alleged to be deputy leader of the Wales Green Party’, though how one can hold any position in an organisation that doesn’t exist is beyond my ken. Were may be 27 but he prefers to behave like a 12-year-old, as his mocking of Wales testifies. (And the silly boy can’t even spell ‘innit’!) Were was a Green candidate in this year’s memorable European elections, in which the Greens achieved 33,275 votes, or 4.5% of the total, proving yet gain what a blip that 1989 result was that set Plaid Cymru hearts all a-flutter. Ah! those European elections of May 2014, memorable because I sincerely believe that the Ukip MEP elected, a Mr Nathan LeeChristopher Were Gill, will provide hours of enjoyment in the years ahead for those of you in possession of the gift of schadenfreude. (A gift that I, alas, have been denied.)

Finally, and much closer to home, I had a run-in not so long ago with an environmentalist living just up the road. It all started with a couple of letters to the local weekly rag on the subject of raising council tax on holiday homes; one headed, ‘Second home owners keep Gwynedd economy alive’, the other arguing that it would be ‘racist’ to increase council tax, before introducng the spectre of arson. Naturally, I responded, then the following week there was a reply that concluded with a reference to “the burning of second homes by Nationalist extremists”. The two letters mentioning arson are almost certainly phoney, and the second cleverly distorts what I actually said. The exchange can be found here.

The debate rumbled on a bit, and provoked a letter from Andrew Currie, the environmentalist who lives just up the road from me. According to Currie, I had missed the point that, “coastal towns and villages came into being because of tourism in Victorian times”. In other words, there was really nothing here until English tourists ‘discovered’ Wales. This is a reminder that the most virulent and outspoken bigotry doesn’t always come from the usual suspects, because what Currie is exposing here is the traditional ‘justification’ for colonialism – ‘They couldn’t manage without us’. The full exchange can be found in this post.

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I can only assume that whoever is gently blowing on the embers of an extinguished love is prompted not by renewed passion but by the very pragmatic consideration that with Assembly elections due in 2016, and Plaid defending a majority of just 1,777 in Ceredigion, the 1,514 votes won by Chris Simpson, the Green candidate in 2011, could be critical for Plaid’s chances of retaining the seat. It might also be worth pointing out that while this figure of 1,514 might look impressive, it should be borne in mind that Simpson was the only constituency candidate the Greens fielded in 2011, so the party concentrated almost all its resources on Ceredigion. A more meaningful assessment of Green support would be that in the (second preference) regional list section they got just 32,649 across the whole of Wales, roughly ten thousand votes ahead of the Socialist Labour Party and the BNP.

This is a party that can deliver, at most, thirty to forty thousand votes across the whole country – and that’s if all Greens are prepared to vote for joint candidates, which of course they aren’t. And not only will joint Green-Plaid candidates alienate most Green supporters, they’ll also piss off quite a few Plaid voters – and there are many more of the latter. A further consideration could be explained as follows. The Greens are an English party attracting English votes, therefore, as few of these votes will transfer to a joint candidate in the event of a pact, it makes more sense to have a Green candidate in Ceredigion, grabbing a thousand or two votes, rather than see those English Green votes transfer to a party that could beat Plaid Cymru.

Crude, electoral considerations aside, the bigger question has to be, why would Plaid Cymru – or any self-respecting party, come to that – want an electoral pact with the Green Party of Englandandwales? A party that refuses to recognise Wales as a country. A party that has members and activists who are positively racist in their attitudes to anything Welsh. A party whose luminaries see Wales as a backward territory ripe for ‘improvement’ by superior beings like them, with we Welsh viewed – at best – as obstructive primitives to be shouted down and brushed aside. Whichever way we look at it, a pact with the Greens could be very damaging to Plaid Cymru, and should call into question the political nous or motives of anyone promoting such a deal.