MERTHYR: DIC PENDERYN TO S.O. DAVIES
The town of Merthyr holds a special place in the hearts of those Welsh who know their history. The Rising of 1831 is still celebrated, and the execution of Richard Lewis aka ‘Dic Penderyn’ still resonates, with yet another petition being launched recently to have Dic pardoned. I have a soft spot for Dic and the others who died in 1831, but that’s not because I buy into the nonsense about the Merthyr Rising being part of some glorious UK-wide workers movement – strictly Unionist and pro-monarchy, you understand – that laid the foundations for the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party we know today. No, the Merthyr Rising was very local to the Heads of the Valleys, the rioters were largely ignorant of events outside of their region, but they knew enough to shout ‘Down with the King!’ . . . in Welsh, and like most of the rioters, Dic Penderyn himself spoke no English. One of the details BritNat Labour revisionists tend to overlook.
A more credible reason for Merthyr’s special place in Labour folklore is that it was the first parliamentary seat won by the party, when Scotsman Keir Hardie was elected in 1900 as the junior MP for the dual-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare. (Though what was to become the Labour Party remained the Labour Representation Committee until 1906.) Hardie had previously been elected MP in 1892 for the Independent Labour Party in the English seat of West Ham South.
Merthyr suffered badly during the Depression and subsequent decades, seeing its population decline from 110,569 in 1891 to some 57,000 today. Despite this fall, sentiment – and the political calculations of the Labour Party – decreed that Merthyr should remain a unitary authority in the 1996 local government reorganisation. Achieved by deciding on a 60,000 minimum population level for the new authorities, a hurdle that Merthyr just about cleared, while other areas – mainly non-Labour areas such as Montgomeryshire – failed to negotiate. To compensate for the decreasing electorate, but in order to keep the iconic name, Rhymney was added to give the seat its current name of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, though for brevity I shall continue to use ‘Merthyr’.
By the time I got to know Merthyr in the 1960s the place still had an ‘edge’, the turbulent, even violent, past was never far away; the drinking was fierce, and the antagonism towards ‘Plant Mari’, or ‘Aberdare Snakes’ and other exotic sub-species, was never far beneath the surface. (I had to be careful about declaring my Swansea origins because I swear some of the old guys had not forgiven the Swansea Yeomanry for its role in 1831!) The Labour MP at this time was Stephen Owen Davies, universally known as ‘S. O.’. Then, some time before the 1970 general election, the local Labour Party decided to de-select this man who had represented the constituency since 1934 in favour of a younger candidate, probably hoping S.O. would go quietly. They soon realised to their cost that S.O. was going nowhere . . . except back to the House of Commons.
One of the things about S.O. was that he wasn’t very good at toeing the party line if he felt something needed to be said, and this trait may have contributed to the Labour Party giving him the heave-ho. For example, following the Aberfan disaster of 1966 he was an outspoken critic of how the Labour government in London compensated the families of those killed. To the surprise of very few, following his de-selection, S.O. decided to run against Labour as an Independent. He beat the official Labour candidate, T J Lloyd, by 7,467 votes, taking 51.9% of the vote in a four-cornered contest that saw a 77.92% turnout.
Stephen Owen Davies died in 1972 at the of 86 (or possibly 93), and Labour regained the seat in the subsequent by-election. His successor was a young Edward ‘Ted’ Rowlands.
BARON ROWLANDS AND ‘DAI BASRA’
S. O. Davies was a hard act to follow, and Ted Rowlands didn’t even try, he was a party loyalist through and through. Baron Rowlands (as we must now call him) had first been elected to parliament for Cardiff North in 1966, a seat he lost in 1970. He must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when he secured the nomination for Merthyr following the death of S. O. Davies. In a dismally unspectacular parliamentary career spanning almost three decades (1972 – 2001) his most noteworthy contribution came in 1982, during the war with Argentina. To a startled House of Commons Rowlands revealed that the UK government was reading Argentine diplomatic traffic. Seeing as the Argentine military used the same system Rowlands was telling the junta they’d better start using other encryption methods. To the chagrin of many, he was not hung for treason.
Rowlands was succeeded in 2001 by another man with a keen interest in, but no knowledge of, military matters. This would-be Hannibal of Heolgerrig was David Stuart Havard, soon to acquire the nickname ‘Dai Basra’, after his
frequent jollies in the sun many necessary visits to the city of that name in Iraq, occupied by British forces following the 2003 invasion of that country. For the benefit of younger readers . . . Iraq is a country in the Middle East that was invaded in 2003 by countries led by unbalanced ego-maniacs searching for the death ray machine with which Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein was threatening to blow up the whole solar system, including Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain. (Or was there some other, less plausible, reason for the invasion?)
Dai Basra rose to the heady heights of vice-chairman of the Commons’ Defence Committee, but his political career came to a juddering halt in March 2012 when, ironically, he was brought low – indirectly anyhow – by those same dastardly Argies who had done so much damage to the reputation of his predecessor. On a visit to the contested islands Dai, a keen equestrian, and a member of the British Horse Society, had been looking forward to a canter – he’d taken his riding hat with him – but his equine jaunt had to be cancelled at the last minute. This resulted in a clearly irritated Dai telling the Ministry of Defence number two on the islands to “piss off“.
Among his other claims to fame it’s worth mentioning that Dai Basra opposed an inquiry into the invasion of Iraq (which should surprise no one). He voted against reforming the House of Lords, he voted in favour of ID cards, and he went on a tour of WWI cemeteries, paid for by arms manufacturers! No I’m not making the last one up, read it for yourself.
Dai ‘Basra’ Havard is also a member of the Henry Jackson Society, a US think tank that believes it’s OK to invade other countries and kill the indigenes in order to teach them the benefits of’ democracy, or as the website puts it, ” . . . to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so”. The HJS also “Supports the necessary furtherance of European military modernisation and integration under British leadership, preferably within NATO”. Would that be a UK including Scotland . . . and a Europe with or without Greece, and the Donbass . . . and does anyone in the USA in possession of a full set of marbles seriously expect the French military to take orders from Uncle Sam’s errand boy? I’m told that the MP for the neighbouring constituency of Rhondda, Chris Bryant, is also a member of this loony tunes outfit.
Dai Basra stood down at the general election of 2015 and when the weeping and wailing had subsided Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney awoke to a new dawn with Gerald Jones as its MP. So let us now direct our gaze towards the successor.
For a start, who is Gerald Jones, what do we know of him, or rather, what have the dickie-birds told me? To begin with, Gerald Jones is from Caerffili, more than that, he was a councillor, indeed Deputy Leader, on Caerffili council, and Cabinet Member for Housing. He was one of the five-man panel involved in the infamous secret meeting that agreed to bump up the salaries of the chief officers. Here are the details. And despite campaigning against the ‘bedroom tax’ this did not stop Jones leading Caerffili council in prosecuting those who fought the bedroom tax!
Since being elected to Westminster two months ago Jones has been a busy boy building up a dynamic team of thrusters and go-getters such as only ‘Welsh’ Labour can muster. Here’s a run-down of who’s who in the Gerald Jones political empire.
Let us begin with his Senior Parliamentary Assistant, on a salary of £43,272, who is none other than his partner, Tyrone Powell. A picture of the couple can be found here. Tyrone is also a community councillor in the Darran Valley of Caerffili. Prior to taking over as his partner’s SPA Tyrone was a “housing professional” . . . but wait! wasn’t Gerald Jones Cabinet Member for Housing? Yes indeedy. How convenient. I can imagine the pair of them by a big log fire, whiling away those long winter evenings talking about . . . well, housing. Tyrone is also Chair of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney Labour Party. Does he still work as a housing professional, or has he given himself entirely to his new role? Either way, it is suggested that Powell was appointed without the post being advertised, even within the Labour Party.
Next up is Gareth Lewis, councillor for the Plymouth ward on Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council. The word on the Merthyr street is that Lewis has been appointed the new MP’s Office Manager, a post for which the salary could be as high as £38,121. This appointment raises the issue of conflict of interests. At the time of writing Gareth Lewis was still councillor for the Plymouth Ward, so does he intend staying on as councillor while also being the MP’s Office Manager? Even if he stands down he will still have friends and former colleagues on the council. There may be occasions when the MP will not see eye to eye with his local party / council, when that happens, where will Lewis’s loyalty lie? Again, people ask if the post was properly advertised.
Another who has boarded the Merthyr gravy train driven by Gerald Jones is Denise Toomey. ‘Who her?’, you cry . . . well she is the wife of Brendan Toomey, and he is the leader of Merthyr Council. Although head honcho among the Merthyr bruvvers Toomey’s Twitter account tells us that his “spiritual home” is north Gower, despite having his drinking there interrupted by some Merthyr malcontent. Brendan is another who’s seen plenty of helmets in his time, being a retired fire-fighter. It is strongly suggested that Mrs Toomey’s post was another not to be advertised, perhaps it was felt unnecessary seeing as she had previously worked for the unforgettable Dai Basra, ere he galloped off into the sunset.
A serious conflict of interest could arise here because Mr Toomey, as leader of Merthyr council, and being the good socialist he is, wants to sack and re-hire, on worse wages and conditions, one thousand council employees. What is the point of these council workers appealing to their MP if to do so they have to go through Mrs Toomey?
One further appointment from Merthyr may be worthy of mention. The new Women’s Officer of the Merthyr Constituency Labour Party is Jennie Davies, wife of councillor Dai Davies (Town Ward). She was appointed after her predecessor resigned in frustration over a number of issues. Mrs Davies is a podiatrist, which is someone who looks after feet. How this differs from a chiropodist I have no idea, and have no wish to enquire. Being the wife of a councillor we can confidently expect Mrs Davies to be less ‘troublesome’ than her predecessor.
And there may be other things going on in the Merthyr Constituency Labour Party of which I am unaware. So I would welcome any further information.
What are we to make of the behaviour of the bruvvers and sissters of Merthyr? First, I think I am not being overly-critical when I suggest that what the Labour Party is doing in Merthyr takes nepotism and contempt for the electorate to a whole new level, even by the standards of ‘Welsh’ Labour. It reminds me of the irresponsibility and contempt for others we see when groups or individuals believe they are beyond censure. But as history also teaches us, such behaviour is often closely followed by disaster. Wouldn’t it be sad if Huw Lewis, the local Assembly Member, paid the price in next year’s elections for his comrades’ arrogance? No, not really. I’d rejoice even if Ukip took the seat.
What a journey Merthyr has travelled since 1831. Back then it was the downtrodden masses rioting against those who exploited them. Now those who claim to be in the tradition of Dic Penderyn and Lewsyn yr Heliwr are the ones lining their pockets. Were this piece being written by someone more cynical than me then that person might suggest that the modern Labour Party in places like Merthyr is more self-serving than the Crawshay family and the other ironmasters ever were. For most of those grandees seemed to accept a certain responsibility towards their workers, even if it was little more than the guilt of the nouveaux riches, while by comparison the modern ‘Welsh’ Labour careerist seems a thoroughly odious little fucker devoid of any redeeming features.
As I write this, Carwyn Jones, the self-styled ‘leader’ of ‘Welsh’ Labour is travelling the country asking electors to ‘write’ the Labour manifesto for next year’s Assembly election. His tour starts today at Gorseinon in the Swansea constituency of Gower (wherein, remember, can be found the spiritual home of Labour’s Merthyr capo), a seat Labour lost to the Tories in May’s UK general election. On the assumption that Carwyn Jones is serious, here’s a suggestion. Bring on local government reorganisation and get rid of these foetid fiefdoms like Merthyr. Doing so would be welcomed by everyone except those I’m writing about here – are you really going to listen to these buggers any longer?