Merthyr: All Aboard the ‘Welsh’ Labour Gravy Train

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 S O DaviesMari’, 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.

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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.Dai Basra

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, Chris Bryantpaid 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.

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2015, GERALD JONES AND COMPANYGerald Jones

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, whoTYrone Powell 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 BoroGareth Lewisugh 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 shDai Daviese 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.

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CONCLUSION

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 downtroddenWilliamCrawshayI_1764-1834_ArtistJohnHoffner 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?

Why I Detest The ‘Welsh’ Labour Party

1/ FOR DENYING US OUR HISTORY

In the nineteenth century, whether or not they had the vote, the overwhelming majority of Welsh people supported the Liberal Party. This loyalty went with them as they migrated from the rural areas to the new industrial communities of the south and the north east. Support for the Liberals might even be seen as one of the ‘pillars’ of Welsh identity, along with the Welsh language and the nonconformist chapels.

But of course our industrial areas also attracted workers from outside of Wales, especially towards the end of the nineteenth century when, as historian Gwyn Alf Williams memorably put it, the ‘human reservoir’ of rural Wales began to run dry of surplus manpower. These immigrants either found the established Welsh identity uninviting (especially if they were Catholic), or else they rejected it, for with their homeland then approaching its imperial zenith many English would have dismissed Welsh identity as inferior or ‘backward’.

Rejection of Welsh identity became a cornerstone to the growth in Wales of the Labour Party. From the outset, Labour in Wales was a non-Welsh party, in direct competition with the party most Welsh people supported. The report accessed by this link and the passage I hGower 1908ave extracted from it (below, click to enlarge) gives a good indication of the Welsh / non-Welsh split in the Swansea area in 1908. It is written by Kenneth O. Morgan the Labour historian and propagandist.

Politics was not the only area of division. Despite now being the beneficiaries of an English education system more Welsh children in 1914 knew of Glyndŵr and Twm Siôn Cati than know of them today. That’s because these and others were the heroes and legends of their people, part of a cultural inheritance that was still being orally transmitted. Because this was alien to the non-Welsh something new was needed; and so, not for the first time, or the last, we find socialists re-writing history.

In this new version, Wales before the Industrial Revolution was nothing more than a region of primitive pastoralists and exploitive landowners with, in still earlier times, warlords and feudalists making a nuisance of themselves. Depriving a nation of its history is of course an old imperialist ploy; not surprising then that few wish to remember how the Labour Party in Wales adopted the same tactic. One that was still being employed until quite recently.

With pre-industrial Wales now dismissed it only remained to re-interpret more recent history. Episodes and movements such the Scotch Cattle, Chartists, the Merthyr Rising, all needed to be integrated into the new schema. We were asked to view these as forerunners of the Labour Party of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Glossing over the fact that hanged Dic Penderyn spoke no English and that the Gwent Chartists who marched to their deaths in Newport called for a ‘Silurian Republic’! (This reference to the ancient Silures being a perfect example of the knowledge of history I mentioned.)

With the writing on the wall many more Welsh eventually went over to Labour. A party formed in opposition to Welshness and all its expressions now justified rejection of Welsh identity as being for our own good because, for example, speaking Welsh was ‘holding us back’. (From what, exactly, was never satisfactorily explained.)

2/ FOR DENYING WALES AN INDIGENOUS ECONOMY

Well into the twentieth century there was a political grouping called ‘Liberal-Labour’; the most famous representative of which in Wales was probably William Abraham, better known by his bardic name of ‘Mabon’, Liberal MP for the Rhondda from 1885 to 1910, the year he joined the Labour Party (four years after its founding). Despite the name, this was no combination of Liberalism and the new Labour Party; it was Liberal politicians supported by trade unions, labour not Labour.

During this era the industrial south developed its own trade unions often dealing with Welsh companies and major Welsh capitalists such as David Davies, David Thomas (Viscount Rhondda), the Dillwyn Llewellyns and others. Many of these employers and most union representatives would have been Liberals, nonconformists, and Welsh David Daviesspeakers. Making it possible to argue that by the second half of the nineteenth century Wales had developed a largely indigenous economy. Yes, it depended on England and the empire to a great extent for its markets, but it was still more identifiably and distinctively Welsh than anything we have seen since. Labour was to change all that.

Labour, with its centralising tendencies and its hostility to Welsh particularisms had little truck with anything that wasn’t big and ‘national’. Welsh companies and Welsh unions were all swept away in pursuit of size and ‘unity’. (Always an important slogan for Labour, ‘unity’.) Predictable that a new party hoping one day to become the government of the UK should want its affiliated unions to be UK-wide, but in the process Welsh workers became no more than cannon fodder in a bigger struggle, used and abused by people who didn’t give a toss about them or their country.

Having encouraged the demise or the takeover of so many Welsh enterprises it was important to ensure that no new ones sprang up to replace them. So ‘Welsh’ Labour kept a tight rein on its flock and its wider patch, discouraging entrepreneurial spirit by defaming those who displayed such errant behaviour as ‘enemies of the people’. All of which served to make Wales an undefended target for English business, a captive market for English-produced goods. The perfect colony; achieved not through military conquest ordered by a bunch of toffs in a far-off land, but by local socialists who viewed native initiative as a betrayal of socialist principles. All done in defence of the centralist, English-dominated State.  

Had it not been for Labour Wales would have developed a healthy local economy along the lines of Catalunya or Scotland, looking after her own interests rather than being shackled with what we have today – an economy almost totally integrated with that of England, and in which Welsh interests are always subordinated to those of England.

3/ FOR MAINTAINING ENGLISH COLONIALISM IN WALES

Subordinating Welsh interests to those of England was justified by arguing that organising on a ‘national’ level with UK-wide trade unions, gave workers ‘more clout’. This made sense, up to a point, especially in the post-war period when so many major industries were nationalised; coal mining in 1947, road transport (British Road Services) in 1948, with other industries in the years following, including of course steel and tinplate, which saw the Steel Company of Wales (a very dangerous example) subsumed into British Steel. Few in the Labour Party considered that Welsh interests might be better served by some less centralised system. But as Bob Dylan put it, the times they were a-changing.

Labour reluctantly organised a devolution referendum in 1979 in response to the rise of various forms of Welsh consciousness over the previous twenty years. Due in no small part to most ‘Welsh’ Labour members and supporters opposing devolution the referendum was lost. It finally took more than a decade of Margaret Thatcher to make Labour realise the benefits of devolution . . . for Labour, that is, not for Wales. Control of a Welsh parliament being seen as a consolation prize for losing power in Westminster. What was best for Wales didn’t come into Labour’s thinking. And so – despite another Labour rearguard action led by those champions of the people, Lords Kinnock and Tonypandy – the devolution referendum of 1997 was won, just.

But devolution is a sham. Wales today is run by faceless civil servants answering to London and Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector, financed with misappropriated EU funding; ‘(Wales)’ is inserted in the title of English laws and passed off as legislation originating in the Notional Assembly; Welsh students are paid to leave the country, their places taken by English students; but perhaps worse, is ‘Welsh’ Labour’s consistent refusal to legislate for the benefit of Wales and then defending this by arguing that to promote Welsh interests would be a concession to ‘narrow-minded nationalism’. (By which argument, every independent country on earth pursues ‘narrow-minded nationalism’, including of course the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.) Here are a couple of examples.South Shropshire

The first concerns the current First Minister, Carwyn Jones. Ten years ago he was Planning and Countryside Minister, and was asked by local authorities to consider introducing planning rules to favour local people then being excluded by the booming housing market; in fact, the example he was asked to copy was working just over the border in South Shropshire. He refused, saying that it would pose “legal problems”. So we were asked to believe that legislation already working in England could not be implemented in Wales! Obviously the interests of English holiday home owners and colonists had to take precedence, for helping the less wealthy get a home would bWatere making concessions to ‘narrow-minded nationalism’.

The second example concerns one of our greatest natural resources, water. During the premiership of Tony Blair, the Government of Wales Act (2006) was passed. Section 114 (1) (see panel, click to enlarge) makes it absolutely clear that should a Welsh Government make any moves to get a fair return for the water England takes from Wales then the UK government will intervene. This law was passed by a Labour government in London, agreed to by a Labour government in Cardiff, and the Secretary of State for Wales at the time was Peter Hain, MP for Neath. This is how ‘Welsh’ Labour serves Welsh interests – Welsh consumers paying more than English consumers for water from the same Welsh sources.

4/ FOR BEING WHAT THEY ARE

Looking at it from the other side, as it were, the Labour Party in the UK always did a great job of defusing discontent and preserving the existing order. In many respects the UK Labour Party was the best friend the capitalist and imperialist system ever had. It ensured that Britain was always spared the upheavals seen on the continent and elsewhere. Which makes Tony Blair not so much an aberration, or a betrayal of what had gone before, more the inevitable outcome.

From the perspective of the English Establishment it never really mattered whether the dominant political force in Wales was the Liberal Party, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or the Aberdare Anarchist Collective. All that ever mattered was that that dominant political force maintained the colonial relationship between Wales and England and allowed no change in that relationship other than the most cosmetic.

Which explains why, after a century of Labour dominance, Wales (and especially those areas where Labour has been most dominant) is today the poorest country in Western Europe, possibly the whole of Europe. While Ukip may fear an influx of Roumans and Bulgars many Welsh would be better off heading in the opposite direction . . . if they had any skills to offer. Few do. Because our education system is now on a par with that of Burkina-Faso and our health service is the envy of . . . well, no one, actually. Though I’m sure the horse-drawn ambulances will soon become a tourist attraction.

Our rural areas are nothing more than retirement and recreation areas for the English. In many parts of Wales the Welsh are now in a minority. Every attempt is made to kill off the Welsh language and destroy all vestiges of Welsh identity other than the most frivolous or touristy. Few of our people can afford to buy the homes being built in our countryside and are then denied social housing in favour of English people who have never set foot in Wales. Soon  the term ‘Wales’ will have lost all meaning, and then the assimilation into England will be complete. Welcome to Tibet, UK!

Today, stripped of ideology and purpose, plus the industries and trade unions that sustained it, the principled and visionary movement that scrambled to dominance over the fallen bodies of Liberalism and nonconformism is just a freak show of dilettantes and chancers; people for whom the party is a stage, or else a means to promote their real interest, whatever that might be. While its diminishing band of followers vote Labour much as people support a very poor football team – with blind, unquestioning loyalty but no enthusiasm. While the Labour machine just goes through the motions of politics for no better reason than stopping somebody else occupying county hall, winning Cwmscwt North, or ‘running’ the Assembly.

Labour rose to pre-eminence in a country with a burgeoning economy and a prosperous and confident people; now, after a century of Labour hegemony, we are a broken and impoverished nation on the point of ceasing to exist. This is Labour’s legacy to Wales. ‘Welsh’ Labour has failed on every conceivable level. No-one should question why I detest this gang of back-stabbing, bipedal vermin.

UPDATE 27.03.2016: Here’s an interesting essay that throws further light on the emergence of the English & Irish Labour Party in Wales.