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 have 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 speakers. 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.
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 be 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.