Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Welsh language’

Welsh Labour Conference: Beware the Ides of March.

By Gordon Gibson

A few weeks early for the Ides, the backstabbing began. Not the ‘disruption’ the left is accused of when debate breaks out; Labour’s post-Blair democracy leaves little room for that sort of thing. At Welsh Labour’s 500-strong ‘best attended, best ever’ conference, all resolutions were passed virtually unanimously, with the full support of the Welsh Executive. Change days indeed.

Opposition and manoeuvring these days is for the spinners. Appropriately in back rooms, huddles and corridors of the conference’s cricket ground venue in Cardiff, they were much in evidence last weekend.

Highlight speech was from Ed Miliband, setting out policies that ordinary people want to hear. And he tentatively apologised for the Blair years, calling for Labour to ‘win back the trust’ of voters. To do that, he voiced some hitherto unmentionables: “tax bankers’ bonuses; create 100,000 jobs for young people; too many jobs low wage, low skill; good jobs, good wages; irresponsible capitalism; reform the banks”. For government contracts, “every company must provide apprenticeships for the next generation”. Banking is to be teased apart with a new British Investment Bank to ‘properly serve business’. Here, he’s weakest, not least with ‘an employee on every remuneration committee so that top executives have to look an ordinary member of staff in the eye before they award themselves that pay rise”. As if they care.

Note: not a word about taxes.

And how did the media cover this? They spotted Ed Balls’ seemingly mischievous press release calling for a reduction in income tax. They picked up disgraced expenses fiddler, LibDem banker David Laws, currently being rehabilitated by his millionaire friends in government, joining the media tax fetish. And poor old John Prescott (‘poor old’ only in this context) gets flayed for his rather brave and poignant reference to his inability to hug his beloved sons. Ed Miliband? Labour fightback? What’s that?

Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Scot, was first up at conference, drawing lessons on Labour’s ‘historic defeat’ last May, when 1999’s “only true National Party of Scotland, found itself supported by only one in eight Scottish voters”. He appears to have learned little. Despite wondering that we may have got it right ‘Standing Up For Wales’, and holding on to power, Alexander spent much of his delivery berating the SNP and defending the Union. He rightly flags the SNP’s support for Tory votes in London; their claim that the Scots ‘didn’t mind’ Thatcher’s economic policies; their advocacy of corporation tax cuts for bankers; SNP capital investment cuts and public sector job losses greater that those of the Tories in Westminster. The problem is, Scottish voters associate these policies and many more with New Labour negativity. Because of that, Labour is facing devastation in Scotland.

ImageSo it fell to Carwyn to spell it out. Standing up for jobs, services, and the development of the Welsh economy is what wins votes, not carping about other parties, pandering to bankers, or overstating ‘the Union’. Of course he played to his audience with the obligatory lambasting of the other parties. Least appropriate was his line on ‘placard waving megaphone’ Plaid, an attack on the wing of Plaid that Labour should most identify with in the fight against the Tories. Of more political sharpness, exemplary in fact, was his positive approach, claiming Labour as the party of the language and of Wales – bringing in the first ever Welsh Language Commissioner, launching a new Welsh Language Strategy and placing the language at the centre of Welsh life and culture – ‘Llafur Cymru yw eich plaid’. Enacting policy is what Welsh (and Scottish) people want to see and feel in these hard times and Jones focused on jobs, employment and training for young people, services, the NHS, children, communities – ‘accessible, high quality, citizen-centred services for all’. ‘The forces of marketisation and privatisation of the NHS will stop at the border.’

Conference speeches get loaded with niceties and (often) false flattery. Peter Hain delivered the heaviest load. Praised as ‘friend’ by Ed, Douglas and Carwyn, Hain, as is the way with Oscar winners, saw fit to heap thanks on everyone under the sun, or under Welsh Labour’s red flag, naming, one by one, Union leaders, MPs, Assembly Members, councillors, party workers, his old auntie in Merthyr. (I lied about that last one.) One gets more than a trifle cynical. Peter Hain counts his political friends in Wales carefully. In recent years, the Labour machine in Wales, contrary to its much-lauded Hardie/ Bevan legacies, has set aside much of the radicalism it may have had. Hain names names to maintain support for his own project, interestingly revealed in his platform appearance at the Liam Byrne, Purple Book ‘Progress’ fringe meeting on Sunday.

There’s the danger. Having led Labour to election disaster in Westminster and Scotland, alienating the party from its core support in the process, the Blairites, still dominant in Westminster and the party apparatus, remain obsessed with the middle ground – a cover for deep conservatism. In Wales, and perhaps with Ed Miliband in London (the jury is still out but we spotted a difference!), there is a glimmer of hope, some ‘clear red water’, what Carwyn chooses to call ‘the dividing line, stopping at the border’. Supportive policies and campaigning will win voters; best if they are clearly against the Tories and their banker-feeding austerity offensive. But there are dark forces at work within Labour too. And the media loves them.

Co-ops star in Wrecsam

The 'Seven Stars' pub. 'Ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things'.

by Marc Jones

In the past year, local people in Wrecsam have made a huge effort to turn the tide against closures and decline.

Wrecsam has always been a proudly Welsh town despite being only 10 miles from the border. The Football Association of Wales was founded there and football, together with the town’s iconic brewing industry, have been central to the market town’s image. Wrexham Lager was the first lager brewery in the UK, having been founded by German immigrants in the 1880s.

Both have taken a battering in recent years with brewing multinationals closing down the Wrexham Lager brewery and a series of property developers trying to asset strip Wrexham Football Club out of existence.

Last year, the football club was finally bought by a cooperative formed by 2000 members of the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust. The club, among the oldest in Wales, has been safeguarded for the community and the team is currently pushing for promotion on a tide of goodwill and pride among supporters and the wider community.

Second, a local family enterprise has re-launched Wrexham Lager. That has created a huge buzz in the town and the lager is already on sale in 45 pubs across the area, despite the best efforts of the multinationals to hamper that expansion.

The re-opening of the former Seven Stars pub is a community effort to celebrate our town’s heritage, our Welshness and to symbolise the growth in the Welsh language locally. It’s a cooperative whose idea is far more ambitious than just reviving a pub.

The Seven Stars has been reborn as Saith Seren, the town’s new Welsh Centre. Initially, the cooperative – Canolfan Gymraeg Wrecsam – will operate the downstairs part of the building. The bar and kitchen are up and running and the pub’s tradition of live music is maintained. It was standing room only for Gwibdaith Hen Frân on Friday and Irish band The Wee Bag Band from Denbigh on Saturday.  Once Phase Two is open, this will be a real social centre.

The initial phase was achieved just six months after going public with a share offer, in which people were invited to become members of the cooperative. The money raised has enabled the cooperative to put in a brand new kitchen, decorate, buy stock and appoint six workers to run the centre seven days a week. Crucially, it allowed the coop to pay for a project manager with formidable experience in setting up co-ops. Amanda Brewer also had the contacts to get the best prices for a number of contracts and this, coupled with the expertise of centre manager Amanda Hughes, explains the lightning speed of opening the centre.

Re-opening a pub as a cooperative is something usually confined to villages abandoned by the market (specifically the rapacious pubcos that dominate the licensed trade). That’s been the case with the Raven in Llanarmon yn Iâl, Denbighshire, and the Pengwern in Llan Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, in recent years.

The re-opening of Saith Seren in Wrecsam town centre is a very different project. Phase two will see the upstairs renovated. The living accommodation will be adapted to community meeting rooms, offices for rent and classrooms for learners’ classes. The aim is to be a focus for Wrecsam’s growing army of Welsh learners and provide a hub for the many organisations involved in promoting Welsh language and culture.

It is, however, also a centre that is welcoming and open to all Wrecsam’s people, whatever language they speak. Many of the bands being put on will be Welsh-language acts but the stage is also being used by local bands and promoters.

Equally significantly, all these ventures have progressed with their own money, rather than relying on grants or government finance. All the money Saith Seren has raised is ours – all through the efforts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The left in Wales can learn a lot from this DIY people power. We know we can’t, and perhaps don’t want to, rely on state grants that are often conditional on compromising your original intentions. The current economic climate means there are lots of empty buildings going for a song that could be bought by local coops as social centres or other innovative uses.

Anyone wishing to invest in phase two of Saith Seren can go to www.saithseren.com or contact me on 7seren@gmail.com

Marc Jones is Chair of Canolfan Gymraeg Wrecsam and Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Whitegate Ward of Wrecsam


%d bloggers like this: