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London Calling

One thing that struck me while watching coverage of Plaid Cymru’s conference in Llandudno was the continual references to London: ‘the London parties’, ‘London politics’, ‘the London parliament’, the other parties’ ‘London masters’ and seemingly infinite variations thereof.

These are phrases that are heard frequently in Plaid Cymru, but until now have been reserved for the untamed attack dogs within the party – the Leanne Woods and Bethan Jenkinses of this world. Now however, they seem to have been adopted by the great and the good: Ieuan Wyn Jones’ keynote speech on Friday made constant mention of the above phrases.

But why London? What exactly does that mean? We are all well aware of the damning terms for the cliquey, distant, closed-off politics of the Houses of Parliament: the ‘Westminster bubble’ and ‘Westminster village’ are used frequently in political speeches to capture the sense of isolation from our decision makers that people often feel. But if Plaid was talking about the insular world of SW1, they would make use of the accepted phrases I’m sure.

No, Plaid’s London is a reference to the Imperial capital. Plaid is, lest we forget, talking about a permanent severance from this London. This is how it is distinguished from the other three parties, though you’ll rarely catch them saying it in public.

Plaid is, you see, the only truly Welsh party. The others are metropolitan-based, exclusive private members’ clubs with patronising outreach programmes in the provinces – of which (for the purposes of Plaid’s self-justification) Wales is one. The other three parties are at heart, Victorian imperialists setting our bounds ‘wider still and wider’, our presence in Wales is to make our glorious sovereign mightier yet. The devolution we espouse is merely a concession to pacify the natives. Or at least this is what Plaid would have us believe.

It highlights a level of ignorance, an unnaturally simplified, flimsy, world construction that is only strengthened by the addition of the age old, reassuringly sturdy, supporting beams of prejudice. Arbitrary distinctions, false differences, enhanced distance: these are all the eternal features of the nationalist project. The basic separation of people into the categories ‘us’ and ‘them’ makes me uncomfortable, but that is Plaid’s wont, and it is arguably the wont of all nationalists at all points in history. In any case it is, principally, why I’m not a nationalist.

What is interesting is that this apparent official party acceptance of the us/them philosophy jars somewhat with the party’s attempted positioning as a party for ‘everyone no matter what language they speak or where they live.’ This was a fairly constant mantra throughout the conference: ‘We are moving on’, they seemed to say, ‘No longer are we just for Welsh speakers; no longer are we just for the West and North. We have ditched our insular past, and are reaching out to a new audience.’

Funny then that this anti-London posturing is only likely to appeal to the traditional party stalwarts. This separation of Wales from ‘London’ simply doesn’t mean anything to ordinary people. London is not a place to be afraid of; it is not a place to abandon, ignore or otherwise distance ourselves from. The only time non-Plaid voters encounter the imperial London of Plaid’s obsessions is in history books. For anyone outside the traditional Plaid membership base, the London-Wales distinction is a scenario that doesn’t exist, and an end to this ‘distinction’ is a notion not worth considering.

Plaid should really no longer be in a position to complain about the way Wales is governed. Many things are controlled in Cardiff Bay, many are still controlled in Westminster. But there are mechanisms to change this, and Plaid has its hands on the levers. A referendum on further powers by 2011: that was their promise. You’re running out of time, Plaid, if you have any hope of delivering on that.

Look at the record of their Ministers in the Assembly: The only new power the party has secured for Wales is over a small aspect of the red meat industry. The party has singularly failed on the Welsh language and affordable housing. And Ieuan Wyn Jones, as the Minister in charge of the economy, has made no bids for powers in his area of responsibility whatsoever – and this during the worst recession for a generation (or a century, depending on your sources).

So wake up Plaid. Your party is no longer an oppressed minority. You are in government. You are also the second largest party in the Assembly, and had your chance of being the largest party in a coalition with your own First Minister.

Stop whimpering that the big boys are going to hurt you, leave the pubescent insecurities aside, and get on with achieving something for the people of Wales.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Jeremy Townsend, who is an ordinary, non-elected, member of the public – and do not reflect the position of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

(This is, after all, a blog – not a motion to party conference.)

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7 Responses

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  1. Geraint says

    It’s because they can’t use the word English anymore because that would get them in trouble (hence the genesis of the word anglo-centric). London is a by-word for English.

    The real problem with Plaid is that they are so blinkered that they cannot understand that other parties can be based in Wales and still have UK links. I understand your party, Jeremy, makes policy, conducts political strategy and chooses its candidates as an autonomous entity. I assume Labour and the Tories have similar arrangements.

    Perhaps Plaid should stop talking about “the others” and engage in actual policy debate. Less tub-thumping, especially from the likes of Adam Price.

  2. Daran says

    This certainly was a feature of Conference, but certainly not a new one.

    Reminded me of some Written Questions from the first Assembly when Alun Michael (I think) answered references to a London Parliament by saying the Assembly did not deal with the London Assembly. Made me laugh at the time ;)

  3. Jeremy Townsend says

    Daran: I like to think Alun Michael wasn’t putting the person asking the question down – it would be so much more powerful if that was a genuine response, highlighting how distant Plaid’s London obsession is from A) the reality, and B) from ordinary people’s concerns.

    Geraint: I am not normally in the business of defending the Conservatives or Labour, but I think you’re right. Certainly, the Welsh Liberal Democrats operate in that way – and like I said to someone else on a different blog earlier in the week, the Liberal Democrats’ ‘federal party’ (i.e. the UK-wide one) wouldn’t dare step on our (the Welsh party’s) toes.

  4. Alun says

    If you listen to the UKIP Nigel Farage speech and Ieuan Wyn Jones speech, you would see some striking parallels.

    I thought it was a bit cheeky to accuse us of being in the pay of London financiers as well, thinking how much work we’ve doing on that front. But you can say that the Plaid Cymru are in pay of the teachers. There is a joke that PC used to hold their annual conference during the half term/holidays otherwise the conference hall would completely empty.

  5. Haythé LaGog says

    Story time…

    When I was in comprehensive school, our GCSE History course was taken from EdExcel, with the rationale being that the EdExcel course covered British and World history, which would be more likely to hold the lower sets’ interest, and furthermore would provide a better grounding for top sets who would then go on and study the subject in greater depth.

    I duly did so. But then my A Level course was decided by a new Head of Department, a Welsh Nationalist one fresh off the boat from Swansea, and therefore almost certainly a Plaidy. He, predictably enough, switched the school from an English exam board to the WJEC. This resulted in two years of studying tiny little uprisings in Mid-Wales that nobody, anywhere, ever, could possibly care about. But it’s Welsh and therefore automatically worthy and great, you see.

    Furthermore, because these incidents that were studied had no long term impact on anything, it hampered my ability to scrutinise and evaluate evidence, as the cases did not have the depth needed to train a student to do this. As a result, I was in for a rude awakening when moving on to higher education.

    And to further illustrate the thinking of these Plaidys – said teacher refused to mark a typed essay by a special needs student because it had been formatted ‘incorrectly’. By ‘incorrectly’ he meant there was no indenting, full stops to indicate abbreviations and other things that went out with the Ark. What he did not realise is that this typed essay had been typed up for the student by the Keyboard Applications teacher, who did not take kindly, at all, to criticism of her skills from someone who’s view of things seemed stuck in the 1940s. Cue diplomatic incident and hilarious public grovelling apology.

    In principle I’m all for supporting the Welsh language, Welsh self determination, Welsh culture and all that jazz. However, when you see the attitude that goes along with it, well, that just makes me want to give my vote to the first political party that says ‘We’ll bring back the Welsh Not and make it the cornerstone of our educational manifesto’.

    Which, thinking about it, will probably be Tory policy if someone reads this blog comment, because if a poll came out tomorrow that said thirty percent of all British voters were enthusiastic paedophiles, Call-Me-Dave would be at a press conference with a dirty mac and a car full of puppies within hours.

    • Ali Goldsworthy says

      I’m not sure I think that’s all that fair – you can’t judge a whole political party by someone you aren’t sure is a member and doesn’t (from what you say) hold any position within or outside the party. It just sounds like the teacher didn’t mange to inspire you which is a real shame. I’m aware of other exam boards who encourage local history projects (I think EDEXCEL did back in the day). My own experience of a WJEC syllabus was positive and not parochial (English, we studied Dylan Thomas but also those not even vaguely Welsh Seamus Heaney and John Steinbeck), how disappointing that you didn;t feel your experience prepared you for university. I’m not actually sure you can blame Plaid for it though… other things yes. This no.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Daily View 2×2: 14 September 2009 linked to this post on September 14, 2009

    [...] London Calling (Jeremy Townsend on Freedom Central) … [Plaid Cymru's] anti-London posturing is only likely to appeal to the traditional party stalwarts. This separation of Wales from ‘London’ simply doesn’t mean anything to ordinary people. London is not a place to be afraid of; it is not a place to abandon, ignore or otherwise distance ourselves from. The only time non-Plaid voters encounter the imperial London of Plaid’s obsessions is in history books. Share this story with your friends: [...]