Friday, September 23, 2005

The guilt about Wales.

A superb article by Hywel Williams in yesterday's Guardian. Nothing more needs to be said.

The guilt about Wales

Hywel Williams, Thursday September 22, 2005, The Guardian

The gap between Tony Blair's appearance and the reality, between all that squeaky-clean preachiness and the shoddy, self-serving reality of his quicksand mind, is now a well-established feature of British politics. Blairism as a body of thought never existed. But as Blair rose in the mid-1990s it was part of his adman genius to see that in an age of economic prosperity it was personality that mattered in politics, not thought. So he was marketed to make people feel good about themselves. The middle classes were gagging to roll over and be pleasured by "one of us". Labour's leader was a highly evolved specimen of English liberal virtue: that higher self that somehow, conveniently, always coincides with self-interest.

The distance between all of that and the bloke repeatedly shouting "fucking Welsh" at the TV late at night is not the journey between youngish idealism and disillusioned maturity. The incident recalled in the diary of his former press aide Lance Price took place in 1999 when there was still some bloom on those cheeks. Bill was still in the White House, Iraq remained a far-off country and Carole Caplin was not yet a problem.

It's a difficult experience when you're used to getting your way and start encountering resistance. The decision by the Welsh electorate not to give the Labour party a majority in the elections for the new assembly must have seemed quite unaccountable to big daddy - as well as an act of ingratitude. For decades the smiling, compliant songsters next door had always been well up for it: voting how they were told to and delivering cartload majorities for Labour. They didn't ask for much in return from English Labour or from England itself - just a few pious cliches about the glory of Keir and the grandiosity of Nye would do very nicely.

In those pre-1999 days in Labour Wales, the vast majorities demonstrated not vitality, energy and commitment but rather complacency, apathy and passivity. The local elites of the municipalities were submissive to the central authority and nothing ever really changed except the faces of the personnel. The Welsh body politic had become so used to being done over that it couldn't imagine any other kind of existence.

But the frustration of Blair - the Labour leader denied his electoral rights - is only one half of this story. There's also the anger of Blair the English liberal at the demonstration of cultural difference. After a millennium and a half of putting up with Wales, the English attitude towards the Welsh remains one of irritation interrupted by bouts of insult. Abuse of the national neighbours is a familiar story - the Germans do it to the Poles, Czechs think the Slovaks are dozy and the Greeks find the Bulgars dodgy.

The irritating thing about Wales - for the English - is the sheer persistence of the linguistic difference. We do, it is true, assimilate well, which is why, per capita, few countries have produced so many actors as Wales. English liberty is really the freedom to imitate the English - which then gives the English the right to mock the assimilated. But if the English initially think they have absorbed Wales, they do get very cross when they realise that in reality we've smiled and ignored, gone our own way and assimilated the English into our own alchemical way of being.

Even the English language, once it crosses the border, is subverted by the cadences and grammar of Welsh. That language has two forms of life: as a ghost within the English spoken in Wales and as its own authentic form, the descendant of the language spoken in southern England before the Angles and Saxons came. And it is surely a tribal memory of that first dislocation - with the uncomfortable recollection that the English in fact invaded the country they now call England - which lies behind the prime ministerial obscenity.


Anonymous said...

I'm happy you're pursuing this issue.

Labour AM Carl Sargeant was all too keen to take the word of a vile anonymous website regarding a "f***ing brits" comment made by a Menter Iaith worker and make statements describing his comments as "racist, abusive and profane".

It seems that Mr Sargeant has not reacted with the same urgency to express his disgust at Mr Blair's comments. In fact so far he has not reacted at all!

How ironic for a Labour party elected representative to be seen publically to attack ordinary workers so viciously, yet so unwilling to attack similar behaviour from a boss.

Anonymous said...

It's no good blaming the English again, bliar is Scots irish descent.At least he aknowledges you exist, whereas all references to England have been steadily erased since the NL scum came to power.

Anonymous said...

With respect, mr. crossofstgeorge, I fear you may have missed the point, inasmuch as it's the problem of Britishness that seems to cause such anger and hatred - and it is hatred for many. I received an effing and blinding piece of hate mail myself this week, saying I should be put in the loony bin for "choosing" to speak Welsh - and worse. In the 18th Century, the Scots (I'm thinking Lowland particularly) indeed took full advantage of the new union, and in many cases exploited it better than the English did, for which reason many had a significant investment in the concept of Britishness; and Britishness is certainly inextricably linked with Englishness and the English language. So to say that Bliar is Scots/Irish descent doesn't negate the very cogent points raised in this article - it potentially reinforces them. Linda Colley's book Britons is particularly instructive in this regard, as well as any of Prof Murray Pittock's excellent books.

Toque said...

You forget that the Prime Minister is Scottish. Granted most Scots are also Anglo-Saxon (the saxons settled extensively there too) but nevertheless conflating 'English' and 'Anglo-Saxon' isn't helpful.

Anonymous said...

Well done mate!
How come some English/Scottish idiot gets away with saying something like "fucking Welsh".
Replace the words "Welsh" with Jewish,Muslim or Black and hed be fucked.

Anonymous said...

bliar should be brought to book for saying it, but at the end of the day if you can't take it don't give it out. PC politicians and the welsh in general have made many racist remarks about the English.

Nicholas Michael Morgan said...

"PC politicians and the welsh in general have made many racist remarks about the English."

An example of a PC politician's racist remark please?

noname said...

Example: "All those pakis and indians"

cymrumark said...


there was nothing racist about the comment as it was repeating what some english people who move to Wales say about their reasons for moving here. These and large...the same people who make derogatary comments about Welsh culture etc. Since moving to Wales 18 months ago numerous people with English accents.. hearing my accent... ask me where I come from. When I say Leicester out pours the bile aimed at asians blacks and welsh people...I usually end the conversation by pointing out my wife is peruvian and I am a member of the Plaid...

Anonymous said...

This just shows what the ruling (middle-class mainly English) strata think about Wales.
Basically rebel and your fucking Welsh.

Nicholas Michael Morgan said...

This David Tailor is obviously a troll, and IS NOT Labour member David Taylor. I've allowed the 'comments' section to be open to allow more people to take part, but if David Tailor and such people continue, I will have to tighten the 'comments' option, which would be a shame.

Anonymous said...

Did you receive a complaint?

Nicholas Michael Morgan said...

None whatsoever, I want serious discussion here, not trolling. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm all for an independent Wales, but let's at least get facts reported correctly please.
Tony Blair is not English, he's Scottish.
There isn't an English Labour Party. Labour will not allow them to have one, because they were not granted devolution in the same was Scotland and Wales, which do have Welsh/ Labour Parties.
If you don't believe me, try finding the English Labour Party.