Sunday, January 03, 2010

Rhodri and Saunders

I saw Rhodri Morgan's interview on 29 December and a few paragraphs stood out. He said:

“It never crossed my mind
[joining Plaid Cymru]. I can remember actually realising that for some reason there was a generation of young people about the same age as me who got terribly agitated over a speech made by Saunders Lewis [Plaid Cymru president 1926-1939] in 1964."

“This young man – he was sitting round in the Swansea Eisteddfod – was so worked up by what Saunders had said, saying we must go out and support him, I just sort of realised at that point there was something going on in that man’s mind which was definitely not going on in my mind.”

Mr Morgan’s father TJ Morgan, a distinguished professor of Welsh, had been a supporter of WJ Gruffydd, the candidate who defeated Lewis in the hard-fought University of Wales parliamentary by-election in 1943. The ex-First Minister said:

“He [Gruffydd] didn’t think Saunders was a fit and proper person to become an MP, and I don’t think my father did either. Saunders could make speeches and was a very good playwright, and that was it. But as an MP it never crossed my mind that he was a figure of influence.”

Quite a shocking quote really. So, in 1964ish Rhodri Morgan in a rather condescending way couldn't get worked up about Saunders Lewis's speech. So, Rhodri Morgan, following another census return which saw the Welsh language accelerate its downward spiral couldn't get 'worked up' about it? What kind of a Welshman can't get worked up about his native language dying? Would he be so blaze about the Wales rugby team losing every consecutive game since 1901? Would the average Labour party member be so blaze were the English language to fall of a cliff? No, this blaze, dressed up as internationalism, is part of the DNA of the 'Welsh' Labour party.

Saunders Lewis 'not fit' to be an MP? I'd agree that Saunders wasn't cut out to be an MP. He was too honest for that. I don't say that in a pejorative way, but being an MP of any party, requires a level of social skill and what could be called ability to be careful with the truth, which SL didn't possess. He was a writer and thinker not a politician. But I can't think he was 'not fit' to be an MP. What and all those long-forgotten Labour MPs were? So being institutionally anti-Welsh (like a good majority) of Labour MPs were - is OK. Being for state socialism which saw the nationalisation of Thomas Cook among other barmy ideas - is OK. Campaigning against Welsh language education - OK. Sucking up to the English establishment and Monarchy - OK. Lewis was no less fit to be an MP than the vast majority of Labour MPs.

In another part of the interview. Morgan says he was inspired by JFK. OK, fair enough, he was a charismatic figure who brought hope to the Cold War generation, but isn't there something missing that a Welsh person, an intelligent Welsh person, projects his aspirations and fears through the politics and policies of another country which he isn't a part of. And that, at the same time, a new, young, radical, peaceful movement, in the spirit of the Black civil rights movement in his own country doesn't 'agitate' him.

Did the young socialist Morgan, not think for one moment, that the language he spoke with his parents in its own country, was in grave danger because the forces of consumer culture, capitalism and status was mitigated against it? Didn't that in any way strike a chord with him? Did he not for one minute just think it was a bit odd that the aforementioned Eisteddfod in Swansea was held in a city which had not one official sign in the Welsh language? Was it not odd that Welsh had not official status in its own country? Maybe Morgan is from that category of Welshman who saw Welsh as being quite nice but really was past its sell-by date and, in the interest of World socialism and internationalism, should just be allowed go quietly into the night?

Morgan is an intelligent man, he's not some bloke who never thinks about abstract ideas. So, the casual, standard, anti-Welsh line of the Labour party that this isn't 'what ordinary people want' doesn't wash (although for thousands of ordinary Welsh people the language was a big issue). Why didn't Morgan have any interest in a new secular type of Welsh language culture - was Welsh just for the past and English the language of the 'white heat of technology'. I don't know.

In any case, it's caused a dislocation between Labour and the Welsh language where any foreign cause, no matter how obscure (Africa is a perennial popular one) is more interesting and less threatening than the Welsh language. Unfortunately, Morgan and much of the Labour party seem ill at ease in modern Welsh language culture - it seems beneath them or alien or 'too Welshie'. It's a pity, a great pity, because had the young Morgan been just a little less condescending towards his own language then Welsh history and the story of the Welsh language since then could have been much brighter and more interesting. Certainly more interesting than following the latest American election in which Morgan could play no part.

52 comments:

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Great post, i enjoyed reading, i have recently started a blog about irish politics and history if your interested its http://insulanobilis.blogspot.com/

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I do not know if this was meant in that way.

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