Marcus Stead

Freelance Journalist Marcus Stead

Wales – A Country Divided

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By MARCUS STEAD

Wales is becoming a downright hostile place for the more than 80% of us who don’t speak the Welsh language. We are treated as second class citizens and it intensifies with every year that passes.

In this article, I outline how Wales is run by, and for the benefit of, a small elite of Welsh-speaking middle class people known as the Crachach, and of how their power base has increased substantially over the last 50 years.

We cannot afford to drive out our best and brightest graduates because they feel shut out of the jobs market on the basis they cannot speak Welsh. Wales is a small country with a small population of just three million people. In the public sector, the ability to speak Welsh is a requirement in an ever-increasing number of jobs. Our economy is grossly under-performing, with a lack of a skilled private sector. We need the best available people in the best jobs if we are to fulfil our potential as a country and as a people.

The Welsh language is being dogmatically imposed on the people of Wales. It is used as a divisive weapon with which to alienate and ostracise vast swathes of the Welsh population, and as a means of promoting the worst kind of identity politics.

A (very) brief history of Wales

The terms ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ derive from Germanic root as a term used to describe the Gaulish people known to the Romans as Volcae, and which came to refer indiscriminately to all non-Germanic peoples. The Old English Anglo-Saxons used the term ‘Waelisc’ to refer to the Britons in particular.

The Welsh language word ‘Cymru’ can be traced back to the seventh century and descended from the Brythonic word ‘combrogi’ meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’ and was used to describe the location of the post-Roman era (after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons) of the Welsh (Brythonic-speaking) people of Wales as well as northern England and southern Scotland. It has the same origin as the words Cumbria, Cambria and Cumberland (a fact that sits uncomfortably with those who try to portray English people as ‘foreigners’).

We should put our ‘Welsh’ identity into context and keep it firmly in perspective. When ‘Welsh Nationalists’ talk about ‘restoring’ Wales’s independence, what to they actually mean? Only once, for a brief period more than 1,000 years ago, was Wales an ‘independent nation’. That was between 1055 and 1063AD, when under the rule of Gruffydd ap Llewellyn.

Aside from Grufydd ap Llewellyn’s eight-year reign, Wales has never been an independent ‘nation’, let alone one conquered by England (a narrative repeatedly pushed by Welsh nationalists). The terrain made it very difficult to govern (north-south transport links remain poor to this day), and internal rivalries made meant the term ‘Wales’ really refereed to a geographic entity rather than an independent nation. Wales’s history until the Industrial Revolution can be summed up as one of rivalling princes, each with their own territory, who would fight each other, and were willing to both fight against and co-operate with English sovereigns, depending on the circumstances.

neil kinnock

Neil Kinnock, who dismissed the idea of a ‘Welsh identity’

Neil Kinnock, Labour Party leader between 1983-92, shares my scepticism about the ‘Welsh identity’. Kinnock campaigned successfully against the creation of a Welsh Assembly in 1979, and said of the Welsh identity: “Between the mid-sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was the history of rural brigands who have been ennobled by being called princes.”

It is also important to keep a sense of perspective about just how small a population Wales had before the Industrial Revolution. In 1536, the population was around 278,000. By 1620, it had risen to 360,000. In other words, only 400 years ago, the population of the whole of Wales was about the same as that of modern-day Cardiff.

The ‘start date’ of the Industrial Revolution is widely accepted to be 1760, and this, really, is where the story of modern-day Wales begins. It is one of waves of immigration who came to work in the coal mines, quarries and steel works over the following 200 years.

By 1770, when the Industrial Revolution was gathering pace, the population of Wales had risen to 500,000, and by 1850 (ten years after the Industrial Revolution’s broadly-accepted ‘end point’) the population had rocketed to 1,163,000.

In other words, the population of Wales more than trebled in an 80-year period, due to the need for workers in heavy industry. These new arrivals came predominantly from Devon, Herefordshire and Ireland, along with smaller influxes from other parts of England. They were English-speaking, and usually Nonconformist Christian.

The population surge continued as the Welsh mining industry enjoyed its boom years, and by 1911 the population of Wales had more than doubled yet again to 2,421,000. As with before, these new arrivals were predominantly from Devon, Herefordshire and Ireland, along with a substantial number of arrivals from Italy, often from the town of Bardi.

In the early 20th century, the area around the Cardiff Docklands experienced an influx from more than 50 countries, including Somalis, Yemenis, Greeks and Afro-Caribbeans, and it remains one of the oldest, most racially-diverse areas anywhere in the United Kingdom. This was followed by further waves of immigration across the South Wales area following the First and Second World Wars, and more in the years since, which continues to this day – there have been many arrivals from Poland since the early 2000s (though a smaller Polish community has existed in Cardiff for far longer).

And that is the story of modern-day Wales, which, according to the 2011 Census, has a population of around 3,063,000 people. It is predominantly English-speaking, and has been for at least the last 150 years.

It is worth taking a moment to assess the cultural divides that exist in modern Wales, which are largely due to geography and terrain. I think it can be divided into four, which is by no means detailed or comprehensive:

The South Wales cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport: These are cities in a post-industrial era, with racially-diverse populations cosmopolitan in outlook. They are usually proud to be Welsh and British, but English is overwhelmingly the main language. One of the main challenges they face in the modern era is an over-reliance on the public sector for employment. There is a lack of an entrepreneurial culture and a skilled private sector when compared to other parts of the United Kingdom.

The South Wales Valleys: Again, predominantly English speaking, but they are culturally very different to the cities. Still influenced by their Nonconformist Christian heritage, these are close-knit communities, and the people have a warmth and sincerity about them that is often lacking in the cities. Trip and fall in the street, or look lost, and people will go out of their way to help you. These areas have serious social and economic problems that came about following the decline of coal mining and heavy industry. They usually consider themselves both Welsh and British. Their problems are the same as those in the mining towns of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and they are in many ways culturally similar.

North East Wales: People in the area around Wrexham and Chester are proudly Welsh, the vast majority speak English as a first language, and have strong cultural and economic ties to Merseyside, Lancashire and Manchester. Historically, television aerials usually pointed to Granada and to this day, BBC Radio Two has TEN TIMES as many listeners as BBC Radio Wales in the area.

West and North West Wales: These is the Welsh-speaking heartlands with a tension between the Labour-voting unionists and the Plaid Cymru-supporting Welsh nationalists.  When English tourists refer to receiving a less-than-warm welcome in pubs and cafes in Wales, the chances are they are referring to West or North West Wales. Indeed, Labour Assembly Member Vaughan Gething recently revealed that the bulk of the abuse he received while a student in Aberystwyth was NOT over the colour of his skin, but for being a Labour member and for the perception that he was English, not Welsh. These are

wales political map 2017

Political map of Wales at the 2017 General Election. Plaid Cymru’s four seats are in GREEN

the only areas where Plaid Cymru is represented in Parliament (they currently hold 4 of the 40 Welsh seats in Westminster). There is an internal divide in South West Wales, known as the Landsker Line, below which English has been the main language for centuries, following the Norse, Norman, Flemish and Saxon settlements. The Conservatives are strong enough to win seats ‘south of the line’.

Of course, this analysis does not provide the full picture. There are cultural differences between Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and I haven’t really addressed the status of the seaside resorts of North Wales. And there are differences between the east and west valleys in the south. But it gives a brief outline as to how terrain continues to influence the cultures (note plural) of Wales. And this, in itself, is one of the problems I have with Welsh nationalism. I consider it absurd that I, as a Cardiffian, should be expected to feel a greater kinship with somebody 190 miles away in Ynys Mon than I do with someone a 45 minute drive away in Bristol.

The Welsh language

The Industrial Revolution and the influx of immigration that followed was absolutely terrific news for enthusiasts of the Welsh language. The 1911 Census showed a record high of 977,000 people were able to speak Welsh. In other words, around one in four of the Industrial Revolution immigrant population to Wales and their immediate descendants had learnt Welsh, many of whom will have married Welsh partners.

But an enormous increase in population in such a short space of time meant that Wales had been changed forever. The arrivals during the Industrial Revolution vastly outnumbered those whose family roots were in Wales beforehand, and therefore, English had surpassed Welsh as the main language of the Principality.

By 1911, somewhere in the region of 617,000 of those who settled in Wales as a result of the Industrial Revolution and their descendants had learnt Welsh. That’s not far off twice the entire population of Wales pre-Industrial Revolution! So much for the Welsh Nationalist cliche that ‘the English’ were trying to oppress the Welsh language in the 19th and early 20th centuries!

The 1901 Census showed 929,800 Welsh speakers, that was 49.9% of the population (though how many used it as their ‘main’ language is another matter – see below). By 1911, that figure had jumped to the aforementioned 977,000 people, which paradoxically was a reduction in the overall swollen population to 43.5%.

welsh-language-map-1911.pngThese were boom times for the Welsh language, and it was to be its ‘high water mark’, but as this map from 1911 shows, even at that stage, English was by far and away the main language of Wales.

By 1921, the figure had dropped to 922,000, or 37.1%. There are several potential reasons for this. One was the significant loss of young males in World War I. The other was that, in many instances (and quite possibly in my own family), parents deliberately spoke English rather than Welsh to their children as they felt that confident, fluent use of English would enhance their ability to ‘get on’ in life. The ‘Welsh Not’ and its influence is often somewhat overstated. The 1931 Census recorded a modest drop to around 909,000, but 20 years later, just 714,000 said they could speak Welsh.

My father’s parents were young adults in 1951, and I don’t recall either of them being able to speak Welsh. I suspect the deaths of their parents’ generation was a large contributory factor, as was the increasing popularity of radio, which was mainly broadcast in English (more on that later).

The decline of the Welsh language continued until it reached a record ‘low water mark’ of 500,000, or 18.5% of the population, in 1991. Ten years later, in 2001, that figure had reached 582,000, before dropping to 562,016, or 19% in 2011.

The revival of the 1990s and 2000s ought to be taken with a pinch of salt for a variety of reasons. For example, the Welsh Language Act of 1993 saw the language being imposed upon schools across Wales, including in areas with no real history of Welsh speaking in living memory for even the oldest people.

By the turn of the millennium, taking Welsh to GCSE level was compulsory. Yet those who’d passed the exam could presumably be counted as ‘Welsh speakers’ even if they barely remembered most of it a year or two later, and never intended using it again. Dodgy statistics and dogmatic imposition of the Welsh language have gradually become a hallmark of Welsh life. In some cases, saying ‘bore da’ to the postman means you count as a Welsh speaker. It seems highly likely that of the 19% of the population who can apparently speak Welsh, for many it is ‘pigeon Welsh’ and far fewer use it as a living language. Who is behind it, and what is their agenda?

Crachach

The term Crachach is used to describe the Welsh establishment. They are Welsh-speaking, middle class, nepotistic, usually have family ties to West and North West Wales, and are seen to hold many of the key positions in the Welsh media, arts, civil service and higher education. Not all Crachach can necessarily be described as ardent Welsh nationalists, quite a few are not immune to receiving gongs from the Queen, but they do not miss many opportunities to increase their power base, which increased substantially around the time of devolution in 1999.

The journalist Carolyn Hitt wrote an amusing parody of the Crachach in 2006 (though she has become much more of an ‘establishment’ figure in Wales in the years since, and a steady stream of work at BBC Wales has followed).

The late former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, believed the Crachach to be very real, and upon the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, he called for ‘An Assembly of the people, not an Assembly of the Crachach’.

Former Welsh Cabinet Minister Leighton Andrews also referred to the Crachach on a number of occasions during his time in the Assembly. He once said that higher education governance had become ‘the last resting place of the Crachach’.

This article by Roger Dobson from the Independent in 1997, about how William Hague was marrying into a Crachach family, gives further depth as to the extent to which this unelected elite exerts influence over Wales, though it has increased substantially in the 22 years since the piece was written.

The late Ian Skidmore, a witty writer and broadcaster who lived in Wales for much of his life, wrote this blog article in 2011. Scroll down to the piece that begins ‘Wales is a limited company run by a small group of families’ for a beginner’s guide to the grip the Crachach has on the media and arts in Wales. Ex-HTV Wales current affairs journalist Paddy French has carried out a number of detailed investigations on his Rebecca Television website into the influence this small group of families has in public life in Wales.

Leigh Jones is hardly an ideological soulmate of mine, but his summary of the Crachach and their sense of superiority and entitlement is accurate. He writes:

“[The Crachach] maintains their control over Welsh cultural institutions with a jobs-for-the-boyos culture. Their sense of self-righteous entitlement in their attempts to preserve the language at the cost of the country’s rich English-speaking heritage have a negative effect – putting monoglot Welsh people off learning about the language.

“Wales’ cultural identity is at loggerheads. To the English-speakers, the Crachach are snobs controlling the language in their own interests. To the Welsh-speakers, the English-speakers aren’t really as Welsh as us and shouldn’t have an opinion on the language unless they’re willing to learn it.”

So how did the modern-day Crachach come about? Its origins can be traced back to a series of events that took place in the very early days of the BBC, and its effects can be felt to this day.

Plaid Cymru co-founder Saunders Lewis perceived the early development of radio broadcasting in Wales to be a serious threat to the Welsh language, and as time went on he even went as far as to accuse the BBC of ‘seeking the destruction of the Welsh language’. At the same time he also recognised that if he could exert influence and pressure on the BBC, the Corporation could become a useful tool to serve Plaid Cymru’s political ends.

In October 1933, the University of Wales Council, which had been lobbying for more Welsh language broadcasting, appointed a ten-man council to press the case with the BBC, which included Lewis, his fellow Welsh nationalist W.J.Gruffydd, former Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his nephew William George. (I would welcome any help with names of the other six members of the Council, as I have been unable to trace them so far.)

BBC Director General John Reith described the Committee as ‘the most unpleasant and unreliable people with whom it has been my misfortune to deal’. Yet the Committee gained ever more influence on the BBC in Wales. Appointment of staff at BBC Wales was delegated to the Committee by the Corporation, and as newspapers of the time noted, appointees seemed primarily drawn from the families of the Welsh-speaking elite including “the son of a professor of Welsh and the offspring of three archdruids”.

Lewis’s campaigning succeeded in cementing a strong Welsh nationalist influence at BBC Wales that continues to this day. The BBC’s Welsh Advisory Council was established in 1946, which included several Plaid Cymru supporters, one of whom was Lewis’s successor as Plaid Cymru president, Gwynfor Evans.

And so the seeds were sewn. Aneirin Talfan Davies was one of the early Head of Programmes at BBC Wales. His son, Geraint Talfan Davies, was controller of BBC Wales for ten years from 1990. Geraint’s son, Rhodri Talfan Davies is the current director of BBC Wales, having been appointed at the age of 40 in 2011, despite having never made a TV or radio programme in Wales. Paddy French’s in-depth investigation on the matter can be read here. In the intervening years, the role was held by Menna Richards, a close friend of the Talfan Davies family.

Since leaving BBC Wales, both Geraint Talfan Davies and Menna Richards have held a number of prominent directorships of Welsh companies and organisations, including, controversially, Welsh Water (though there is no suggestion BBC Wales has been influenced by these connections). Mr Talfan Davies was the head of the ‘Wales Stronger in Europe’ campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 referendum.

A particularly absurd example came in mid-2018, when Rhuanedd Richards, a former Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru and special adviser to former party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones was appointed Editor of BBC Radio Cymru. The moral equivalent of this in England would see Alastair Campbell or Andy Coulson being appointed to the top job at BBC Radio 4. Yes, that sounds far-fetched, but the equivalent happens at BBC Wales.

To put this incredible level of influence into perspective, Plaid Cymru only has around 8,000 members, which is an increase on the 6,000 they had before the autumn of 2018, when they experienced a spike which often happens when parties choose a new leader. But it is a minuscule number when compared to the 125,000 members of the SNP, its equivalent party in Scotland, or even compared to the 25,000 members of the Labour Party in Wales alone.

But this example is by no means unique. Veteran journalist and broadcaster Paul Starling summed up the culture at BBC Wales in this 2001 article in the Daily Mirror following the sacking from BBC Radio Wales of a popular presenter because he had an English accent. Starling begins:

“THERE is something sinister lurking in BBC Wales. It feeds off fear, does untold damage to the country and the notion of truth, drives many of our most talented people to leave and hides under the cloak of silence. 

The case of Radio Wales presenter Lionel Kellaway is something we should all take very seriously. After 15 years at the top of BBC Wales he was dumped. The reason – because BBC Wales is a racist organisation. 

That’s not just my view, it’s the view of many people there. And yesterday it became the official view of the Commission for Racial Equality.  I have worked as presenter, journalist, and producer for BBC Wales. I could list many people, whose names you would recognise, who would agree with what I am writing. 

But they will not say it publicly – for fear they would never work again for the BBC in Wales. The Welsh media is a tiny pool. If you want to move upwards and into Broadcasting House you never criticise BBC Wales.”

Towards the end of the article, Starling writes: “Is it a good policy that BBC Wales’s Head of News, Aled Eurig, was chosen despite having a fiery background as a militant Welsh nationalist and later as a paid worker for Plaid Cymru?”

The Crachach culture is at the heart of everything that is wrong with BBC Wales, from the unreliable news coverage to the lousy quality of most of its ‘entertainment’ offerings. BBC Radio Wales recently ‘celebrated’ its 40th anniversary with the lowest listening figures in his history.

By the 1960s, as the Welsh media scene developed, there was a gravitational pull of the Crachach away from the Welsh-speaking heartlands towards the west of Cardiff (most notably the district of Pontcanna) and Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. Indeed, the phrase ‘Pobl Pontcanna’ has become a colloquialism to describe the Welsh-speaking chattering classes.

Prior to the 1979 general election, both the Conservative and Labour parties promised a Welsh language fourth television channel if elected to government. This was broadly welcomed by many non-Welsh speakers, because both BBC and HTV Wales showed Welsh language programming, which meant that programmes that the rest of the UK was watching in prime time were relegated in Wales to times when viewers were either in work or in bed.

For this reason, many aerials in the South Wales area pointed towards the Mendip transmitter and, as has already been said, viewers in North East Wales pointed their aerials pointed towards the Granada transmitters, indeed Granada’s news programmes covered stories from North Wales until well into the 2000s. Those in East Wales often pointed their aerials towards ATV/Central’s transmitters, but for those in the Valleys, having popular programmes shifted to graveyard slots to accommodate Welsh language programming was a nuisance they had to put up with.

William Whitelaw 1

William Whitelaw

Shortly after the Conservatives won the 1979 election, the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw  backtracked on the plan. There was to be a new, UK-wide fourth channel, but, except for occasional opt-outs, the service in Wales was to be the same as for the rest of the UK.

The following year, the then-President of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike unless the Government climbed down and created a Welsh-language TV channel.

It should be pointed out that Evans had a long history of extreme, fanatical behaviour. The previous year, he was so distraught by the people of Wales’s decision to overwhelmingly vote against proposals to create a devolved assembly that he had to be talked out of committing suicide by friends on St David’s Day as a symbolic act of ‘national sacrifice’.

But Evans got his way, and a Welsh language TV channel was to be created, ‘instead of’, rather than ‘as well as’ Channel 4 in Wales. Many people viewed the prospect of S4C as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, all Welsh language programming on BBC Wales and HTV Wales would be transferred to S4C, so viewers across Wales would be able to enjoy popular English language programmes at the same time as the rest of the UK. But on the other hand, S4C would was committed to broadcasting a near-entirely Welsh schedule during prime time, and for large portions of the daytime. Popular Channel 4 programmes such as Brookside were relegated to off-peak slots, while the flagship 7pm Channel 4 News programme was not shown on S4C at all.

Inevitably, viewers in coastal areas continued to point their aerials at English transmitters so they could view the new Channel 4, and those in mid and west Wales and the valleys were forced to make do with late-night screenings of Channel 4’s most popular programmes. This situation continued until the 2000s, when digital switchover meant Channel 4 became available across Wales for the first time, at which point S4C became an entirely Welsh language channel.

S4C used to receive an annual government grant of £100 million. Today, that figure is £80 million, most of which comes from the licence fee pot, with plans for all of it to come from this source by 2022/23. The big problem is that hardly anyone is watching S4C’s content, including the vast majority of Welsh speakers.

S4C viewing figures w-e 6 Jan

On week ending 6 January 2019, the most-watched non-sporting programme on S4C had just 24,918 viewers!

In a typical week, very few programmes get more than 30,000 viewers. Live rugby and football matches get substantially more, mainly because they are not available to view free-to-air anywhere else, rather than because they’re on S4C. In a good week, long-running soap opera Pobol y Cwm and farming show Cefn Gwlad might break the 30,000 barrier (both programmes pre-date the creation of S4C), but virtually nothing else does.

Audience-gathering service BARB releases the highest-rating top 15 programmes each week. The programme in 15th place typically has around 18,000 viewers. That implies that the number watching their 20th, 30th and 40th most popular programmes each week must be minuscule.

Mike Flynn 1

Mike Flynn, who hosted a daily show on BBC Radio Wales between 1978-89

This is not a recent problem for S4C. Journalist and broadcaster Mike Flynn had a daily show on BBC Radio Wales from its launch in 1978 until 1989. As a non-Welsh speaking North Walian, he didn’t exactly fit in with the Crachach set or the culture of the Llandaff building. He points out that S4C’s viewing figures were pretty lousy even in the days of four-channel TV. He said: “It was always a jobs-for-the-boyos channel. There was lots of money being given to independent production companies run by veteran Welsh language campaigners from the 1970s who produced programmes that no-one watched.

“Anyone who was connected got on the gravy train when S4C was launched. The ability to speak Welsh was a passport to public money.

“Going back to the year after launch the joke at BBC in Llandaff was that most of the programmes would have been cheaper to mail out on video!”

In 1978, just a few years before S4C came into being, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf was set up a stone’s throw away from the BBC Wales building in Llandaff, to accommodate the children of the expanding Crachach community in the city.

In 2015, Daniel Glyn, a Glantaf pupil from its inauguration, made this short video for the BBC Wales current affairs strand The Wales Report, in which he talks about his experiences at the school. In the video, he admits that the Crachach isn’t some figment of the non-Welsh speaking population’s imagination, but is something very real indeed. Speaking of protests at the opening of the school, he said: “I think they were worried that by opening a Welsh language school in Cardiff, it would create this weird little middle class clique that was going to get all the best jobs. Thankfully, they were absolutely right!” 

Mr Glyn, whose background was in children’s television and stand-up comedy, went on to take a job with the National Assembly until he was appointed station manager at city TV station Made in Cardiff in 2016, despite having no obvious qualifications for the role. Under his tenure, the station’s studio base has been sold off, and daily Cardiff-based output has been reduced to a news bulletin presented from the streets of Cardiff, filmed by a small team of student reporters and Glyn himself (despite having no formal journalistic training) on smartphones before being sent to the Made TV group’s Leeds headquarters for playout.

Yet it has been made clear to me that being a Welsh-speaking Glantaf pupil is not in itself enough for you to ‘fit in’ at the Crachach set. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago, I was making conversation with a young woman who had begun her career in journalism before switching to PR. She was intelligent, attractive and charismatic, and has gone on to have a very successful career.

I casually said to her that to ‘get on’ at BBC Wales, it helps if you’re a Welsh speaker who went to Glantaf, to which she replied, as quick as a flash: “Well, I am a Welsh speaker who went to Glantaf, but I was always treated as an outsider when I worked for BBC Wales. The right family connections help.”

I strongly suspect Wales has lost a potentially superb journalist and broadcaster, who could have been very popular with the public, but their loss is the PR industry’s gain.

Two further developments that helped the Crachach consolidate their grip on public life in Wales occurred during the 1990s. The first was the expansion of the universities sector in the early part of the decade, which was a boon for Crachach seeking senior status in academic institutions.

Then, in 1997 a referendum was held on creating a National Assembly for Wales. There was a 50.3% Yes vote, well within the margin of error, on a turnout of 50.22%. In other words, fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for the Assembly to be created.

Between 1997 and 2011, the number of Assembly/Welsh Government civil servants trebled, and this led to a further swelling of the Crachach in western Cardiff, centred around the Pontcanna area, with younger, less affluent Crachach settling for nearby Grangetown. They are sizeable enough in number for Plaid Cymru to win seats on the local council in these areas, but they are nowhere near large enough to even come close to winning the Parliamentary seats of Cardiff West (where Pontcanna is) or Cardiff South and Penarth (in the case of Grangetown).

The growth of the ‘Cardiff Crachach’ in the years since devolution was reflected in the results of the 2011 Census, which showed a decline in the number of Welsh speakers in West Wales but an increase in Cardiff. This is not a coincidence.

Is it possible to ‘join’ the Crachach? I am not sure. I have certainly seen many examples of people behaving in a deferential way around people from Crachach families with the hope of currying favour, particularly in Welsh media circles. Professor Dylan Jones-Evans appears to believe it is possible to join the Crachach, but you have to sell your soul in the process. In this blog article, he wrote: “Well, make sure you don’t rock the boat, keep your mouth closed when faced with any inequality, and be prepared to keep your eyes firmly shut when everything is falling to pieces around you. As a result, others in your elite club will look the other way and eventually reward your incompetence.”

The Crachach tentacles spread well into other spheres. In this short blog article, the former Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black outlines how the Crachach gravy train operates in the Welsh civil service.

In literature, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money goes to Welsh publishers, poets and authors for books on such bizarre subjects as ‘Independent Bus Operators in North Wales’ and ‘Welsh Airfields’.

A Welsh writer can obtain up to £10,000 to stay at home and write a book, regardless of whether it is published or not. However, such grants do not go to young, up-and-coming writers, or to nurture new talent. They go to BBC Wales staffers, Welsh establishment figures and ‘celebrities’.

For example, Geraint Talfan Davies’s autobiography, ‘At Arm’s Length’  was subsidised by a Welsh Books Council grant to Seren Books. According to Nielsen Book Data, it sold 179 copies in four years!

Gwyneth Lewis, the ex-national poet of Wales, wrote a piece in the Guardian defending these subsidies, but was too shy to mention that she received £11,000 from the taxpayer for her work.

The BBC Wales entertainer Owen Money received £6,000 from the WBC to write his autobiography, ‘Money Talks’, and another BBC Wales presenter, Mal Pope, was given £4,000 by the WBC to write his memoirs, ‘Old Enough to Know Better’.

In the five years to 2013, the WBC received £39m of taxpayers’ money, with another £3.85m going to Literature Wales. In 2012 alone, the Welsh Books Council received £7.6m of taxpayers’ money. It distributed £1,853,500 towards the publishing of Welsh language books, including £365,272 which went directly to authors. Another £751,465 was spent on English language books by authors living in Wales. Meanwhile Literature Wales spent £703,000 promoting Welsh literature through festivals, roadshows, grants and ‘services to writers’.

Authors who are part of the ‘in crowd’ do not even have to produce a book to receive a grant, they only have to show that they intend to write one. By contrast, in England, people who are given arts grants have to give up their time to teach two days a week. In an age where absolutely anybody can publish an e-book for very little money, or self-publish for only slightly more, how on earth can such grants to Welsh establishment figures be justified?

Eisteddfod

The National Eisteddfod takes place during the first week of August each year. It is treated with a deep reverence by a section of the Welsh speaking community, most notably the Crachach set. They take it very seriously indeed.

When watching the proceedings in the main hall (known as ‘the maes’), one could be forgiven for thinking we are witnessing an ancient religious-like ceremony steeped in tradition. It is right and proper to the great faiths of the world with respect – if you are in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, it is quite correct to follow the protocols and to behave appropriately when you are in their buildings. But the Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd of the Bards does not come from some ancient tradition.

In reality, the Gorsedd was created in the 1790s by Iolo Morganwg (actual name Edward Williams), an opium addict and scholar who forged a number of his claimed manuscripts. The first Gorsedd of the Bards was formed in 1792 in, erm, Primrose Hill, London.

Members of the Gorsedd wear robes depending on their area of contribution (until just a few years ago the colours represented rank), and they’re dressed in green, blue or white robes. The initiation ceremony, appears to involve them kneeling and a sword being pulled from its scabbard behind them, then put back in again, with a horn of some sort playing a part. To me, and to those of us who aren’t part of the Eisteddfod set, it all looks very strange indeed.

S4C Eisteddfod 2017 viewing figures

S4C viewing figures for the 2017 National Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod portrays a Welsh Nationalist’s image of Wales and what it is to be Welsh. It attracts around 150,000 people on a good year (though many of those will be the same people returning day after day) with below 60,000 watching the wall-to-wall coverage on S4C. In other words, it very clearly does not connect in any meaningful way with the vast majority of the population of Wales.

I am well aware that many Welsh speakers won’t have anything to do with the Eisteddfod, believing it to be cliquey, full of factions, snobbery, and rivalries. Accusations of bias in the judging of competitions is never far away.

One prominent former Welsh language broadcaster (and a talented one at that), who was not part of the ‘in crowd’, told me some years ago, confidentially, that he has no time for the Eisteddfod set. In his words, “They think they own the Welsh language. They hate learners, they hate anyone who does not speak Welsh as though they are on the Eisteddfod stage. That week where anyone who is not a middle class Taffia is not welcome, they are so racist.”

I have taken the expletives out of what he told me because, well, this blog is ‘family friendly’. You can be an ‘outsider’ at the Eisteddfod for speaking the ‘wrong kind of Welsh’. Apparently ‘Carmarthen Welsh’ is the required dialect to fit in.

The overly-serious nature was epitomised by what would by normal standards have been a very minor incident witnessed by somebody close to me who took part in the 2010 Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. Heavy rain caused the ground to be waterlogged, and following the conclusion of the afternoon’s events, somebody took to the stage and announced, in English, that shuttle buses would be available to take spectators to the main car park. There was a huge gasp in the audience, as though the announcer had said something completely outrageous. In reality, their terrible crime had been to make a safety announcement IN ENGLISH from the stage. These people really do get worked up about such trivialities.

It appears that the Eisteddfod week is all about the Welsh establishment talking to itself. As for the competitions themselves, my mind harks back to around five years ago when I tuned in to the S4C coverage for about ten minutes, and saw a man dressed as a farmer dancing with a garden rake in his hand. This ‘Mind Matters’ column in Wales Online in 2006 summed it up, slightly more crudely than I would, with the words: “It’s a mind-achingly banal cross between a Women’s Institute convention, a Morris Dancing championship and the annual Conservative Club summer fete. Harp-playing, dancing with brooms and tedious speech choirs may have their place in our national tradition but are they really going to keep the youth of tomorrow thronging to get in?”

Eisteddfod 1During the 2018 Eisteddfod, I tried very hard to watch a few hours of the coverage one afternoon and despite 12 years having passed since that article was written, I found it difficult to argue with that definition. The site was just a short walk away from Butetown, one of the oldest and most racially-diverse communities anywhere in the UK, yet I didn’t see a single non-white face in the Wales Millennium Centre main hall or in the surrounding area outside throughout. This screenshot demonstrates that there were empty seats and a disproportionate number of those in attendance were elderly.

It doesn’t feel like a festival that celebrates all that is good about Wales – English speakers, Welsh speakers, different racial backgrounds, many faiths and so on.

I don’t want to spoil anybody else’s enjoyment, and if a pseudo-pagan fancy dress party floats your boat, by all means carry on. But if there is to be a festival so narrow in scope,  why should the public purse should be expected to subsidise it? I do not demand that the taxpayer subsidises my tastes in entertainment.

Last November, it was announced that the 2018 Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay made a record loss of £290,000. This was spun by organisers as an ‘investment in the Welsh language’, a claim that went unchallenged by the sympathetic reporters at BBC Wales and elsewhere. A record 500,000 people attended the free event in Cardiff Bay (there is normally an entrance fee), but as usual, these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. How many of these people were returning day after day? How many of them were tourists who happened to be in the area and drifted onto the ‘maes’? How many of them were people enjoying the bars and restaurants of Cardiff Bay and walked across for a brief glace? Unless there were huge queues to sign up for Welsh language classes as a result of it, any claims that it was an ‘investment in the Welsh language’ should be treated with deep suspicion. The organisers and the Welsh establishment are the ones making the claim. It us therefore up to them to prove it.

I live in the area, and spent much of the week working in the centre of Cardiff, just a mile or so up the road from the ‘maes’. The talk in the shop queues and cafes was about the new football season starting (Cardiff City had just been promoted to the Premier League), holiday plans, Brexit and so on. I didn’t hear people discussing the Eisteddfod taking place in close proximity even once. To English-speaking Cardiff, it was considered largely an irrelevance.

The Eisteddfod promotes a parochial, insular image of Wales, that is not shared by most people in the country. Many of us who are proudly Welsh like to think of Welsh culture in different ways – our industrial and mining heritage, music – from classical, to Tom Jones to the Manic Street Preachers, various sporting achievements, Brains beer, Welsh cakes, a night on the town, our spectacular coast and countryside.

To put some ‘intellectual meat’ on the bone, we think of the art of Augustus John, acting giants such as Richard Burton, Rachel Roberts (nominated for an Academy Award for This Sporting Life), and Sir Stanley Baker (arguably a greater actor than Burton).

We think of novelists such as Gwyn Thomas (who is often rightly described as ‘the true voice of the English-speaking valleys’), John Morgan (who helped set up HTV) and the still very much alive Mavis Nicholson, probably TV’s greatest interviewer, who has been disgracefully under-appreciated since the mid-1990s. There’s Ian Skidmore, born in England, whose journalism, radio work and in later life blogging brought the best of Welsh wit, intellect, humour and warmth to the world for half a century.

In heavyweight journalism, we think of John Humphrys, a working class, English-speaking boy from the Splott area of Cardiff who passed his 11 Plus, got into Cardiff High (then a grammar school) but left aged 14 because he didn’t fit in with the middle class atmosphere of the place. He worked on local papers in the South Wales area where he quickly gained a bit of a reputation, then went into TV at TWW (the ITV contractor in Wales pre-1968) before joining the BBC, where at his peak he was one of the very best political interviewers the UK has ever known. Indeed, Mr Humphrys has, on occasion, been a vocal critic of the Welsh Crachach establishment.

Alan Watkins was a brilliant political commentator and raconteur during the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, as well as being a witty rugby writer.

There’s Jan Morris, one of the great historians and travel writers of this or any other era, perhaps best known for her Pax Britannica trilogy, and continues to produce interesting and thoughtful work at the age of 92.

In high-brow music, there was Sir Geraint Evans and Dame Margaret Price, as well as the versatile Sir Harry Secombe, who was a first-rate singer, actor and TV presenter. He also had that very rare ability to be a master of comedy and of more serious roles, both in character and as his real self.

Dame Shirley Bassey

Dame Shirley Bassey

Dame Shirley Bassey is perhaps the best example of a performer who epitomises 20th and 21st Century Wales at its most rich and diverse. She was born in Bute St, Butetown, to a Nigerian father and a mother from Teeside, and grew up in unglamorous surroundings in the aforementioned Splott. Her powerful voice was discovered at a young age, and her career has seen her remain one of the world’s most popular female artists for six decades and counting.

These are all incredible people with extraordinary life stories. All of them inspire me in their different ways, and all have earned the respect and admiration of people in the United Kingdom and throughout the world.

I’m aware that Richard Burton flirted with Welsh nationalism (though never very seriously) has an Eisteddfod award named after him (though I can find no evidence that he ever had anything to do with it), but beyond that, all of these people represented the best of Wales both to the United Kingdom and the wider world without having anything to do with the Eisteddfod, and, to my knowledge, without the huge subsidies that the Crachach cliques grant to their favoured performers (nearly always from Welsh language backgrounds and with far more Welsh-sounding names than nearly all of the above mentioned).

It seems likely to me that all of the above would be appalled at how provincial Wales has become, where the all-powerful Crachach hand out jobs, grants and privileges to the favoured few at the expense of the non-Welsh speaking majority.

A pertinent example of how exclusive and cliquey the National Eisteddfod is came in the summer of 2016. Less than a month beforehand, the Wales football team reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, their greatest ever run in a major competition.

I have never known anything that brought Wales together to this extent. It came just weeks after the Brexit referendum, in which the majority of participants in Wales voted Leave, following much the same pattern as England. The UK was divided and ill at ease to itself. But in Wales, for that brief few weeks, it seemed as though the whole country, north and south, united behind Chris Coleman’s men as they exceeded expectations.

The open top bus parade that greeted them when they returned home was something I shall never forget. In the weeks that followed, there were accolades, TV appearances and celebratory dinners. This was a great time to be Welsh. Everyone wanted to be a part of it and heap praise and honours on the team. Everyone, that is, except the National Eisteddfod.

In late July, Archdruid Geraint Lloyd Owen, head of the Gorsedd y Beirdd association, came under increasing pressure to nominate the team for an award at the National Eisteddfod. But just days before the festival was to begin, he rebuffed the team because some of the players don’t speak Welsh. He said: “If they can’t speak Welsh I don’t see how we can welcome them in [Gorsedd], because Welsh is the biggest, strongest weapon we have as a nation and without it, we have nothing.”

Charming. Three members of the team, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Joe Allen are known Welsh speakers, which is more than proportionate to the overall percentage of the population who speak the language.

Dean Thomas-Welch, a sports reporter for ITV Wales, summed it up the sentiments of many in Wales when he said: “The Welsh national anthem was sung in front of a global audience on the biggest stage thanks to the Welsh football team and still the Eisteddfod ignore them.”

I do not wish to associate with an event that is so snobbish and discriminatory. It does not represent Wales or most people who live here. It is a Welsh Nationalists/Welsh language image of Wales, to which most of the population do not subscribe.

Indeed, Plaid Cymru itself was founded during a meeting at the 1925 Eisteddfod in Pwllheli. The party’s co-founder, the aforementioned Saunders Lewis, was an ardent Monarchist and devout Roman Catholic. He didn’t care much for political independence, even going so far as to say that Wales was a nation (as in a people with a culture and, most importantly for him, a language). His ultimate vision was of a Welsh-speaking, monoglot Wales of small-scale farmers as part of a united Catholic Europe.

Lewis was far from universally popular among the Welsh nationalist movement. A significant number were suspicious of his conversion from Nonconformism to Roman Catholicism. He was pretentious and snobbish, with a reedy voice, cerebral style and aristocratic contempt for the proletariat. Many Welsh language literary critics don’t hold his extensive writings in high regard.

Saunders Lewis

Saunders Lewis

But there was a far darker side to Lewis, ones which modern-day Plaid Cymru prefers not to talk about.

Lewis’s writing is littered with numerous grotesque examples of anti-Semitism. A repeated phrase of his is ‘Hebrew Snouts’, which he uses when referring to Jewish financiers, with Alfred Mond being a favourite target of his.

Lewis had an affection for the politics of Franco, Salazar and Petain. Plaid Cymru officially remained neutral during World War II. Some senior figures openly advocated that a German victory would be better for Wales. Lewis’s anti-Semitism and support for fascism became a target for opponents of the party and an embarrassment to some of its supporters, including the writer Ambrose Bebb (the grandfather of current Conservative MP Guto Bebb).

Of Hitler himself, Lewis declared: “At once he fulfilled his promise—a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers months before that—to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany.”

Plaid Cymru’s stance did not stem from Christian pacifism but from their own nationalist opposition to Britain, which they saw as a greater threat to Wales than Hitler. In the late 1930s, the party’s internal newspaper cited Jewish influence over the British media as a source of the drive to war.

Of  English children being evacuated to Wales to avoid the bombing of their homes during the war, Plaid Cymru said that that would completely submerge and destroy all of Welsh national tradition. Saunders Lewis went on to say that the movement on population is ‘one of the most horrible threats to the continuation and to the life of the Welsh nation that has ever been suggested in history.’

So, there we have it. Hitler and Mussolini were friends of the nationalists, but English children escaping the ravages of war were the enemy.

Plaid Cymru doesn’t like to mention or discuss, let alone condemn its own murky past. Indeed, former party President, Lord Dafydd Wigley, who will have known Lewis personally, called for the ‘character assassination’ of him to end during a 2015 interview, as though Lewis’s abhorrent views were some kind of minor character flaw.

Yet there are far more recent examples of similar sentiments coming from senior figures in the party. In 2001, Gwilyn ab Ioan, then-Vice President of the party, was reported to the Commission for Racial Equality by Ian Skidmore for saying that Wales was becoming a dumping ground for England’s “oddballs, social misfits and drop-outs” and that  that Wales was being overrun by an “alien culture” which was making it “a land full of foreigners”.

The same year, Plaid Cymru councillor Seimon Glyn appeared on BBC Radio Wales where described retired English people moving to Wales as a ‘drain on our resources’ and of the English said: “These people are coming here to live to establish themselves here, and to influence our communities and our culture with their own.”

During the same interview, Mr Glyn said that English incomers should be ‘made’ to learn Welsh.

During the last decade, it has become clear that such attitudes are not confined to Plaid Cymru. Huw Thomas, the leader of Labour-controlled Cardiff Council, grew up in Ceredigion (once known as Cardiganshire) where, as a student, he advocated the vandalism of cars belonging to English people in Wales and called for incomers from England to be forced to pay additional income tax if they fail to learn Welsh within a year of their arrival.

In 2006, Thomas wrote a blog posting in which he expressed his dislike of people who displayed their support for the England football team.

He wrote: “I agree that it’s completely sickening how many England flags are to be seen around Wales. It truly shows the degree our society has been infiltrated by incomers who are not ready to integrate.

“Very often, from what I see, some flying English flags are young people, who have been brought up in Wales, but who are loyal to England. This raises questions about us as Welsh people as well.

“It’s true that the parents are at fault, but it’s obvious that the education system has failed to create a Welsh Nationalism in these people, and I wonder also how many of us Welsh people, in our school days, tried to bring these people (aka chavs) into the Welsh circle.

“I can’t speak with a clear conscience by a long shot, so don’t think that I’m preaching, but it’s something to consider I feel.

“The retail sector is also responsible for making the situation worse I think, and all across Britain not only in Wales. The World Cup, to a large extent, is just an opportunity for high street shops to ‘cash in’, using special offers and social pressure to create a fake group mentality – Nationalism Asda style!

“Having said this, I had the opportunity, when I had the opportunity to buy an England flag for half price in WH Smith, Oxford, to answer with the phrase: ‘Since I am neither a simpleton nor a casual racist I must decline your offer’. Poor ‘Stacey’ didn’t know where to look!”

Thomas has expressed his regret over these comments, and says they are no longer his views, but his actions as leader of Cardiff Council suggest he still has a lot of enthusiasm for forced Welsh language imposition.

Welsh language imposition 

The story of the last 40 years in Wales is one of a group of small, but vocal Welsh language campaigners demanding more and more, and being given exactly what they want, regardless of cost or benefit to wider society.

It began with road signs in English-speaking parts of Wales being produced in both English and Welsh after a stupid and dangerous campaign by Welsh language campaigners of painting over English-only road signs. This was followed by Gwynfor Evans threatening to starve himself to death unless S4C was created in 1982.

This was followed by the Welsh Language Act of 1993, which led to a massive increase in the use of Welsh in the public sector, regardless of demand. This was followed by the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, which fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for.

This was followed by another Welsh Language Act in 2011. In that same year, the Assembly’s powers were increased, which fewer than one in five of the people of Wales actually voted for in a referendum.

To bring the story up to date, since 2016 there has been a  policy of ‘Welsh first’ road signs being gradually rolled out, regardless of the fact that in many cases these are in an area where only a tiny minority actually speak Welsh. There was little to no public consultation or debate about this. It was imposed upon the people of Wales by the Welsh Government, or more specifically, the Welsh civil service, where the Crachach classes pull all the strings.

It appears that Welsh language imposition is now taking priority over road safety. When people are travelling at high speed, the purpose of road signs is to convey information as quickly and as succinctly as possible. Putting signs in a language only a small minority speaks over a language pretty much everybody speaks compromises safety. Indeed, I have heard a number of anecdotes of electronic motorway signs being only in Welsh, or switching between Welsh and English periodically, by which time the car has passed the sign. Was it telling us to slow down? Was it telling us there was an accident ahead? Or was it wishing us a Merry Christmas? When rain is lashing down on your windscreen, and there is heavy traffic on the motorway, the purpose of electronic motorway signs is to convey messages to keep drivers safe, and that means using a language close to all drivers understand.

Road signs are an important example of how public money is being wasted, and safety compromised, to appease the Crachach and Welsh language campaigners. But in day-to-day life in Wales, we see many subtle, more trivial signs that non-Welsh speakers are now to be considered second class citizens.

For example, I have been attending Cardiff City matches, on and off, since I was eight years old. During my childhood, the stadium public address announcements were made in English, and English only. For many years, the announcer was the late, great Phil Suarez, who also commentated on matches for local commercial radio. There were periods when the announcements were made by other English language radio personalities including Steve Johnson and Darren Daley.

There was no controversy whatsoever about English-only announcements at the time. The club was in the lower divisions, crowds were rarely much above 2,000, the overwhelming majority of whom were non-Welsh speakers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys.

In the early 2000s, the excitable Ali Yassine was appointed as stadium announcer. Yassine, from the city’s Somali community, learnt the Welsh language in his 20s, and would use a small amount of Welsh during his announcements.

Shortly before the start of the 2015/16 season, Yassine was relieved of his duties, and as a temporary measure, author, club historian and veteran former radio commentator Richard Shepherd took over announcing duties. Shepherd announced in English only.

The following January, the club pledged to reinstate Welsh language announcements following an online petition signed by fewer than 300 people. To put this into perspective, at that time, the club was typically attracting crowds of around 24,000. So in other words, below 1.25% bothered to sign the petition.

But hang on…..there was no way of verifying that those who signed the petition actually attended matches. Many of the signatories could easily have been Welsh language activists who spread the word via social media. Some (many?) could either have had no interest in the club at all, or had been living hundreds of miles away in Porthmadog. Even if we are to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that every single signatory was a dedicated season ticket holder, the club changed its policy to appease a minuscule number of its supporters.

Welsh football international home matches are nearly always staged in one of the two stadiums of Cardiff. During most of the 2000s, into the 2010s, stadium announcements were made by Yassine, who behaved in much the same way he did a Cardiff City games.

At some point around early 2018, Rhydian Bowen Phillips became the stadium announcer. Bowen Phillips is a Welsh language entertainer, as well as a militant Welsh nationalist with an enormous tattoo on his arm of his hero, the fourteenth century prince, Owain Glyndwr. Phillips is a Conservative Party-hating, Thatcher-loathing, pro-EU republican who never misses an opportunity to voice his ‘Welsh not British’ credentials.

Rhydian Bowen Phillips tweet 1

An example of Rhydian Bowen Phillips’s behaviour on Twitter

Upon taking on Tannoy duties at Wales games, Bowen Phillips took to announcing in Welsh first, and English second. Did he bother to ask the permission of his employers at the Football Association of Wales before doing this? Or did he just decide to do it and see if the FAW would dare to challenge him, in which case he would likely kick up a fuss? If the FAW did give him permission, why did they do so? The vast majority of fans who have paid good money for a ticket have come from English-speaking communities, and they deserve to have their main language given preference when attending matches. Bowen Phillips is entitled to his opinions in his personal life (however distasteful one may find them), but it is not acceptable to impose these values on his workplace, or on thousands of people who have paid to watch a football match.

Welsh language announcements in football stadiums may seem like a minor matter in the grand scheme of things, but they are symptomatic of what is happening in an ever-increasing number of areas, some very important, others trivial.

For example, during 2018, Transport for Wales became the new rail operator in Wales, and their livery began to appear on trains and at stations. Station signs appear in Welsh first, in thick black, and English underneath, in faint grey. It’s yet another subtle sign to the majority that we are now second class citizens and less important than the Welsh speaking minority. At railway stations, commuters have to endure long, rambling pre-recorded announcements by Transport for Wales in Welsh first, and English second, in which they tell us how wonderful the rail service will be in five years’ time (‘believe it when it happens’ is my advice!).

The 2016 Welsh Government implementation plan stated that all road signs were to be in Welsh first, with the existing “English-priority” signage (in those areas where the local authority previously had such a policy) being replaced whenever they otherwise would (life expiry or altered road conditions). The Welsh Government states in its Welsh Language Standards, Article 119, page 17, that; ‘Where a sign contains the Welsh language as well as the English language, the Welsh language text must be positioned so as to be read first.’ and; ‘Replacement signage on Welsh Government trunk roads will be taken forward as part of general rolling programme of renewals with priority given to main routes.’

Democracy played no part in this. It was not a Welsh Labour party policy at the last Assembly elections. There was no public consultation. It just ‘happened’, with minimal media coverage or publicity. The document was published by the Crachach-controlled civil service, and it was rolled out from there. Road safety and the swift communication of information when travelling at high speed now comes a distant second to appeasing the Crachach and Welsh language campaigners.

Huw Thomas says he has renounced the Welsh language extremism of his youth, but upon becoming leader of Cardiff Council in 2017, a policy was rolled out of ‘Welsh first’ in official council correspondence. The 2011 Census showed that 84.25% of Cardiffians have no knowledge of Welsh, and 89.25% of the city’s population were unable to speak Welsh, yet Welsh is now the first language on official council emails. Why? Who authorised this? Who benefits from it? It’s just another subtle way of letting the non-Welsh speaking vast majority know they are now second class citizens.

cardiff-council-welsh-speaker-e1550557435634.png

A typical Cardiff Council job advert in 2018

By making the ability to speak Welsh a requirement for an ever-increasing number of public sector jobs, the council is excluding the most suitable candidates for the jobs, in favour if candidates who may be of inferior ability in all other respects, but have the ability to speak Welsh. This inevitably has an impact on the quality of public services in the city.

This is by no means confined to Cardiff, and surveys claiming there is sufficient demand for Welsh language provision should be treated with suspicion.

For example, in December 2018, Newport Council created an online survey seeking people’s requirements for school services in English and Welsh. The survey was flawed for much the same reasons as was the case with the petition about Cardiff City stadium announcements. Those filling in the questionnaire were at no time required to provide their names or address so that it could be verified that they lived in the Newport Council area. In other words, there was nothing to prevent Welsh language activists from organising themselves online and distorting the survey for their own agenda.

Activists, or worse?

It is not always easy to define where the line is crossed between general Welsh nationalism, Welsh language activism, the Crachach and the darker elements that have been around in various forms for decades.

Between 1979 and 1990, Meibion Glyndwr carried out an arson campaign in which there were 228 attacks on English-owned holiday homes. As late as 1993, the organisation gave 19 English families an ultimatum: leave Wales by 1 March or be burned out. It is of course wrong to say that all Welsh nationalists are sympathetic to their agenda, a very large number have no time for them, but someone as high-profile as Gwynfor Evans was tempted voice his support, which led him into conflict with his next-but-one successor as President of Plaid Cymru, the more moderate Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who was unequivocal in his condemnation of them, and refused to consider them Welsh nationalists. Yet there is a blurring of the lines, insofar as there appear to be rather a lot of books and folk songs in Welsh language culture eulogising their efforts.

Nowadays, the main Welsh language pressure group is Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, who are not involved in anything as dangerous as arson attacks, but are certainly not immune to committing acts of vandalism and thuggery, such as the 2001 spraying of graffiti on shops in Cardiff city centre, or the 2011 break in and trashing of the constituency office of prominent Welsh Conservative Party politicians Jonathan Evans MP and Jonathan Morgan AM.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg does appear to have a certain level of support among the Welsh language establishment, and they are frequently reported in a sympathetic way by BBC Wales and others whenever they are looking for a quote on a story about the Welsh language, and prominent Welsh language entertainers such as Geraint Lovgreen have donated money to the organisation.

On a lower level, it is clear that there is a significant ongoing problem, especially in parts of North Wales, of hatred, abuse and insults being aimed at non-Welsh speakers.North Wales Police Welsh Language

This chart, which came following a Freedom of Information request to North Wales Police, gives a comparison of the number of such incidents aimed at Welsh speakers and English speakers from 2005 until March 2016.

It is clear that in every single year, the incidents against English speakers by far outweighs those against Welsh speakers, though for some reason, a disproportionally low number of incidents against English speakers were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. It’s also notable how little we hear about this from BBC Wales or other Crachach-controlled Welsh media outlets.

In recent years, this sort of behaviour has extended to social media. It can be found on all the main platforms, but by far the worst is, unsurprisingly, Twitter. It follows a peculiar pattern: Very few of these accounts use their real names or include a profile picture. A tiny number have a sizeable following in the thousands, and those that have a decent number of followers often define their account as an unofficial body combining support for the Wales national football team and Welsh nationalism. Yet beyond this handful of accounts, the vast majority only have a few hundred followers (if that), most are based in West or North West Wales, and all behave in a very similar way.

Jeremy Vine

Jeremy Vine

They find a particular ’cause for the day’. That could be broadcaster Jeremy Vine  composing a tweet of which they do not approve, Iceland supermarkets refusing to put Welsh language signs in their stores, or Virgin Trains refusing to give Welsh language announcements when West Coast trains briefly cross the border into Wales to stop at Wrexham and Chester. They then bombard the company or individual with threatening, abusive tweets for a day or two, before moving on to their next cause.

At best, the behaviour of these anonymous trolls can be described as babyish, or school playground behaviour.  Gutter language is banded about freely. Words like ‘English’ are used as casual terms of abuse. At worst, it is extremely menacing, and the content of their tweets could fairly be described as deviant. The fact that such thoughts go through their heads, let alone make it into a tweet, gives cause for concern about their mental state.

Mr Vine and others have felt the need to apologise to the mob, wrongly believing that they represent the people of Wales. In reality, the anonymity of almost all of these accounts, combined with the low number of followers and similar use of language strongly suggests that they are an organised mob, rather small in number, but have numerous Twitter accounts, by which, to the untrained eye, their support base may appear far bigger than it actually is.

One of their most recent targets has been celebrity chef James Martin. A recent episode of his programme, ‘James Martin’s Great British Adventure’ contained several glaring errors about Welsh geography, but the issue that most seems to have riled the mob is his referral to Wales as a ‘principality’. The International Organisation for Standardisation has defined Wales as a ‘country’ rather than a ‘principality’ since 2011, but Wales is still commonly referred to as a ‘principality’, and Prince Charles is still very much the Prince of Wales. Indeed, former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Elis Thomas, currently the Welsh Government’s tourism minister, promotes Wales as ‘a principality within a United Kingdom’.

James Martin1

To the outside world, this organised mob of Twitter trolls appear ludicrous and childlike, but these people appear to live in an echo chamber by which they judge a two or three-figure number of ‘likes’ for their tweets as validation for their behaviour (known as ‘confirmation bias’). They seem to have no comprehension as to how their behaviour is being viewed by those outside their bubble. It risks Mr Martin, Mr Vine and potentially millions of others viewing the Welsh as hypersensitive, humourless bullies. Of course, the vast majority of people living in Wales don’t behave in that way and  really aren’t that bothered by any of these matters. As Neil Kinnock cautioned in the House of Commons during a speech on 15 March 1979: “Never mistake the enthusiasm of the minority for the support of the majority.”James Martin 2

From what I can tell, a lot of these accounts are operated by young males. It may well be the case that they have lived their entire lives within small Welsh-speaking communities in West and North West Wales. This may be clouding their judgement, or may go someway towards explaining the paranoid suspicion they appear to have towards English people, or even non-Welsh speakers in Wales.

I have a policy of not engaging with the mob, and would advise others to do the same. There is no point in trying to debate rationally with someone who hides not only behind a keyboard, but also behind a pseudonym and a picture of bacon and eggs, or a cartoon of some obscure Welsh prince from the Middle Ages. A good rule to live by is that if people are not willing to debate with you using their real identity, they are not worthy of your time or attention.

One has to ask why the mob resort to such aggression and gutter language? I put it down to them not knowing how to debate sensibly. They live their daily lives entirely among their own small community, and are not used to having their attitudes and opinions challenged. The internet, in particular social media, exposes them to viewpoints they have seldom encountered before. They have also had 40 years of successive governments giving them more and more of what they want, so are not accustomed to having to explain why they hold the views they do.

I very much doubt many of the mob are interested in listening to advice from me, but to those that are, I suggest they take steps to broaden their horizons. Paranoia and fear of ‘the other’ appears to be widespread in their communities. My advice? Go and spend a few years at a university in England. If you are not academically-minded, move to a town or city in England for six months, live in a cheap bedsit, and get a job in a bar or a restaurant. You will be mixing with English people day in and day out. You will soon realise that these people are not a different species – there are good and bad people everywhere you go in life, and it’s certainly not the case that people from England are involved in some bizarre plot to suppress Wales or undermine the Welsh language.

England is not ‘out to get’ you, and English people are not involved in some grand conspiracy against you. Hatred of English people is moronic and irrational. Even if you choose to return to your towns and villages in Wales after a period away, you will do so greatly enriched and with much broader horizons as a result of your experience.

Education in Wales – a system in crisis

One of the major changes that has taken place during my lifetime has been the dogmatic imposition of the Welsh language on schoolchildren in areas where there is no modern history of the language being widely used, and little evidence of parental demand for Welsh language education.

I attended Holy Family Primary School in Pentrebane, Cardiff, between 1988 and 1995. Until around the time of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I barely heard a word of Welsh at school. Parents who wanted their children to be taught in Welsh could send them to a Welsh language primary school a short walk away. Parents had the freedom to choose the language in which their children were educated, which, in my view, is how it should be.

Things really began to change a few months into the 1994/95 academic year, when once a week, a teacher came in for one hour a week to teach us Welsh. In reality, it didn’t extend much beyond her teaching us to count to ten, the days of the week, colours, and a few children’s songs. Beyond that, a policy was introduced of ‘Welsh being used in a classroom context’. When the register was taken each morning and afternoon, we were no longer told to answer, ‘Yes, Mrs Sullivan’ but ‘Uma, Mrs Sullivan’ (is that even the correct Welsh word to use? I am not sure). Little stickers started appearing above classroom objects saying ‘cyfrifiadur’, ‘teledu’ and ‘bwrdd du’.

I recall on one afternoon, the older classes were taken into the school hall to learn the national anthem. It succeeded (I can sing it word-perfectly), but we were taught ways of remembering it that some may consider crude and unsuitable, for example, ‘mae hen’ became ‘my hen’. Even at the age of 11, I could tell that all this was essentially a box-ticking exercise. It wasn’t a meaningful gateway to the Welsh language or Welsh language culture.

From 1995-2000, I attended Corpus Christi High School, where Welsh was a compulsory subject until the end of year 9. For the first year, I ‘got by’, but in year 8, with the same teacher, I really struggled. Then, in year 9, something extraordinary happened, which I still can’t quite understand. I was in a much smaller class of about 12 pupils, with a different teacher. Welsh lessons became fun and a good laugh. I quickly made enormous progress, and it wasn’t long before I was near the top of the class.

At the end of year 9, we had the option of taking Welsh to GCSE level or dropping it. My year group was the last to be able to do so, as after that Welsh to GCSE became compulsory. The said teacher was mildly disappointed that I wasn’t continuing with it to GCSE level. Maybe if I knew for sure that she would be my teacher for the following two years, I’d have continued with it. Instead, I decided to take French and Spanish, which I was also fairly strong at, and both would enable me to communicate with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world.

And that marked the end of me learning Welsh. In the years since, further top-down measures to impose the Welsh language upon the education system have been introduced by the Welsh Government, under pressure from the Crachach in the civil service and elsewhere.

In July 2017, Educations Minister Kirsty Williams (who is, in theory, a Liberal Democrat) introduced a strategy aimed at creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050.  No great effort has been made to explain what the advantages will be of doing this, nor has the strategy been properly costed, probably for fear that it would lead voters to conclude that the money could be better spent on improving our public services and creaking infrastructure.

This was followed in January 2019 by an announcement that from 2022, all pupils will follow the same curriculum for the Welsh language, but English-medium pupils will not necessarily be expected to meet the same standard as Welsh-medium students. The Welsh Government has announced that there will be an intensive training programme for primary school teachers in particular, to ensure they have the required skill, but once again, they haven’t reviewed how much it would cost, how much time it will take, whether the aim is realistic (it almost certainly is not) nor have they explained what the tangible benefits of this measure will be.

A number of local councils have claimed that there is increasing demand for Welsh language education in their areas, and have created new schools to meet this. We have already seen how these ‘surveys’ can be skewed (such as the above example with Newport Council), but that aside, it is very often difficult to obtain accurate data on how they reached these conclusions. Freedom of Information requests are often met with responses along the lines of how they do not have specific data, which is often followed by a platitude about their ‘commitment to bilingualism’.

Despite all these measures, the Census of 2011 showed that the number of Welsh speakers actually fell in the previous decade. In 18 of the 22 local authority areas in Wales, a minimum of 67% of people were classed as having ‘no knowledge of Welsh’. The lesson that can be taken from this is that dogmatic measures to impose the Welsh language on children do not work. Those who are genuinely interested in seeing the Welsh language thrive on its merits should watch this short film by journalist Eoin Butler  provides us with interesting parallels with the Irish language. One particular segment stands out. Butler says:

“I think the truth is that compulsory Irish is a failed policy, but that a network of vested interests have grown up around it, keeping it in place. This network acts as a support system, not for the language, but for itself. It does nothing to really promote the language, or to broaden its appeal.”

Ireland appears to have its own version of the Crachach. Replace the word ‘Irish’ for ‘Welsh’ in that package, and every single word would ring true for the situation in Wales.

Butler offers an interesting solution, by comparing it to the revival and modern-day popularity of the Gaelic games. For 70 years the GAA had a closed, defensive mentality. Its members were banned, not just from playing, but from even attending soccer or rugby matches. Back then, the GAA didn’t have the confidence to believe that their games could survive in open competition with other sports. Archive footage from that time shows that Gaelic games were pretty unsophisticated.

Today, the ban is long gone, and GAA players are elite athletes. GAA, with minimal state involvement and zero compulsion, has never been more popular. GAA was once a minority interest, the way the Irish language is now. If children were encouraged to embrace the language, the way they do the sport, not out of duty or obligation, but out of genuine affection, the Irish language could thrive. The same applies to Welsh. Growth happens by consent, not compulsion or imposition.

A likely explanation for the decline in the Welsh language in the decade to 2011 is one based on economics. A lack of jobs opportunities in West and North West Wales is resulting in Welsh-speaking young people permanently leaving the area, often to English-speaking parts of Wales or to England itself, and English inevitably becomes the main language with which they lead their lives.

It is right and proper that we acknowledge that it is important to some parents in some parts of Wales that their children are educated primarily through the medium of Welsh. We should respect that and ensure that sufficient school places and resources are made available to them.

But many other parents have very different priorities, particularly in areas of Wales where the Welsh language has not been widely spoken for many generations. Many of these parents consider it essential that their children are educated primarily in the English language. They consider the English language to be a tremendous gift, and one that will open doors for their children in the ever-more-global jobs market they will be entering. Not only is English the language of the family home and local community, it is the international language of business, and of the internet, and of science and technology.

Yes, it is true that Welsh language schools also teach English as well, but English is a complex language that is best mastered through frequent, daily use. In my experience in the workplace and elsewhere, people who were educated in Welsh often have difficulties with English grammar and comprehension, with a tendency to spell words phonetically. One frequent example I’ve encountered is when the Welsh nationalist bullies look to throw a cheap insult at me on social media, they frequently use my lack of hair as a target (something I couldn’t care less about), but they often use the word ‘bold’ instead of ‘bald’.

Parents who wish for their children to be taught in English very often consider it important that their children have the opportunities to learn foreign languages, which will open doors to them in the global jobs market, such as Mandarin, spoken by 1.2 billion, Spanish, spoken by 437 million, French, spoken by 220 million, German, spoken by 95 million, or Russian, spoken by 166 million. By contrast, Welsh is spoken by around 600,000 people (at a most generous estimate) in Wales (almost all of whom can speak English), and by below 5,000 people in Patagonia, and, erm, nowhere else. The Welsh language, not part of their family or community culture, will not enable them to communicate with millions of people around the world. Modern languages will. The sole advantage of learning Welsh is that it will enable them to apply for an ever-increasing number of public sector and media jobs in Wales where there is a Welsh language requirement, not due to public demand, but to fulfil a political dogma.

Proponents of Welsh language education often argue that it is not a case of ‘either/or’ and that children can learn both Welsh and foreign languages. Indeed they can, but there are a limited number of hours in a school day and something has to ‘give’ in the timetable to accommodate Welsh lessons. In my case, I would have needed to drop French or Spanish to accommodate Welsh, which would have limited my ability to communicate with a vast section of the global population. To put it bluntly, many parents in English-speaking parts of Wales regard every hour their child is forced to spend learning Welsh as an hour that could be better spent learning a language vast numbers of people actually speak in the wider world.

As Gwyn Thomas put it: “Every active Welsh speaking nationalist is denying the Welshman the chance to fulfil his glorious function upon this world, that is to be a man of great imagination, great compassion in the language that would reach more people than any other.”

We should also not overlook the reality of Welsh medium schools under-performing in terms of English and foreign language academic attainment. According to the international PISA rankings, exam results in Wales are lagging behind those of all other UK nations. Since 2011, the percentage of Welsh medium teachers going into secondary education who have a degree in Welsh is 38%, the highest percentage of any subject for an initial degree. By comparison, just 2% have a degree in English.

In Welsh language schools, English results suffer and modern foreign language teaching is reduced. Gwynedd has 13 Welsh language secondary schools and just one English.  just 10% of pupils entered a modern foreign language GCSE in 2018. Gwynedd has the worst GCSE results in the whole of Wales. Only ONE school achieved above the national average – yep, you’ve guessed it, the English language secondary school. The worst school in Wales was Ysgol y Berwyn in Bala, where just 23% of pupils reached level 2 in English.

This Freedom of Information request reveals just how truly appalling Welsh medium GCSE English results were in 2018. Parents who choose to send their children to Welsh medium schools should do so with an understanding of how they could hinder their child’s ability to speak, write and comprehend English. The complete results for every school in Wales are available via this FOI request here.

Conclusion

Wales needs to have an honest conversation with itself. Many people know and understand what the problems are, and of the influence the Crachach has over public life in Wales, but choose to remain silent, for fear of it affecting their jobs. The Welsh economy is hugely reliant on the public sector for employment. Many other people work for third sector bodies, who are dependant on the benevolence of the public sector for their continuation. For these reasons, many people are reluctant to ‘bite the hand that feeds them’.

This is entirely understandable, but it comes at a cost. No man is an island. He (or indeed she) may choose not to rock the boat, but, for example, when his child is forced to attend an under-performing school, there is a price to be paid for his silence. When that child becomes older, and is excluded from vast sections of the jobs market due to Welsh language imposition, wider society suffers. We have now reached a stage where remaining silent is no longer a luxury we can afford.

Wales requires huge subsidies from elsewhere to sustain its standard of living. This comes in many forms, including the Barnett formula and EU grants. The United Kingdom is a net contributor to the EU, however, Wales is a net beneficiary. Post-Brexit, many of the EU grants that come to Wales will be replaced by subsidies from the English taxpayer. This will leave the English taxpayer in a position of being made to subsidise Wales, but having no democratic say in the composition of the Assembly, who have power over devolved matters. This is constitutionally dangerous and risks becoming the source of increased friction between England and Wales.

At our best, we the people of Wales, are people of great imagination, creativity, wit and ambition. But we cannot fulfil our potential for as long as a small, self-serving Crachach elite are using the Welsh language as a weapon with which to ostracise vast swathes of the population and consolidate their own narrow self-interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Marcus Stead

February 26, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Brooke Bond D – The rise and fall of a British institution

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By MARCUS STEAD

IT HELPED ease the financial hardships of the working classes in the pre and post-war years, evolved into the beverage of choice for an iconic motor racing champion in the 1970s, and morphed into a cool, hip, even middle class brand in the 1980s, but Brooke Bond Dividend, latterly known as Brooke Bond D, died a quiet death at the age of 83 earlier this year, almost entirely unnoticed.

Brooke Bond D Box 1Brooke Bond Dividend Tea launched in 1935 as the company’s value product to compliment the mid-market PG Tips, which it began producing five years earlier from its factory at Trafford Park near Manchester. Each packet contained a picture card and a cut-out stamp, with 60 needed to fill a book that could be redeemed for cash or gifts. For many years, a full book of 60 stamps could be exchanged for 5/- cash or groceries from retailers.

An early billboard campaign featured a drawing of a young married couple with the slogan ‘Spend Wisely, Save Wisely’. The blend of the nation’s favourite beverage and an incentive to save money proved a hit with the working classes.

By 1939, the brand was firmly established, and a series of newspaper adverts appeared with advice from a fictional, caricatured ‘Dr Jollywell’, who espoused the tea’s qualities for helping the digestive system. In one advert, the good doctor told readers: “Take care of your digestion. Drink the digestive tea that gives you FLAVOUR. Brooke Bond Dividend Digestive Tea has a flavour all can enjoy – and it pays a dividend. Brooke Bond Dividend Digestive Tea is blended with expert skill. It gives you your full moneysworth, in favour and digestibility – and the dividend saves you 4d on every 1lb you buy.”

The same year, ‘The Brooke Bond Programmes’ aired on Radio Luxemburg (1293m) and Radio Normandy (274m) six mornings per week.

But storm clouds were gathering for dividend stamp collectors with the outbreak of World War II in September that year, and when rationing was introduced in 1940, the book-filling process was slowed down for millions as tea was restricted to 2oz per adult, per week.

Tea rations gradually increased in the years after the war ended and had reached the pre-war consumption level of 3oz per head some time before restrictions were lifted on 3 October 1952. The same year, Gerald Brooke, son of company founder Arthur, retired as chairman, under whose tenure the company’s tea packet trade had multiplied 20 times, helped in large part by Brooke Bond Dividend’s reputation for striking a balance between affordability while maintaining quality with a blend of 30 teas.

Gerald was succeeded by high-powered, resilient son John, and company turnover exceeded £68 million in 1954, with the majority of sales coming from quarter pound packets of tea, of which one thousand million were sold globally throughout the year, and three years later, the company was probably the largest in the world, with a one third share in both the British and Indian tea markets.

These were the boom times for Brooke Bond. In 1958, the company’s head office moved to Cannon Street, London, and by 1963, the company owned 30,000 acres of tea plantations in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Africa, employing 50,000 people.

The humble tea bag was created by accident in 1908, when New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began shipping Indian and Chinese tea to his customers in small silk sample packages. Assuming they were supposed to submerge the entire bag into boiling water, his customers unintentionally revolutionised tea drinking for at least the next 100 years, and in the 1920s the fabric was changed to gauze, though it took until 1953 before Tetley, one of Brooke Bond’s biggest rivals, brought the concept to Britain.

To begin with, tea bags were regarded as a gimmick by most in the industry and Brooke Bond resisted the temptation to follow their rivals until well into the 1960s, when it became clear that the concept was here to stay as consumers became used to the convenience. The company went from strength to strength, and in 1968 it merged with Liebig, owners of food brands including Oxo and Fray Bentos.

When Britain ‘went decimal’ in February 1971, a completed card of 60 dividend stamps could be exchanged for 25p in cash or groceries at stores that sold Brooke Bond D. Twelve months later, Brooke Bond’s share of the British tea market had grown to 40%. The midmarket PG Tips was brand leader with 20%, while Dividend held a respectable 12%.

Dividend tea remained popular throughout the 1970s, but Brooke Bond showed signs of evolving the concept, as by the middle of the decade a giant ‘D’ covered most of the packaging, with the word ‘dividend’ reduced to smaller lettering near the top. The brand’s prominence was maintained by regular newspaper and TV adverts, including one featuring Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen based around the Herbert and Sullivan song ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’.

As the 1970s gave way to the more aggressively capitalist world of the 1980s, the dividend stamp scheme came to an end and the tea was rebranded ‘Brooke Bond D’, though it remained instantly recognisable as the ‘D’ had been prominent on the packaging for some years.

Throughout the 1980s, attempts were made to move the brand’s image away from its downmarket, ‘scrimp and save’ image and give it a cooler edge. Brand loyalty was maintained with incentives such as the ‘Brooke Bond D – Reviving Stuff’ series of cassette tapes featuring classic chart hits, which could be redeemed for coupons on the back of packets, and in the first half of the decade, blocky computer graphics were used in its TV advertising campaign with the strapline ‘The Tea With the 3D Taste’.

Brooke Bond Liebig was subject to a hostile takeover by multinational giants Unilever in 1984, and two years later, Brooke Bond D’s longest-running and best-remembered advertising campaign began with soul singer Madeline Bell providing the vocals to ‘I Could Do with a D’, which had varying lyrics to fit the accompanying pictures, penned by the late Ronnie Bond. A non-PC advert from 1986 featured ‘Only Fools and Horses’ actor John Challis (well, it looks like him – what do you think?) playing the boss of a glamorous young yuppy who uses a typewriter to inflict an injury on him when he touches her knee. An early 1990s version saw actress Jane Cunliffe as an ever-busy ‘mumsy’ figure to a family with young children, with new lyrics to accompany the by-then familiar tune. There was also a ‘How Many Ds in Match of the Day?’ advert that aired around this period.

But the 1990s heralded the beginning of the end for Brooke Bond D. It lived on for another two decades, but its very gradual demise and fade from the public view was underway. The TV adverts came to a permanent end in the middle of the decade, and its presence on supermarket shelves reduced with every year that passed.

The brand was no longer one of Unilever’s priorities, so the licence to produce Brooke Bond D and the upmarket Brooke Bond Choicest Blend was sold to Gold Crown Foods Ltd, who produced rival brand Typhoo in neighbouring rival Merseyside.

Brooke Bond D Box 2

The back of a box of D Tea in 2018, complete with early 1990s pictures

The company (now trading as Typhoo Tea Ltd) removed the words ‘Brooke Bond’ from the packaging, which otherwise remained identical, with a green box and a bright yellow ‘D’ on the front, and a picture of an early 1990s family sat around a kitchen table, complete with tea pot and teenage boy with a ‘mop top’ haircut. The Brooke Bond brand quietly disappeared from the UK, but it lives on in other countries, including Pakistan, where ‘Brooke Bond Supreme’ is the market leader.

During the 2000s and into the 2010s, D Tea, while consistent in taste and familiar in appearance, was increasingly regarded as a ‘budget’ tea, sold mainly in local convenience stores and in pound shops, usually in a ‘50% extra free’ box with 120 bags for the price of 80. Perhaps this was, in a sense, a return to its ‘dividend’ roots and a ‘tea of the people’.

Typhoo ceased production in 2011, but this wasn’t the end of the story, as discount retailers buy huge quantities of staple products years in advance, meaning D Tea remained a regular presence on the shelves, as well as being sold on Typhoo’s own website, and by a number of independent retailers on Amazon.

The death knell finally sounded in August this year with the demise of Poundworld, which was the last major retailer with reserve supplies of D Tea.

We are now a country that drinks twice as much coffee as tea. The humble tea bag won’t be disappearing from the shelves any time soon, but it is forced to compete for space alongside herbal, green and an ever-expanding range of flavoured counterparts.

D Tea was unable to define its purpose on the shelves of 21st century Britain where a no frills cup of tea is no longer the nation’s default drink, and where dividend stamps and collector’s coupons have given way to loyalty cards and online discount codes.

Written by Marcus Stead

November 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

Censorship?: Troubled Leanne Wood Urges S4C Not To Air Katie Hopkins Interview

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By MARCUS STEAD

PLAID Cymru leader Leanne Wood has been accused of stifling free speech after she put pressure on a broadcaster not to proceed with plans to air an interview with controversial TV personality Katie Hopkins.

Wood, who is set to be ousted as leader on Friday after a string of disappointing election results triggered a bitter leadership contest, urged Welsh language broadcaster S4C not to show the interview: “Giving airtime to someone who attacks our culture and our efforts to promote it is not ‘freedom on [sic] speech’, it is cheap sensationalism that gives oxygen to a dangerous hatemonger” she tweeted on Tuesday.

Leanne Wood Letter 1Leanne Wood Letter 2Two days later, Wood wrote an open letter to Huw Jones, Chair of the S4C Authority and Owen Evans, Chief Executive of S4C, in which she wrote: “Katie Hopkins was interviewed on the basis of her recent comments about the Welsh language calling it ‘a dead language’ and claiming that it was causing low educational standards in Wales. These statements are discriminatory, false and misleading. It is baffling to me that Wales’s national Welsh language broadcaster would want to facilitate the broadcasting of these views and give Katie Hopkins airtime and attention.”

Hopkins, 43, received praise and criticism for her online documentary earlier this month in which she exposed shortcomings in the Welsh education system, where international PISA rankings consistently show the country under-performing in English, Maths and Science, which she claimed was in large part due to the Welsh Government’s policy of increasing use of the Welsh language in the education system, including in parts of the country where it is rarely spoken.

Despite the orchestrated backlash from Welsh language campaigners on Twitter, Hopkins’s programme received more than 2,300 ‘thumbs up’ votes on YouTube, compared to just 185 ‘thumbs down’.

Earlier this week, Hopkins returned to the principality to be interviewed by ITV Wales, who produce the S4C current affairs show ‘Y Byd yn ei Le’ about her views on the Welsh language, during which she challenged Wood to sit their Welsh, Maths and English GCSEs together.

S4C was originally due to air the interview during next Tuesday’s edition of the programme, but showed signs of bowing to pressure following a barrage of tweets from Welsh language campaigners to its official account. S4C responded: “Yes, Katie Hopkins has been interviewed by @bydyneilen. The production team will be considering the interview in the coming days.”

Hopkins responded to the claims, saying:  “I was delighted to be asked by ITV Wales to share my view on the failing Welsh school system. It is clear the Welsh government has its priorities all wrong.

“The cost of its obsession with a dead language is paid for by Welsh students – leaving with poor grades and at the bottom of the PISA league tables in the U.K. for English, Maths and Science. Welsh nationalists should be ashamed.”

Guto Harri

Guto Harri

The interview was conducted by the programme’s main presenter, Guto Harri, a  former Chief Political Correspondent of the BBC who went on to work as an adviser to David Cameron and was Boris Johnson’s Communications Director when he was Mayor of London.

In a tweet, Wood asked Harri if it ‘was a spoof’. Harri slammed Wood’s accusations by sending her a tweet that said: “As u know @bydyneile doesn’t “give a platform”. We challenge + expose flaws. Influential commentators can be more dangerous than politicians. Outrageous views need confronting. You missed a thoughtful programme tonight whilst tweeting about another you haven’t seen. Nos da” (‘goodnight’ in Welsh).

Hopkins tweeted a response to Wood and her allies: “Dear Crazy Welsh Nationalists. Guto Harri is a friend. Incidentally, he describes Leanne Wood as incredibly Stupid His team rearranged the schedule for their S4C show ‘Y Byd yn ei Le’ to ensure I could appear Hope this helps to clarify things xx”.

Jacques Protic, a single parent from North Wales who does not believe his children should be forced to learn or speak Welsh, said: “Katie Hopkins made an immense contribution to the Welsh education debate, which up to a few days ago was simply non-existent by articulating the key issue that is behind the failing standards and the abysmal state of the Welsh education – the Welsh language imposition.

“Katie had and used the solid evidence available via the Freedom of Information disclosures from the Welsh Governments education statistics which clearly show that at the KS2 stage, children in the Welsh Medium Education who do not have Welsh at home significantly underperform and, in all subjects, when compared to children undergoing the English Medium Education.

“This is not about being anti-Welsh, but about giving our children the best possible start in primary years education and through the language they speak and understand – In other words the Welsh Government must remove the Welsh language compulsion and allow parents to be the only arbiters when it comes to choosing the educational language for their children.”

Leanne Wood

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

Wood is likely to be ousted as leader of the Welsh nationalist party by outspoken MP Adam Price on Friday, with former BBC Wales Political Editor Rhun ap Iorweth also in contention for the job.

Plaid Cymru currently has only around 8,000 members, compared to approximately 125,500 in its Scottish sister party, the SNP.

Since Wood becoming leader in 2012, Plaid Cymru’s share of the vote has remained almost stagnant, going from 0.5% in 2010 to 0.6% last year, resulting in an increase from three MPs to four, while at the 2016 National Assembly elections, the party returned 12 AMs, up just one from the heavy losses it suffered in 2011.

Appetite for Welsh independence remains low, with opinion polls consistently putting the figure at around 15%, with most of the support coming from the party’s heartlands in the west and north west of Wales.

Earlier this month, Hopkins received widespread targeted abuse on social media from Welsh language campaigners following her documentary for online broadcaster Rebel Media, in which she explored the reasons why so many Welsh parents choose to home school their children.

Ceredigion in Mid Wales has the second highest home schooling rate in the UK behind the Isle of Wight, which Hopkins claimed is due to parents not wanting their children to be taught in Welsh, along with concerns about the country’s poor examination results, while others said their exceptionally bright children were being held back in a classroom environment.

Towards the end of the documentary, Hopkins carried out a vox pop in Cardiff city centre where young people who attended Welsh language schools claimed they had been punished for speaking English in the playground.

Written by Marcus Stead

September 27, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

An open letter to my cousin, Phil Stead

with 12 comments

I have never met my cousin, Phil Stead, but would very much like to. He took the trouble to write this open letter to me earlier today. Here is my response: 

Dear Phil,

Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful letter. I’d also like to wish you and Mair a happy 20th wedding anniversary.

I shall now address the points you made in the order you made them.

Our family

I can clearly remember when I discovered you and I were related. It would have been 1998-2000, and I signed up to the old Cardiff City FC newsgroup mailing list. I saw some of your posts and found it curious that there was another Stead on there. Soon after my first post, you contacted me to try and establish how we were related, as you were very keen on family tree research at that time.

I wish it had happened a little earlier, because my grandfather, Emlyn, who died in 1998, would almost certainly have been able to answer any question about our family tree you had asked. I asked my late father, Vincent, for his help in the questions you posed, but he couldn’t answer everything. He knew your father when he was a boy, but his memory of it seemed vague and they hadn’t seen each other for decades. He wasn’t able to say very much at all about what sort of a person your father was.

It is somewhat surprising that we have never met in person, because we both write about sport and share a number of interests. I have been asked many times if I am related to you, and we have a number of mutual friends and colleagues. You were supporting the Bluebirds in the ‘bad old days’ and I greatly admired the principled stance you took when the club’s colours were changed from blue to red. I have seen you on television several times and you come across well. Mutual acquaintances speak highly of you, so I have no personal axe to grind.

My experience of the Welsh language

Just like you, the Welsh language barely featured at all in my early education. I attended Holy Family Primary School in Pentrebane, Cardiff, between 1988 and 1995. Until around the time of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I barely heard a word of Welsh at school. Parents who wanted their children to be taught in Welsh could send them to a Welsh language primary school a short walk away. Parents had the freedom to choose the language in which their children were educated, which, in my view, is how it should be.

Things really began to change a few months into the 1994/95 academic year, when once a week, a teacher came in for one hour a week to teach us Welsh. In reality, it didn’t extend much beyond her teaching us to count to ten, the days of the week, colours, and a few children’s songs. Beyond that, a policy was introduced of ‘Welsh being used in a classroom context’. When the register was taken each morning and afternoon, we were no longer told to answer, ‘Yes, Mrs Sullivan’ but ‘Uma, Mrs Sullivan’ (is that even the correct Welsh word to use? I am not sure). Little stickers started appearing above classroom objects saying ‘cyfrifiadur’, ‘teledu’ and ‘bwrdd du’.

I recall on one afternoon, the older classes were taken into the school hall to learn the national anthem. It succeeded (I can sing it word-perfectly), but the way it was taught may not be to your approval. We were taught ways of remembering it that you may consider crude and unsuitable, for example, ‘mae hen’ became ‘my hen’. Even at the age of 11, I could tell that all this was essentially a box-ticking exercise. It wasn’t a meaningful gateway to the Welsh language or Welsh language culture.

From 1995-2000, I attended Corpus Christi High School, where Welsh was a compulsory subject until the end of year 9. For the first year, I ‘got by’, but in year 8, with the same teacher, I really struggled. Then, in year 9, something extraordinary happened, which I still can’t quite understand. I was in a much smaller class of about 12 pupils, with a different teacher. Welsh lessons became fun and a good laugh. I quickly made enormous progress, and it wasn’t long before I was near the top of the class!

At the end of year 9, we had the option of taking Welsh to GCSE level or dropping it. My year group was the last to be able to do so, as after that Welsh to GCSE became compulsory. The said teacher was mildly disappointed that I wasn’t continuing with it to GCSE level. Maybe if I knew for sure that she would be my teacher for the following two years, I’d have continued with it. Instead, I decided to take French and Spanish, which I was also fairly strong at, and both would enable me to communicate with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world.

And that marked the end of me learning Welsh. You went down a very different path at around the same age, and I am happy for you. I don’t begrudge you a single second of the experiences you describe that clearly meant a lot to you.

Crachach 

There are sadly no Steads left in my particular branch of the family. Those that I knew were mainly Labour voters, and unionists who could take or leave the Royal Family (though my father was definitely a republican). However, I am not connected to any political party, though people tell me I am ‘on the right’ (whatever that means). My values are: National sovereignty (UK), a low-tax economy, strong families, law and order, proper education, free speech, freedom, a ‘small state’ and personal responsibility.  I support the Royal Family as an institution, though I criticise individual members when I want to.

You refer to the singing of ‘There’ll Always Be an England’ during the Silver Jubilee of 1977. I have no objection to that. I will happily join in many songs from the UK nations. I don’t see it as an ‘either/or’ choice. I am proud to be Welsh. I am also proud to call England my neighbouring country. I am proud to have links in my bloodline to Devon, Herefordshire (as you remind me), Yorkshire and Italy.

I do question your claim that the ‘Crachach’ closed-shop elite is mythical. I have seen many examples of it in the arts, media, civil service and higher education in Wales. The late Ian Skidmore once wrote a blog article, sadly no longer available, titled ‘Wales is a Limitedd Company’ which detailed his own experiences of this while working at BBC Wales. Paddy French’s ‘Rebecca Television’ website also provides many detailed examples of this. Carolyn Hitt wrote an amusing parody of the Crachach in 2006. I know of journalists and broadcasters who feel ‘frozen out’ because they’re not part of the clique (being a Welsh speaker alone isn’t enough – the right family connections help), but have gone on to have successful careers on the other side of the Severn Bridge and beyond. There is an establishment in Wales that ‘looks after its own’.

Love Island 

It is of course wrong that the local community in Cefn Mably were sneering at your wife’s accent, but it sounds to me as though your heart was set on a move to North Wales in any case. I have had people mocking my accent during periods when I’ve lived and worked in England, and it’s just one of those things you learn to laugh off, or find a witty rebuke.

However, I strongly disagree with you when you say that Welsh speakers never speak Welsh to exclude strangers. I’ve seen it myself in Welsh media circles and I’ve spoken to many English visitors to our country who have had similar experiences. It is basic good manners to communicate with people in a language they understand, if possible, when in their presence.

I am glad you and your wife have found happiness in North Wales. You had the freedom to make that choice and things seem to have worked out very well for you.

A reality check 

At no point have I said that I am anti-Welsh language. But I am pro-choice. I believe in freedom of choice in religion, sexuality, and for people to live their lives in the way they wish as long as it does not negatively impact on others. For that reason, I believe parents should have the choice as to whether their children are educated in English or Welsh.

There is no getting away from the fact that English is by far the main language of Wales. 80% of the population of Wales speaks little or no Welsh.

The story of the last 40 years in Wales is one of a group of small, but vocal Welsh language campaigners demanding more and more, and being given exactly what they want, regardless of cost or benefit to wider society. It began with road signs in English-speaking parts of Wales being produced in both English and Welsh after a stupid and dangerous campaign by Welsh language campaigners of painting over English-only road signs. This was followed by Gwynfor Evans threatening to starve himself to death unless S4C was created in 1982. This was followed by the Welsh Language Act of 1993, which led to a massive increase in the use of Welsh in the public sector, regardless of demand. This was followed by the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, which fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for. This was followed by another Welsh Language Act in 2011. In that same year, the Assembly’s powers were increased, which fewer than one in five of the people of Wales actually voted for.

To bring the story up to date, there is now a policy of ‘Welsh first’ road signs being gradually rolled out, regardless of the fact that in many cases these are in an area where only a tiny minority actually speak Welsh. Ever more provisions for the Welsh language are being made by the Welsh Language Commissioner, regardless of demand.

Value for Money? 

There appears to be a real reluctance among Welsh language campaigners I’ve encountered as to whether all this investment in the Welsh language provides value for money. A few examples:

1. S4C receives an annual subsidy of £80 million from the licence fee pot. That’s well over £1.4 million per week. Yet aside from Pobwl y Cwm, live sport and the news, very little programming on S4C gets more than 30,000 viewers per week. Why can’t we have a debate as to whether throwing money at S4C when demand for it is so low (even among Welsh speakers, evidently) is a good use of public money? It has seldom been successful. Some years ago, a well-known Welsh radio broadcaster from the 1980s (now retired and no longer living in Wales) told me that in the 1980s, he and a colleague at BBC Wales worked out that for certain S4C programmes, it would be cheaper to send out a VHS video to anyone who wanted to watch them than to broadcast them over the airwaves – and that was in an era of four channel TV before the audience fragmentation of today.

2. The number of Welsh speakers fell in the decade to 2012, despite huge investment in the language in education and the public sector. So maybe money isn’t the issue? Why can’t we debate this?

3. All local council correspondence is sent in English and Welsh. The Welsh language version ends up going straight in the bin in many households. Why can’t councils send a questionnaire to all households asking whether they’d like future correspondence in English or Welsh, and then just send it out in their chosen language? People get criticised for even suggesting that.

Some Welsh language campaigners struggle to accept the reality that most people in Wales do not share their agenda. Demand for Welsh independence is only around 15%. Plaid Cymru is tearing itself apart, and is not taken very seriously by a lot of people. Of those 80% of the people of Wales who speak little or no Welsh, few have any intention of learning.

Their vision of Wales is not a vision of Wales shared by others. Some of us think of Welsh culture in different ways – our industrial and mining heritage, music – from classical to Tom Jones to the Manic Street Preachers, various sporting achievements, Brains beer, Welsh cakes, a night on the town, our spectacular coast and countryside. That’s what Wales and being Welsh means to me, and to many, many others. I am proud to be Welsh, I am proud to be British, and I am proud of the various components that make up my ancestry.

As I have repeatedly said, I am all in favour of children learning Welsh at school if that is the will of their parents. But others would prefer their children to learn other languages instead. As the 21st Century progresses, the world will become an increasingly small place. The jobs market is effectively becoming global. Today’s children will be competing for jobs with alongside those from Asia, South America and many other emerging markets.

Therefore, many parents would prefer their children learnt Spanish, French, Mandarin or any language that will enable them to communicate with hundreds of millions of people across the world. By contrast, Welsh is spoken by 20% of the people of Wales, in Patagonia, and hardly anywhere else.

A frequent argument I hear is that it’s not ‘either/or’ and they can learn both or several of these languages. Indeed they can, but there are only so many hours in a school day. I took French, Spanish, History and Geography as my GCSE options. I’d have needed to have dropped one of those to accommodate Welsh lessons.

To clarify my point – I acknowledge that the Welsh language is important to SOME families in SOME areas of Wales. But to many others it is not. I can understand some Welsh language campaigners finding it a hard pill to swallow. I ask them to please try and lose this mentality of ‘WE are Wales – the non-Welsh speakers just live here.’ Wales is a small country with a small population. We cannot afford to drive out our best and brightest graduates because they feel shut out of the jobs market on the basis they cannot speak Welsh. We need the best available people in the best jobs.

We also need to be honest about how Wales is under-performing economically. Why isn’t the Welsh tourist industry doing better at a time when the pound is weak? Other areas of the UK are benefitting. Why is Wales lagging behind? When I posed this question on Twitter, and suggested POSSIBLE reasons why, I received a barrage of abuse, but not one sensible suggestion as to why it might be happening.

Just ONE of the FTSE top 100 companies is Welsh, and even that has American management. Why isn’t Wales more entrepreneurial? As the (actually rather likeable) Welsh establishment figure Geraint Talfan-Davies said on TV a few years ago, if Wales had a nickname, it would be ‘Grant’. We are heavily reliant on subsidies from the English taxpayer to maintain our standard of living. I don’t like that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. A disproportionate number of my friends and associates in Cardiff either work in the public sector or in retail. There isn’t anywhere near enough by way of small and medium-sized business activity.

The Eisteddfod 

Some people seem rather offended by one tweet in particular about the Eisteddfod with the ‘speaking Welsh or very drunk’ remark. I actually borrowed that joke from the Welsh language comedian, Daniel Glyn, who made exactly the same joke on a feature for a BBC Wales feature about Glantaf School that you posted a link to on your Facebook wall several years ago. Incidentally, Daniel made a remark in that same feature along the lines of, ‘some people feared that Glantaf opening would lead to the creation of a middle class Welsh speaking elite who’d end up getting all the best jobs…..and they were right!’ I’ve had professional dealings with Daniel a number of times and we seemed to get along, but surely this remark is an admission by him that the Crachach is very real? And as for his/my joke – why didn’t he receive a similar backlash for saying the same thing I did?

My reasons for not being a fan of the Eisteddfod are many – a ‘Mind Matters’ column in Wales Online in 2006 summed it up, slightly more crudely than I would, with the words: “It’s a mind-achingly banal cross between a Women’s Institute convention, a Morris Dancing championship and the annual Conservative Club summer fete. Harp-playing, dancing with brooms and tedious speech choirs may have their place in our national tradition but are they really going to keep the youth of tomorrow thronging to get in?”

Eisteddfod 1I tried very hard to watch a few hours of this afternoon’s Eisteddfod coverage on S4C and, despite 12 years having passed since that article was written, I’m afraid I found it difficult to argue with that definition. The site is just a short walk away from Butetown, one of the oldest and most racially-diverse communities anywhere in the UK, yet I didn’t see a single non-white face in the Wales Millennium Centre main hall or in the surrounding area outside throughout. This screenshot demonstrates that there were empty seats and a disproportionate number of those in attendance were elderly.

It doesn’t feel like a festival that celebrates all that is good about Wales – English speakers, Welsh speakers, different racial backgrounds, many faiths and so on. It felt very much like the Welsh ‘establishment’ speaking to itself at the expense of others, and, yes, I was bored watching it.

I don’t want to spoil anybody else’s enjoyment, but if there is to be a festival so narrow in scope, I don’t see why the public purse should be expected to subsidise it? I do not demand that the taxpayer subsidises my tastes in entertainment.

Conclusion 

There’s an old saying – ‘you are judged by the company you keep’, but I don’t agree with that. For instance, I don’t judge people by how unpleasant I find other members of their family. I also grasp that in politics, especially international politics, you sometimes have to be diplomatic with unpleasant characters for the greater good.

For that reason, I am glad that you are keen to distance yourself from those who have been harassing me in recent days, which extends well beyond Twitter, incidentally. Some of it, which I won’t describe on here, is now in the hands of the police, so I won’t comment any further, other than to say their behaviour has been utterly despicable and a disgrace to the cause they claim to represent.

I work on the assumption that if people are being foul-mouthed and abusive, they have lost the argument, and they have certainly lost the right to communicate with me, since my policy is to block and ignore all such people. It implies inadequate vocabulary and insecurity on their part.

But there is a wider question that needs to be asked as to why such a substantial number of Welsh language campaigners are so unpleasant and aggressive? I think what this boils down to is that over the course of the last 40 years, Welsh language campaigners have been asking for more and more, and have usually been given whatever they want. They’re not used to people challenging them or questioning whether every aspect of it is an appropriate use of public money. Unused to being challenged, they resort to insults, threats, and ever-more menacing behaviour. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their agenda is ‘fair game’ to be abused, threatened, or shouted down.

Dissent is not tolerated. A ‘live and let live’ attitude is out of the question. Injecting a bit of humour into the debate is a definite ‘no, no’. Anyone who doesn’t share their ideology needs to be bullied, abused and driven out of Wales. I should also point out that this ‘win at all costs’ mentality can be found in wider political discourse in the UK nowadays, and it is by no means confined to this issue.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I think it’s time we met up, don’t you? Anywhere that serves Brains SA or Felinfoel Double Dragon will do!

Written by Marcus Stead

August 8, 2018 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Doctor Doesn’t Always Know Best

with one comment

By MARCUS STEAD

How often do you question the advice your GP gives you? Are you aware of the intense lobbying that takes place between pharmaceutical giants and local GPs? Do you know how many more prescriptions are issued in the UK compared to just a decade ago?

My story, about how a prescription I did not need left me with serious health issues, should act as a warning for everybody. Here is the story of what happened to me, and the alarming evidence I discovered about why GPs prescribe so many unnecessary and sometimes harmful drugs:

During the summer of 2017, the toenails on my right foot became discoloured and brittle. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I was in no pain whatsoever and didn’t feel the need to bother my GP with it.

Around late October or early November, I visited my GP about an unrelated medical issue that has since been resolved, and I showed him my toenails in case the two problems were connected. He said that he thought it very likely I had a fungal nail infection and that I’d have to go on a ‘tough’ course of tablets if that turned out to be the case. But first, he wanted me to provide a toenail sample so they could attempt to grow fungus on them in the laboratory to determine whether they were infected.

A few days later I dropped off my toenail sample at the surgery in the small container provided, and was told I would receive a letter in the post in due course. A number of weeks passed and I heard nothing. At no point was I in any pain, and the fresh nail near the bed was showing signs of becoming healthier and more ‘normal’ looking. Whatever the problem was, my body appeared to be finding its own way of treating it.

Shortly before Christmas, I received a letter asking me to make an appointment with my GP to discuss the results, but the letter stated this was no cause for alarm and that it was routine procedure. The Christmas holiday period meant there was a delay in getting a non-urgent appointment, so I did not see the GP until early January.

Terbinafine PictureOn this occasion, I saw a different GP, one I had never met before. She told me that the results showed I had a fungal nail infection (as expected). She took a quick look at my feet, and said that she would be prescribing me Terbinafine (sometimes sold under the brand name Lamisil, though not in my case). I was to begin with a 28 day course, which was to be followed by another 28 day course on repeat prescription, with a view to me taking the tablets for around six months.

But first, I would need a blood test to check my liver function was normal. Upon hearing this, I was immediately suspicious as to whether these drugs were really necessary. After all, I was never in any pain, I wasn’t feeling any ill effects, and by this stage a substantial part of the nail bed was looking healthy, as more fresh nail gradually appeared.

However, I went ahead and had the blood test about a week later. A further week passed and I phoned the surgery for the test results. I was informed that my liver function was ‘normal’, and that my prescription would be ready for me to collect within a few days.

By the time I collected my prescription, it was around the third week of January. I was very wary about taking the tablets. It struck me as a huge overreaction to a problem with a mild infection that was gradually clearing up by itself. At the absolute most, I should have been prescribed Terbinafine in cream form. The instructions stated I was to take one per day. Against my better judgement, I took my first Terbinafine tablet the following morning.

Within an hour, I sensed something wasn’t right when I went to the toilet and my urine gave off a copper-like odour. By the following evening, I was beginning to experience serious side effects.

First of all, my sense of taste was much diminished. I managed to eat a meal that evening, but I didn’t enjoy it. By the following day, I was suffering from an upset stomach, mild diarrhoea, a fuzzy headache, and a dry mouth.

Within a few days, eating a full meal became difficult. I had no interest in snacking between meals or eating desserts, and my portion sizes were much reduced. All food tasted like cardboard and my stomach had a ‘full’ feeling, even if I had eaten virtually nothing.

By the end of my first week of taking Terbinafine, the side effects became more serious. I was unable to sleep for more than about four hours at a time, and I began to suffer from very low moods for no apparent reason. I have suffered from tinnitus my whole life, but the ringing in my ears became louder and more intense than before. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything for long periods, which is very unlike me.

The days dragged by and the situation did not improve. Eating was a chore, I was permanently tired, I found it hard to focus due to continual ‘brain fog’ (not easy when I make my living through writing and broadcasting), my mouth was dry, the mild diarrhoea continued, and it was badly affecting my quality of life. I drank very little alcohol during this period, partly because of my lack of appetite, and partly because I dreaded to think what this Terbinafine was doing to my liver.

After three weeks of taking one Terbinafine tablet per day, I had lost a stone in weight, a dangerous amount to lose in such a short space of time. I looked noticeably thinner and my general wellbeing was suffering considerably as the symptoms intensified. A friend, who is no stranger to tough and gruelling medicine as a long-term cancer survivor suggested that a chat with my pharmacist would be a good idea, so I did exactly that.

I am quite a big fan of pharmacists. I find them more open-minded and less ‘preachy’ than GPs on the whole, and I strongly recommend them as a first port of call when suffering from mild health problems.

I took my packet of Terbinafine and the accompanying leaflet with me to my local Boots store and the pharmacist showed me to the private consultation room. I explained the situation to her and she read the leaflet, which listed the possible side effects. I had experienced most, if not all of them by this stage.

When I told her about the drastic weight loss and deterioration in quality of life, she without hesitation advised me to stop taking them. What happened next struck me as extraordinary.

The pharmacist, a bright woman in her late 20s or early 30s, told me that she, too, suffered from a fungal nail infection some time ago, and had refused to take the tablets upon reading the side effects and discovering that a blood test would be needed prior to starting the course.

Instead, she did her own research (how many GPs do that?) and discovered a far less severe course of action. She bought a bottle of white vinegar from a supermarket and a packet of cotton wool sticks.

For the next six months, twice per day, she would wash her feet, dip a cotton wool stick in the white vinegar, and wipe it under and on the bed of the infected nails. It required a lot of discipline, her boyfriend said she smelt like a chip shop, but over time the infection cleared up.

She advised me to do the same thing, and to ‘do a bit of Googling’ to discover alternative ways of treating it. I bought a bottle of white vinegar on my way home from Boots, but I didn’t feel the urge to ‘treat’ my nails in any way as by this stage a substantial part of my lower nails were clear and healthy-looking. But I have a plan of action if the situation changes.

Needless to say, I stopped taking the Terbinafine immediately. I had a little rant on my Facebook wall about the experience that same evening, and a hospital doctor wrote a comment below my post saying that prescribing Terbinafine was a massive overreaction and there was no way she would take it.

My health began to improve somewhat within 48 hours. I was able to eat and digest a full meal, but was not enjoying it particularly, and I still had no interest in desserts or snacking. The ‘brain fog’ gradually began to clear within a week.

That said, more than a month later, I am still far from fully ‘back to normal’. I still have a number of symptoms including a dry mouth, a skin rash on my hands and difficulty sleeping for more than a few hours at a time. My sense of taste is still much-diminished, and I have lost a further half a stone in weight. I am eating food, but I’m not enjoying it.

In other words, I was given drugs I don’t need, for a problem I don’t have, and whose effects I am still suffering from more than a month after I stopped taking them.

So why did this happen? We have an overly-deferential relationship with GPs in this country and with the NHS in general. Yes, they do a lot of good, but there are fundamental flaws in the system and they are far from always right.

The term GP stands for ‘General Practitioner’. As the name suggests, they aren’t really ‘experts’ in anything, but have a basic understanding of most areas of medicine. That is not to say all GPs are bad, or that everything the GP tells us is wrong, but we DO need to question what we’re told far more often. Yes, GPs have gone through medical college and passed numerous exams. But what they are told becomes dated very quickly, as new drugs become available and medical understanding increases.

To keep their medical understanding up-to-date, GPs frequently attend seminars, tutorials and networking days put on by major pharmaceutical companies, complete with hospitality (nice lunches etc). The drug companies provide the food and a pleasant setting (a conference centre or hotel) and in return they get the opportunity to ‘talk up’ their latest products. This strikes me as dangerously close to bribery. At its kindest, it can be described as ‘lobbying’. What these representatives are NOT going to do is give totally unbiased, independent advice about their products to the GPs in attendance.

These companies are often huge multi-billion dollar organisations who have a vested financial interest in getting people to take these drugs. They do not put on these events for GPs and provide hospitality for fun. They have huge pockets and a deep focus, and they know that such events influence the way GPs prescribe drugs. Even on a day-to-day basis, the average GP surgery is full of stationary, equipment and gadgets containing the branding of these companies, subtly and subconsciously reinforcing the message that prescribing their drugs is automatically a good thing.

This very obvious conflict of interest is not given anywhere near enough publicity. The number of prescriptions issued in the UK has increased 50% in 14 years, and GP surgeries spend half of the NHS’s drugs budget. Prescriptions for painkillers have increased 50% in 10 years. In Blackpool, one in five adults takes so-called ‘antidepressants’. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of young people prescribed so-called ‘antidepressants’ increased by 54%. In Jersey, the number of people being prescribed ‘antidepressants’ increased by 48.5% in the six years between 2010 and 2016. The average person in the UK receives FIFTEEN prescriptions per year.

Re-read that last paragraph. Those statistics are extraordinary. And when we consider how heavily lobbied GPs are by the pharmaceutical industry, these figures begin to make sense. Over the last few years, the drugs industry has paid $13 BILLION in fines in the USA alone for a range of unethical activities, including bribing doctors to prescribe their drugs.

GPs are, for the most part, ‘repeaters’ rather than ‘thinkers’. How many GPs seriously question what they’re being told, firstly at medical school but especially in seminars put on by pharmaceutical giants, or give anywhere near enough thought to the fact it’s in the interest of these huge companies to get as many people as possible to take these drugs? And how many GPs are courageous enough to send substantial numbers of patients away from their surgeries WITHOUT the prescription drugs they were expecting?

We need to be much more aware of the dangers of overprescribing antibiotics and the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance. One of the major challenges GPs face is distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections. Viral infections do not require antibiotics, but if a person has a bacterial infection and is not prescribed antibiotics, patients can die and doctors can get sued. Therefore, to avoid taking a chance, GPs resort to prescribing antibiotics for all infections, even though this presents far bigger risks in the long run.

A solution to this problem would be for GP surgeries to buy the machinery that instantly tells us whether the patient has a viral or bacterial infection via a blood sample. The problem is that the machinery costs £700-£800 and each test costs £4.50. But he NHS would recoup these sums when we consider that viral infections would no longer be treated with a prescription of antibiotics, and that the cost of the tests would be when offset against the cost of ‘free’ prescriptions, available to all patients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with a substantial number of less well-off people in England.

We take the ability of antibiotics to fight off infections for granted, but their effectiveness is declining as viruses evolve to resist them. It is no exaggeration to say that without antibiotics, life on earth as we know it would end.

Without antibiotics, many medical procedures simply wouldn’t be possible. It’s not just the case that doctors would not be able to treat your infected finger. They wouldn’t be able to do any more bone surgery. They wouldn’t be able to treat cancer. They wouldn’t be able to run intensive care units in hospitals. These are harsh realities, but they are also facts.

Drug companies aim to prescribe as many pills as possible to maximise profits, but it is certainly not in the interests of the human race to see antibiotics lose their effectiveness . 97% of patients in the UK who ask their GP for antibiotics are prescribed them. Younger people reading this may live long enough to see this doomsday scenario unfold unless swift changes are made in our attitude towards antibiotics. It is estimated that superbugs resistant to antibiotics will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined within 30 years.

The culture of GP surgeries does not lend itself to a thoughtful, flexible course of treatment, with appointments generally lasting ten minutes or less, so a dogmatic ‘prescription cure’ is seen as the easiest and quickest way of resolving any issue, often without addressing the root cause, or assessing the side effects and long-term impact of the drugs they prescribe.

Perhaps the most dangerous example of this is how GPs treat people with depression. There is a conventional wisdom among drug companies that ‘depression’ is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, known as ‘the Serotonin theory’. The scientific evidence backing this up is underwhelming to say the least. The drugs companies even kept the finding of their own research secret until compelled to release them by Freedom of Information requests.

There is likely to be a far more pragmatic explanation – people become ‘depressed’ because bad thing have happened to them, and the way our society operates is largely to blame. Why are so many people so unhappy in modern Britain? Families are not as close as they were 50 years ago, and are often spread out around the country or even across the world. There is no sense of ‘community’ in many areas. All too often, people do not have a ‘support network’ in their lives. They may have lots of superficial relationships with work colleagues and others, but in many cases they won’t feel ‘close’ to many people living locally.

A child who has grown up in an unstable household with an alcoholic parent, an absent father, or a single mother with a series of ‘boyfriends’ coming and going (who may well dislike the child), will very likely carry large emotional scars well into adulthood. The child who was bullied at school will not forget it as an adult.

A lot of people who claim to be ‘depressed’ are actually alcoholics. Alcohol is a depressant and those who use it to attempt to temporarily numb the pain of experiences they are having in their lives are doing themselves no favours whatsoever. They are using alcohol as an excuse not to address the problem at its core, and when the affects wear off, they feel more depressed than they did before, and so the vicious circle continues.

But how many GPs who see a patient who claims to be suffering from ‘depression’ will seek to address its root cause, or send them for appropriate therapy, when they can prescribe so-called ‘antidepressants’ and get them out of the room within the 10 minute appointment slot? Very often, GPs diagnose depression using the ‘PHQ-9 depression questionnaire’, which is loaded with negative questions and does its best to force you to think about how miserable your life is and how unhappy you are. It does not contain questions to balance it up such as ‘how often do you feel positive and optimistic about life?’

Unsurprisingly, the PHQ-9 questionnaire was devised by a drugs company that makes ‘antidepressant’ pills. This is not a coincidence.

Nic Barrow

Nic Barrow

Nic Barrow, a therapist, and a friend of some years, shares my deep suspicion of ‘antidepressants’, partly because of his own experiences when he was younger. He says that he gives people who come to him claiming to be depressed five pieces of advice: 1. Cut sugar out of your diet. 2. Work like mad. 3. Surround yourself with three to four positive people. 4. Exercise rigorously two to three times per week. 5. Develop a purpose for living that is greater than yourself.

Most of us spend far too much time staring into hypnotic gadgets, or sitting at desks, or slouching on the sofa, or taking our cars for journeys of less than a mile. A brisk, half-hour walk each day is a good remedy for a lot of psychological problems people think they have. It also reduces the risk of obesity and cancer. It’s a win-win deal. If a more drastic remedy is needed, cold water swimming helps anxiety and depression. Our bodies respond to cold water in a similar way to an anxiety attack. As the skin cools down rapidly, the body enters a state of shock, flooding the blood with stress hormones. Once the initial shock wears off, the chemical surge leaves swimmers feeling euphoric, as the ‘skin stimulation’ releases adrenaline.

Exercise, diet, friendships and a job that makes you feel fulfilled are usually the keys to resolving issues relating to ‘depression’. Even if the solutions described here don’t work for absolutely everybody, it is surely advisable for them to get to the root cause of the problem with the help of therapy rather than to rely on pills.

To paraphrase Dr Robert Lefever, I want my moods to change. I want to feel happy when I achieve something worthwhile, or when a sports team I support wins. I want to feel sad when somebody I know dies, or I see an injustice while watching the news. This is all part of the human experience. So-called ‘antidepressants’ prevent people from fully experiencing life’s highs as well as the lows. Furthermore, the evidence they actually work in helping people suffering from depression when compared to placebos is also shaky to say the least. But even if they do offer some relief, it’s a treatment of the symptoms rather than the root cause.

And it gets more serious, still. There is a growing body of evidence that so-called ‘antidepressants’ have dangerous and unpredictable side effects. I have personally witnessed how somebody I know underwent a deeply unpleasant personality change after taking them. More than 40 million prescriptions for SSRI antidepressants were handed out by doctors in the UK last year. In a small number of cases, evidence suggests the devastating side effects can lead to psychosis, violence, and possibly even murder.

In July 2017, the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary about this very subject. They focussed on the case of 20-year-old James Holmes, who had no track record of violence or gun ownership, but at the 2012 midnight premiere of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, he murdered 12 and injured 70 people. The programme showed there was substantial evidence that the drugs he was taking may well have played their part, and this was by no means an isolated example.

Further analysis of this can be found by reading ‘Cracked’ by James Davies. I can also recommend two clearly-written and straightforward articles on the subject by Dr Marcia Angell, a distinguished American doctor, and certainly no crank, which can be read here and here.

But the scandal surrounding prescription drugs goes way beyond so-called ‘antidepressants’. There is no evidence that opioid painkillers work beyond the first four to six weeks, and cause serious side-effects beyond that. In the long term, they may well make the pain worse, not better, and the withdrawal symptoms can be deeply unpleasant.

Raised blood pressure, raised levels of cholesterol and type two diabetes are not ‘diseases’. To a large extent, the risks they present can be remedied by exercise and moderating their diet. Giving patients supportive programmes for exercise would be more effective than medication, such as encouraging them to join walking groups.

Instead, there has been an intense campaign by the pharmaceutical giants to get more and more older people to take Statins (though the age at which people are encouraged to take them is getting younger and younger due to lobbying), and, as usual, GPs have followed this advice. Indeed, in recent weeks, a number of newspaper articles have appeared that have stated that ‘half or Britons’ will be offered ‘high blood pressure tablets’, while curiously the word ‘Statins’ failed to appear in any of them, which struck me as extremely odd. Most newspapers who covered the story did so sympathetically. It was as though they were relying on a press release from a pharmaceutical giant for their story, or maybe it was a press release from the NHS, who in turn had been lobbied by a pharmaceutical giant. If it carried the ‘NHS’ tag, it would make the press release appear more trustworthy.

Statins have a considerable number of common side effects, including a sore throat, nosebleeds, headaches, constipation, and muscle and joint pain. I have two stories from older people I know personally, who have had negative experiences with Statins.

One friend of mine, a man in his mid-70s, had been suffering from joint pain and mobility issues for some months. Upon reading an article in the Times about the side effects of Statins, he decided to stop taking them, and within days, he phoned me to tell me of an astonishing improvement in his mobility and overall health.

The other story comes from a man in his 60s who works as a writer, and he complained of a ‘brain fog’ soon after beginning to take Statins, though it cleared up fairly quickly soon after he stopped taking them. This is merely anecdotal, but it does appear to me as though a lot of people who take Statins become much more ‘doddery’ and unclear in their thinking, though it does appear the effects are reversed when they stop taking them.

Indeed, there is now growing evidence that Statins and even hayfever pills could be driving antibiotic resistance by changing the growth of bacteria in the human gut. Surely we should at the very least pause the mass prescription of Statins with this in mind?

The information in this article may appear shocking and outrageous, but we need to consider how medical advice has changed within the last 50 years. The Thalidomide scandal was a particularly prominent example of ‘bad medicine’. But those of you old enough to remember the 1970s (I am not!) will recall how after donating blood, you would sternly be told to take iron tablets. This is now considered completely unnecessary, possibly even harmful.

Furthermore, in the 1970s, burns were treated using greasy creams, which is now considered one of the worst things you can do. It was around the same time that X-ray machines disappeared from shoe shops, and today, we are told that X-rays should be kept to the absolute minimum.

Even in the last 15 years, the piles of old magazines have disappeared from my GP surgery waiting room, as they are considered a means of spreading viruses.

As times change, medical advice changes with it. The heavy lobbying by multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical giants is causing numerous drugs to be accepted and prescribed without sufficient scrutiny. 50 years from now, we will look back on this as a major scandal.

In the meantime, we ought to be far more questioning about what we are told by our GPs and be wary of the multi-billion dollar forces that influence them.

Written by Marcus Stead

March 21, 2018 at 1:46 am

Free Speech versus the New Repression, a Small Victory for Liberty, and Righting a Wrong from Long Ago

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By MARCUS STEAD

I read with interest an article on Peter Hitchens’s blog in which he details a recent visit to Liverpool to debate what he rightly describes as a non-existent ‘war on drugs’.

Peter Hitchens.jpg

Peter Hitchens

Mr Hitchens, a Mail on Sunday columnist and a skilled, passionate debater, was invited to the University of Liverpool by Tom Willett of the Politics Society, but in accepting the invitation he would have been obliged to agree to the provisions in the university’s policy and code of practice regarding freedom of speech, and the Guild of Students’ (just a pretentious name for the students’ union) equality and diversity policy, which, evidently, put significant constraints on freedom of speech and stand in the way of rigorous, robust debate.

Undeterred, Willett, to his credit, risked his own money by hiring a private hall which was not part of the university. But when the caretaker failed to turn up, Willett and Hitchens decided to hold the meeting outdoors on an open hilltop area in Hope St, which links the city’s Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals. As the article suggests, it turned out to be a positive experience, with a more alert audience and sharper questioning than had the debate taken place in a stuffy room.

This brought back vivid memories of a time, nearly 15 years ago, when I tried, and regrettably failed, to get Mr Hitchens to debate a different issue at the same university, but was blocked on similar grounds to those Willett experienced.

It is important to put the story I am about to tell into some kind of context. The world has changed considerably in the 15 years since it happened. You are about to be taken back to a world where Anthony Blair was still at the height of his popularity, and almost all university lecturers and most students were still more-or-less in love with him (though NOT me). The Iraq War had not yet happened. Anyone seriously proposing that gay and lesbian people should be allowed to marry would have been considered eccentric.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did not exist. Mobile phones were used only for calls and texts, which were expensive. Phone calls to family and friends back home were strictly rationed and conversations abrupt and to-the-point. Keeping in touch with friends from your home town, or even with those who had moved to different halls, required a degree of effort on both sides.

WhatsApp and Facetime were still many years away. The main means of free, instant communication was MSN Instant Messenger, and even that was blocked on university computers. The internet was far less developed. Broadband was still unavailable in many parts of the country, and even if you did have access to it, ONE Mb was the standard speed.

DVDs were increasingly common, though many people, myself included, still preferred to use videotape. Most people still listened to music via CDs or cassettes. Radio was listened to on FM, MW and LW (I am aware many teenagers will not even be familiar with these terms). I was considered quite ‘cutting edge’ when I bought a Freeview box for the TV in my bedroom, pretty soon after it launched at the end of October 2002.

Coffee culture did not exist. Gassy lagers and alcopops were the drinks of choice for students. The majority smoked cigarettes, a packet of which cost around half their price in 2017, and it was perfectly acceptable to smoke in pubs, bars and cafes.

At the University of Liverpool, the Sydney Jones Library (the main library for arts and humanities) was outdated, dingy and badly in need of investment. Most of the lecture halls and seminar rooms hadn’t been updated since the 1970s. Some students did not pay tuition fees at all. None paid more than £3,000 per year. University itself was cheaper, and student expectations were lower than today. Some lecturers and tutors barely hid their view that teaching was an irritating but necessary distraction from the research work they’d rather be doing.

The students union (rather pretentiously called the Guild of Students), was easily the least impressive of any students’ union building I’ve ever been in. The meeting rooms all had paint peeling from the walls. The smell of damp was everywhere. It was stuck in a 1970s time warp, large sections of it lay semi-abandoned, the food was nothing to write home about, and the cloths on the pool tables were bald. The main hall was turned into a night club on Saturday and Monday nights. There were occasional nights of comedy, drama and concerts, but it was often a rather quiet building during the daytime, with two small bars, a tiny cafe, a shop selling newspapers and snacks, and not much else to see. There was never much sense of ‘community’ about the place.

Liverpool itself was also a very different place. It was still suffering a sort of hangover from the Derek Hatton years of the 1980s and the decline of the docks. The city was packed with remarkable and beautiful architecture, but it was dirty and unloved, with many splendid buildings boarded up and abandoned.

The legendary Cream nightclub had closed for good a few months before my arrival. The bars of Concert Square and a shabby club called ‘The Krazyhouse’ seemed to be the venues of choice for students. I noticed a very gradual revival in the city’s fortunes in the months leading up to my departure in the summer of 2005, but the main regeneration came about around the time of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, which saw the construction of Liverpool One shopping precinct, a large concert arena and a major revamping of the area around the Albert Dock.

Hope Street Liverpool.jpg

Hope St, Liverpool

I cannot say I can relate to Mr Hitchens’s experience of Hope St. In my three years there, it contained two theatres, the Philharmonic (where my graduation ceremony took place in 2005) and the more ‘alternative’ Everyman, which was looking outdated but contained a rather good underground bar.

There was a bar containing big screens showing sports which appealed to students, but there wasn’t a huge amount in the way of places to eat and drink around there, aside from the takeaway outlets on the adjacent streets leading towards the city centre. From memory, the Philharmonic Dining Rooms didn’t have the impressive façade of today, and it operated primarily as a hotel. It never occurred to me to go in there, but having seen pictures of the spectacular interior, I very much hope to enjoy a meal and a few beers in there some day.

The street lighting gave off a dim, orange glow and it was advisable to keep your wits about you if walking around there at night, particularly as you got closer to the Catholic cathedral and the area around Brownlow Hill, which had a reputation for prostitution and drug dealing.

I agree with Mr Hitchens that there is some interesting Georgian and Edwardian architecture in and around Hope St, especially at the end nearest to the Anglican cathedral, but a quick look on Google Maps proves beyond doubt that he would’ve been able to eat and drink far better than if my proposed debate had taken place 15 years ago, and I can’t say that holding a debate on drugs in the open air around the ‘Case History’ sculpture would’ve been particularly feasible or safe back then. There were probably worse places to be a student, but I strongly suspect those attending the university today have a far greater variety of things to see and do.

This context is important because, although 15 years may not feel like a long time in the grand scheme of things, for the students of today, the world would have felt like a very different place. In the story below, I cite several examples of people taking days, if not longer, to reply to emails. Back then, this was not unusual. It was not possible to access emails via your mobile phone. You required a computer with a wired internet connection to do so, and it was therefore quite normal for many days to pass between people checking their email accounts.

The story began on the morning of Monday 9 December 2002, when I, as a first year student of Politics and Communication Studies, having recently turned 19, attended a politics seminar under the tutelage of Chris Lenton, now a city councillor, and a prominent member of the Liberal Party, a small party founded in 1989 by members of the original Liberal Party opposed to its merger with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democrats. The reformed Liberal Party, which is Eurosceptic, has never had much success nationally but has maintained a significant presence at local council level in Liverpool.

The seminar discussion somehow came around to Alan Duncan, who had ‘come out’ as homosexual some months earlier, and had made remarks about homosexuality being increasingly acceptable in the Conservative Party. In the previous day’s Mail on Sunday, Mr Hitchens had written an article with the headline, “I’m sorry Mr Duncan, if you’re gay you’re not a Tory.”

At that time, Mr Hitchens was still a supporter of the Conservative Party, albeit not a very enthusiastic one, and held the view that a person could not be a conservative if they were openly gay, and that comprehensive education had played its part in brainwashing a generation into accepting Mr Duncan’s standpoint. Hitchens’s view was that while he believed homosexuality should be legal, it was not moral, and that if Mr Duncan had kept his sexuality private, it would have been his own business, but by making it public, he could not legitimately call himself a conservative.

In the seminar, Lenton remarked that he did not think Mr Hitchens truly believed the things he wrote, and a number of the dozen-or-so students present nodded in agreement. I kept quiet – I had had a small number of dealings with Mr Hitchens via email in the previous few years, and did not doubt for one second that he absolutely believed the things he wrote.

As soon as the seminar ended, I headed straight for the IT room so I could email Mr Hitchens to tell him what happened. Two days later, he generously replied that he would be willing to come up to the university and debate the issues raised, under a fair chairman. His only requests were for somewhere clean and quiet to stay, and for his expenses to be paid.

Unlike Tom Willett, I did not have the backing of the Politics Society, of which I was not a member (I saw enough politics in my course and in my non-university related activities), so I was very much a ‘lone wolf’ in this venture.

I wasted no time in contacting Lenton, who responded by saying it would be a great idea to bring Mr Hitchens to the university, and suggested Cllr Steve Radford as an opponent, who is today the leader of the Liberal Party. I was delighted and proceeded to get the wheels in motion. However, the university was by now winding down for the Christmas break. Most of January would be taken up with examinations and ‘student life’ would not really resume its normal pace until late January or early February.

At some point soon after ‘student life’ resumed in 2003, I sussed that to make the debate happen, it would be a good idea to get support from the homosexual community at the university. The LGBT society (just the four letters in those days, or maybe even three – my records show it was called the ‘GLB’ society, though that may be an error on my part), had a small office in the Guild of Students.

I knocked on the LGBT office door with a copy of the newspaper article in my hand, and passed it over to one of the small number of people present, and can clearly remember saying, slightly tongue-in-cheek, “Are you as angry as I want you to be?” The young man replied ‘yes’, and all those present said they would support me in my bid to get Mr Hitchens to come to the university.

My email records show that the next significant activity came on 14 March, when Anne Fuell, the General Secretary of the Guild of Students agreed to help publicise the debate. I then emailed Mr Hitchens to see when he was available in late March or early April, with a view to holding it before the Easter holiday.

I am relying on email archives from that time to piece together the exact order in which events unfolded after this, so minor details in chronology may be incorrect. Incidentally, I find it interesting how little the process of composing and sending an email has changed in the last 20 years. The main innovation being that higher upload and download speeds mean it is far easier to send and open attachments than it was even 10 years ago.

We appear to have hit some sort of snag in late March with regards to whether Mr Hitchens’s views were compatible with the Guild of Students’s ‘no platform’ policy. On 4 April 2003, I received an email from Deborah Lowe, the Guild’s Welfare Officer, which read:

Hi Marcus
because this is such a controversial issue, I need to consult my executive
before i can say whther it goes aheda. i think it is a great oppurtunity
and personally feel it can only fuel LGb awareness and the camapign to
accept it rather than fuel Peter Hitchens views as they should have gone
out with the dark ages. i will get back to you as soon as I ahev spoken to
relevant people but I assure you you ahve my backing and I will do my
utmost to get everybody elses.
Debbie.

Five days later, I received another email from her, which read:

Hi Marcus
I took this issue to the executive of the guild on Monday and it was a much
debated topic. The decision of the executive was that we did not think it
was appropriate to give a man with such homophobic views a platform within
our building, that prides itself on equality. I hope that you understand
the position that we are in on this matter. Please keep us informed of
whether you are still planning to have him speak in Liverpool as we would
like the chance to attend and challenge his homophobic views.
Thanks for your time and for trying to orgainse this event, I hope you
understand why we cannot host the event.
Debbie.

I emailed Mr Hitchens immediately. This had become a matter of principle for both of us. The following day, he replied, suggesting that I take the matter to the student newspaper. I did so, pretty much straight away, though the university’s Easter holiday was now imminent and we would return towards the end of April for a few more weeks of teaching, followed by a period of examinations, after which the university would shut down until late September.

On 21 May 2003, I emailed Mr Hitchens to tell him that I had not yet received a reply from the paper’s editor after all these weeks. They could be excused for not replying during the Easter vacation, though this had ended a week or two earlier so they had ample time to respond. Mr Hitchens suggested I pay a personal visit to the editor, as an email can be easily ignored, and nobody would know whether it was indolence or rudeness.

I then came up against another obstacle when the student newspaper abruptly closed down. The publication was a joint effort between the city’s three universities – The University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Hope University. The latter two lost confidence in the newspaper, causing it to collapse and its offices to close. The University of Liverpool announced plans to launch a new paper at the start of the new academic year in September 2003, but until then, there was little I could do.

The long summer break followed, and on 6 October 2003, I emailed the editor of the newly-launched student newspaper, who happened to be the very same Anne Fuell who was General Secretary of the Guild of Students in the previous academic year. I had a hunch that her appointment would not be good news for my quest to expose the actions of the student council. She responded by asking for my phone number so she could call me for more details. I provided my number but the phone call never came.

I went to visit her office in person some days later. Fuell claimed that she was coincidentally about to phone me when I visited, so we had the conversation about the story there and then. She seemed mildly embarrassed by my presence, but asked for some time to think as to how to proceed. On 27 October 2003, I received the following email from her:

 

HI Marcus,

Hope you had a fine weekend. Sorry to not get back to you sooner but as
i’m sure you can imagine it gets very hectic here in the newspaper
office.  Thank you for your correspondence.  After careful
consideration  i have decided to not follow up your lead for a story as
i feel it may negatively affect a number of our readers.

Regards,

Anne Fuell

Editor
Liverpool Student Newspaper

A few days later, I emailed Mr Hitchens for what would be the last time on this matter, to tell him of this development. He sent me a short reply, in which he said he did not know what else to do, before signing off by saying that this bodes ill for the future of British newspapers.

And that is pretty much the end of the story.

Fortunately for us all, Anne Fuell did not pursue a career in journalism. Her LinkedIn profile she now works in ‘business marketing’ for London and Partners, the Mayor of London’s official promotions company for the capital.

Deborah Lowe went on to work for the BBC in ‘development’, and is now head of development for Wild Blue Media.

What conclusions can we reach, and what historic can we learn from this story? First of all, that this is an early example of ‘no platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’ on university campuses. But who were the student council, and indeed the student newspaper trying to protect, and from what? The LGBT society was ready to welcome Mr Hitchens to the university to debate the issue. They did not stand in the way of the debate taking place. Others felt the need to protect them on their behalf. And did those running the student newspaper not understand that it was their duty to inform their readers of the stance the student council had taken?

I admit to being shocked at the time by this curtailment of free speech on campus. My Eurosceptic views were firmly established by the time of my arrival at university, and I was undoubtedly in a minority among the students in my belief that Britain should leave the European Union. But at no time did any professor or tutor try to prevent me from saying so or stop arguing my case.

Many students seemed to regard my anti-EU views as an eccentric curiosity. A tiny number chose not to mix with me outside classrooms and lecture theatres, but none tried to stop me from openly and freely expressing my opinions. That said, I do think there were occasions where I was marked down in essays and examinations for not conforming to the prevailing pro-EU, pro-Blair mindset of the university.

But not once did any student feel the need to escape to a ‘safe space’ because of anything I said, nor did any burst into tears and claim I had hurt their feelings. I wonder whether the same could be said if I was a Eurosceptic undergraduate student 15 years later?

If Mr Hitchens had called for homosexuals to be killed, or persecuted, then there would have been a case for him to be banned from speaking at the university. But these were not his views. He believed that homosexual acts were immoral, and that by openly declaring yourself as a homosexual, you could not be a Tory.

I should point out that I am certain Mr Hitchens would not offer to come and debate the issue today. He says he now regrets ever getting involved in the debate around gay ‘marriage’ and the rights and wrongs of homosexuality, now regarding it as a very small and largely irrelevant sideshow in the story of Britain’s decline. Within just a few years, he had withdrawn his support for the Conservative Party, rightly believing it to have been captured by Blairites and broadly accepting vast swathes of New Labour policies.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral

I warmly congratulate Tom Willett on succeeding where I failed. I am glad Mr Hitchens enjoyed his visit to Liverpool, and yes, I share his view that it’s a pity more people do not go there. All too often, British people go to great lengths to see far away splendours such as the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt, while neglecting to spend a few hours on a train to visit the equally magnificent Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool or Lincoln Cathedral.

Had I been just a year or two older, I would have had the self-confidence, experience and tenacity to keep fighting. Faced with such a situation today, I am in no doubt that I would have done whatever it took to make the debate take place.

Within a year or two, I became aware of speakers being refused a platform at universities up and down the country for daring to believe that Britain should not be a member of the European Union, or that radical Islam was a major threat to our Judeo-Christian culture. In students unions, certain opinions are compulsory, and others are impossible to express. The sphere of acceptable opinion becomes more and more narrow with every year that passes, with unpleasant and inaccurate labels like ‘racist’, ‘bigot’ and ‘homophobe’ placed on dissenters.

Fifteen years on from my experience, we appear to have bred a generation of university students who all too often believe they have a right to be protected on campus, not just from violence and danger, but from opinions they personally don’t agree with. What will they be like when they enter the workplace, or worse still, the House of Commons? This should be of major concern for all those who cherish and value freedom of speech, thought and conscience.

 

Written by Marcus Stead

November 5, 2017 at 5:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Novice Rowers are All Star Champions!

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By MARCUS STEAD

A TEAM of novice rowers defied the odds to become All Star champions at the annual Llandaff Rowing Club Regatta, which raises money for Velindre Cancer Care and Keep Wales Tidy.

Rowing 2017

The Love Dem Oars winning team (L-R): Richard Phipps, Daniel Edwards, Stephen Cleary and Robert Gordon.

Last year, Robert Gordon, Daniel Edwards and Stephen Cleary, now all aged 33, formed a team called ‘Love Dem Oars’ and, after just four weeks of training, they were joined by established rower Richard Phipps for the Splash and Dash Men’s Regatta, where they saw off competitors in three races, which included a comfortable victory against a more experienced group of firefighters in the final.

The team’s victory made them ineligible to enter the Splash and Dash this year, but they were invited to enter the All Star category where they were pitted against a team of previous winners, and won the best-of-three race series 2-0.

As with last year, they were trained by accomplished rowing instructor Arthur Williams, 70, but they only began their preparations five weeks before the regatta. Robert said: “I entered this event a few years ago with other people, and last year I formed a team with my old school friends Stephen and Daniel, because it raises money for good causes and there’s a decent party afterwards at the club.

“We entered as a bit of fun last year and went on to win it. This year, we knew we’d face a tough challenge against a team of previous winners, and again we upset the form book to become All Star champions. It’s incredible, really!”

Velindre is a specialist cancer treatment centre located on the perimeter of Cardiff that provides services to more than 1.5 million people across South East Wales and beyond.

Each year, the centre treat more than 5,000 new referrals and around 50,000 new outpatients.

While the treatment itself is paid for from general taxation, charitable donations allow the centre to provide valuable extra facilities to patients and their families. For example:

* £10 could provide a family with a children’s story book to help adults explain their cancer journey to young family members.

* £25 could provide a memory box to help children keep memories of their loved ones.

* £50 could provide an hour’s complimentary therapy to help patient’s well-being (acupuncture, reiki etc).

* £300 could provide a tablet computer for patients to use whilst in hospital.

* £10,000 could provide a scalp cooler to help prevent hair loss in patients who receive chemotherapy.

 

Keep Wales Tidy is a charity working across Wales to protect the environment now and for the future. It also provides environmental education, training, business services and environmental solutions across Wales.

Robert, Daniel, Stephen, Richard and Arthur would welcome further donations to these two excellent charities. You can donate by clicking here.

 

Written by Marcus Stead

September 27, 2017 at 5:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized