George would have done anything to advance himself.
There was a serious element of malice with George.
George was a terrible gossip. He would wilfully damage any of us without compunction.
You can be safe in the knowledge that he was a hypocrite and a rather hateful man, using religion to cover up his flaws. If you crossed George you had an enemy for life.
I first met George in the autumn of 1967, a couple of months after I was selected Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen for the Labour party. In the first years or so I found him to be a friendly, humorous plain talking individual – especially when it came to talking about ‘the Nationalists’ and Gwynfor Evans. But even in those days he was full of gossip about fellow Labour MPs.
After that we would meet at Labour rallies throughout Wales where he and I would be ‘warm up’ speakers for the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He was a good orator, full of humour and knew how to play the audience. In 1968, both of us had one thing in common which was taking the fight to Plaid Cymru and its leader, so I suppose he saw me as an important ally in his early period as Secretary of State for Wales. For instance, I recall writing a memorandum to him after the bombing at the Welsh Office in Cathays Park May 25 1968, on how to associate Gwynfor’s emotive anti-London government utterances with what had taken place in Cardiff.
On March 1 1969, at the behest of Jim Callaghan, I was appointed Research and Public Relations Officer for the Labour Party in Wales and this resulted in fortnightly meetings with George on a Sunday at his home in the Heath, Cardiff. The purpose of the meetings was for him to provide me with material I could use in letters and campaign material for the party in Wales. It was then I began to notice the ‘real’ George, and that there really was a nasty side to his character which did not correlate with his public persona.
George would have done anything to advance himself. He was a man of little or no principle whatsoever. The only consideration was what would work best for George himself. That was his only guiding light in everything he did. His posturing as a good Christian was a cover for his rampant underlying ambitions.
After I became an MP my thoughts about him were crystallised further, not only because of how I saw him operate, but of what he used to tell me and others at that Welsh table in Westminster about various MPs.
George was a terrible gossip. He would wilfully damage any of us without compunction, particularly if it was about a Welsh-speaking pro-devolutionist MP - the ‘crypto nationalists’ as he described. If he found out something personal about you, he would enjoy spreading the ‘tittle tattle’, but what was George up to?
Pointing the finger. Diverting the attention. Those are the impressions I always had about him. He disliked us all, but especially Cledwyn. He did not care much for Goronwy too and never trusted my good friend Elystan.
Elystan – in his autobiography – recounts an occasion during his time at the Home Office when George asked him to write a considered piece on the potential transport policy for Wales when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Elystan spent months producing a detailed thirty-page policy document on the transport issues and dutifully presented it to George. One day in the House of Commons, Elystan was having a meal with a few people near to a freestanding barrier, on the other side of which was George in conversation with some other MPs. Elystan overheard George saying, “Let me tell you a story, boys. I gave to that nationalist Elystan Morgan a task, and he wrote thirty-odd pages for me on a Welsh transport policy. So do you know what I did? I put it straight in the bin. Ha ha ha”.
Mind the truth was that us pro-devolutionists had little time or respect for George either and that was widely known. In the book on Cledwyn Hughes there is a reference to an article in the Manchester Evening News by the political columnist Andrew Roth of Cledwyn’s opinions when he was replaced by George at the Welsh Office in 1968. ‘’Cledwyn Hughes could not help hating the idea of turning over Wales to George Thomas, a chirpy South Wales sparrow in Mr Wilson’s palm’’
There was a serious element of malice. And if you got on the wrong side of him, as I did following my time in 1969 as Chair of the working party preparing Labour’s evidence in Wales to the Crowther/Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution, you were in trouble. During the period of the Heath government, as shadow spokesman, he was a deeply divisive force, irretrievably damaging the party in the Welsh speaking areas, particularly with his column in the North Wales Daily Post. He poisoned Harold Wilson against people all the time. He was known as ‘Harold’s E.N.T.’ That is Ears, Nose and Throat!
I had a very good rapport with Harold throughout the years. I had organised seven or eight of his meetings in Wales during his time as Prime Minister, speaking at each one. However, I knew there was something preventing him from giving me some sort of recognition – a shadow junior role, or something similar. I had no doubt it was George weaving his web of distrust behind the scenes. In fact Fred Peart, the Minister of Agriculture after February 1974, confirmed to me that George had poisoned him against me: ‘He’s a nationalist. He’s pro-Welsh language. He’s pro-devolution. He would divide the party’. One can hear George saying these things. And yet, he was apparently a great Christian.
Although I never witnessed it, there were references from time to time that George liked his drink, and yet he used to assert openly that he was teetotal, priding himself on it publicly. Indeed, I heard him say so from the pulpit when he was preaching in Tenby one summer.
You can be safe in the knowledge that he was a hypocrite and a rather hateful man, using religion to cover up his flaws. If you crossed George you had an enemy for life. Nobody could claim that the following characteristics were not true: that George was anti-Welsh, anti-devolution and loathed the patriotic Welsh element within the Labour Party.
However, the bizarre thing is that he would probably have been more patriotic himself if he had been a Welsh speaker. It’s his background, isn’t it? George could say many, many phrases in Welsh. He could speak a bit of the language, and if he had stuck with it … well, you never know …
He always resented Jim Callaghan. I can almost see his thought process. In the 1950s Jim, through the unions, gained power and got onto Labour’s National Executive Council. George was envious. Jim subsequently rose to a position of Shadow Minister and then Harold became Prime Minister, making Jim Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary in succession. It must have driven George mad. He was full of enmity. In fact, he was bit of a Trump-like character. It was all about him, and only him, all the time. There was nothing George would not do to aggrandise himself.
When anyone tells me stories about George, nothing surprises me whatsoever. He was a bad egg who managed to fool us all. He fooled elderly ladies like my grandmother. We had a house, where I was brought up in Foelgastell, with quite small rooms. In front of the fire, on few occasions, he would sit with my mother and grandmother on one side of the fire and him on the other, pulling all the strings – tugging the heartstrings.
I do not know how many friends he had in the Welsh Labour Party. Not too many I would guess. Even people within the party who might have agreed with George on many issues, particularly with his general anti-Welsh stance, I never saw them consorting much with him. People such as Kinnock, Abse and Alan Williams from Swansea West: they had little time for him either. The one stand out person was Barry Jones, the North Wales MP. It was apparent they were very close indeed – we used to refer to Barry as George’s ‘Parliamentary son!’
So I reckon he was a pretty lonely figure inside the Welsh Labour Party. Once he was not made Secretary of State in February 1974 his influence within the party in Wales was over. Even Harold Wilson eventually realised, following losses in the Welsh speaking heartland, that it was George who had been the divisive, negative force for six years.
But the grand survivor turned his attention elsewhere – because he had hoodwinked and fooled the Tories for many years too. Many of them, including Mrs Thatcher, were I suspect all starry eyed. He had a prodigious ‘gift of the gab.’ But then he was such a big ‘establishment’ man and a Royalist to the core. In his lounge of the bungalow in the Heath would be a large picture of the Queen on one side of the fireplace and the Prince of Wales on the other…