This book serves as a reminder of events in the 80’s that need to be understood and recalled if the current situation in Wales, and the UK, is to be understood properly.
I’m in the
ninth decade of my life and some are recalled more easily because of events and
individuals that gave that period a historical identity.
The 1940’s were my first years, the era of the Second World War and the social
revolution of the Attlee government,
Then the 50’s, the time when rations gave way to the Tory slogan saying
“We never had it so good” and they were the era of ‘rock and roll’. This was
followed by the ‘swinging sixties’, which for me was a time of trade union and
political activity and while being one of the group invited to recommend the
Welsh Labour party’s devolution policy I first met Gwynoro Jones, the co-author
of the book ‘The Forgotten Decade’ and then Labour’s Research and Public
Relations officer at Transport House, Cardiff. He immediately struck me as an
intense, inspirational, determined and likeable young man.
started with a general election when, surprisingly, the Labour Leader, Harold
Wilson, lost to the Tory Leader, Ted Heath. Not surprisingly I failed to be
elected in the Montgomeryshire constituency. The disappointment was eased with
the news from Carmarthen that Gwynoro, after a bitter battle, had beaten the
President and idol of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans. Mr Evans had himself caused a
political shock in a by-election in Carmarthen immediately after the 1966
General Election, when Labour had won a sweeping
victory, when he won the seat to become Plaid Cymru’s first elected Member of
Parliament. I was persuaded not to pursue a career in the House of Commons, but
to maintain my interest in current affairs by becoming a journalist in
broadcasting. The 70’s was a decade offering much to discuss from the failures
of Heath, the miners strike, blackouts, strikes leading to the ‘winter of
discontent’ and the beginnings of the Thatcher era – all discussed in the book
Then we get
to the 1980’s, a decade described in this book by Gwynoro and his writing
partner Alun Gibbard as ‘The Forgotten Decade’. At first glance this is a very
surprising title for a period which saw the Falklands war, marriage of Prince
Charles to Diana Spencer, the miner’s strike and the fall of the Berlin wall,
establishing the Welsh language television channel, S4C. But it will mostly be
remembered as the decade that launched Thatcherism, when Margaret Thatcher became
the first female prime minister, a forceful, idealistic, free-marketeer and
dedicated anti trade unionist. She took on the NUM and won a year long strike. It
was ten years when Wales faced changes that were as great as the start of the
industrial revolution which brought the heavy industries of coal, iron, and
slate with new populations inhabiting new towns and villages. Pits, iron works
that established those 200 years ago. Come to think of it, perhaps Gwynoro and Alun
were perhaps correct in their choice of title, with all that upheaval who would
want to remember such a decade.
serves as a reminder of events in the 80’s that need to be understood and
recalled if the current situation in Wales, and the UK, is to be understood properly.
libraries that could be filled with books about events and people from the
1980’s, but this one is different. It is not an objective history account of
ten important years as recalled by one person, Gwynoro Jones. His experience as
a researcher has given him the advantage of collecting an archive of papers,
journals, notes and press cuttings that give access to minutiae of records of this decade. His much respected co-writer the BBC
journalist and author, Alun Gibbard, will
also have access to archive material that adds to the historical accuracy of
his Carmarthen seat by 3 votes, after five recounts, in the February General
Election of 1974 before losing to Gwynfor Evans in the other General Election
of that year; it was the end of his parliamentary career, but not of his
parliamentary career he was Parliamentary Secretary to Roy Jenkins the Home
Secretary. His relationship with Jenkins continued after the 1974 loss of power
when Roy Jenkins was in Brussels as President of the European Commission.
Gwynoro had become disillusioned with the leftward direction of the Labour
Party and they discussed how a new third force in British politics could be
established. By 1981 Gwynoro helped to establish the SDP, the Social Democratic
Party with other former prominent Labour figure figures, Roy Jenkins, Shirley
Williams, Dr David Owen and Bill Rogers, ‘The Gang of Four’.
supported electoral reform, European integration and a decentralised state.
They would also have gained the wrath of many in the Labour Party by rejecting
the possibility of trade unions being too influential. These policies would be
attractive to members and supporters of the Liberal Party and developing a
policy of co-operation between the two parties could often become vexed and
eventually to see the end of the SDP as an independent political party.
of establishing and the demise of the SDP in Wales and the UK through Gwynoro’s
eyes and experience dominate this book, perhaps in too much detail at times,
give us a detailed history of this important period through the eyes of one of
Wales’ most prominent, influential and easily recognised political
commentators. Thanks to his vast archive of notes, cuttings, minutes of many,
many meetings, broadcasts, and clear recollections we are given a chronological
and lively journey through the 1980’s which is very revealing about important
events, the personalities involved and the internecine fights that led to the
establishing and the ending of the SDP. Newsprint photographs of newspaper cuttings
and events litter the book, but sadly the quality of reproduction spoils some of them.
that run through the SDP story in the book is the emphasis on how the SDP in
Wales kept the aspiration of devolution and an Elected Assembly for Wales at
the top of their agenda – when the labour party and Plaid Cymru ignored the
topic after the drubbing in the 1979 Referendum. The other was the
determination of the party’s Welsh members to secure a clear, separate voice
from the party’s London base. Often it led to direct conflict between Gwynoro
and David Owen.
will describe himself as a “Welsh radical” rather than a socialist, but his
regard for devolution and a form of independence for Wales, his social
conscience and regard for his fellow beings make him into a person, as this
book shows, a person that would have added a great deal to the benefit of Wales
should he have been able to align his ‘radicalism’ with a political party that
has influence and power.
familiar with Gwynoro will be aware of his strong convictions and readiness to
share them. In the 19th century he would have been a reforming,
non-conformist preacher performing sermons that would get his congregations
shouting “clywch, clywch” and “diolch iddo”. The SDP enjoyed his oratory skills
and in this book we can all enjoy the ‘hwyl’ that he brings to his own history.