Friday 23 December 2022


 The Forgotten Decade: Political Upheaval and Industrial Strife in 1980’s Wales.   Gwynoro Jones. Alun Gibbard.

The 1980s - a decade of considerable upheaval and change which saw industrial tension during the Miners Strike, social unrest and riots on the streets, seismic political changes and Cold War nuclear tension. This book is a chronological account of political, economic and social events that unfolded in that decade.

This is a powerful and relevant reminder of the pain and turmoil of a decade that changed many of our communities forever, of the roots of still current inequalities, and of the obstacles that our political system places in the way of progressive change. It also benefits from being the account of an engaged and passionate witness. 

Geraint Talfan Davies.  Chairman Institute of Welsh Affairs 1992-2014.

Margaret Thatcher won the General Election on 4 May 1979, the day the Eighties began. The Conservatives were creating their new order. Labour had to respond to the electoral failing and the damage done to them by a series of strikes. From this Labour unrest, the SDP was formed, the first major new party in British politics for decades.

The main section of The Forgotten Decade is a year-by-year account of the 1980’s, from the 1980 of Thatcher’s early days through to the 1989 of the fall of the Berlin wall, political and social changes in Wales are documented, with extensive use of newspaper cuttings from Gwynoro Jones’ personal archive. This section is book-ended by a look at the decade leading up to the 1980’s and an analysis of what has happened in the decades since the ‘80’s.

With the publication of The Forgotten Decade, videos that were made in 2016, and have remained 'private' on Gwynoro's YouTube channel since then are now being made 'public'.

All of them were recorded live and are uncut or edited. No pre recording preparation took place for any of the 1980s videos, it was just Gwynoro's on the spot recollections of events. Because of that, inevitably there will be some errors of fact regarding personalities, events, dates and timelines. The authentic record however is chronicled in the book.

This video is about events in 1984/5 and concentrates mainly on happenings in Carmarthen when Dr Roger Thomas, the then MP, faced considerable pressures and turmoil. 

This book provides us with an informative and eyewitness account of unfolding events of The Forgotten Decade of Welsh political evolution. Written in a semi diary style the book is ideal as a memory jogger for those that lived through this period themselves or for historians or the general readers who wish to learn exactly what was happening at the heart of Welsh politics in the 1980s.

Professor Russell Deacon

Also available of Wales Books Council site

Sunday 18 December 2022

Former broadcaster and politician Wyn Thomas reviews The Forgotten Decade

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. 

The 70’s 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.

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.

There are 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 the book.

Gwynoro retained 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 political ambitions.

During 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.

Jenkins and 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’.

They 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.

The story 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.

Two matters 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.

Gwynoro 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.

Those 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.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Dr John Ball reviews The Forgotten Decade


For students of political history or indeed the occasional reader interested in one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century, Jones and Gibbard The Forgotten Decade is a very readable, if long, read. It covers a wide range of events that happened in that decade

Subtitled Political Upheaval and Industrial Strife in 1980s Wales, it is ultimately a history of the SDP, its growth and failure set against the economic and political confusion and disorder of that unsettled decade.

The book begins with birth of the SDP. The need for a third force in UK politics, the optimism and excitement, the experience and status of its founders and early growth are all dealt with clear enthusiasm. However, despite early successes and anticipation of further success, the party became in turn a victim of the political fallout that followed the Falklands war and ultimately Westminster’s first past the post voting system with the failure to retain the Commons seats of those who had left their former political parties.

As the decade wore on the cracks began to appear. It soon became clear that this was a party without a guiding philosophy and even in the very early days, differences in opinion and approach between the founding leaders. Of the four founders, Roy Jenkins was the thinker and political leader but lacked an outgoing, public charm; David Owen was the opposite, charismatic, determined and very much a public figure. As David Owen eventually became the leader and “face” of the party, another characteristic came to the fore – his overbearing personality and the need to have his own way in all matters. Although to a great extent “forced” to collaborate with the Liberal leader David Steel, he did not like the Liberals, regarding them as soft on the fundamental issues. It was this view that led to his implacable opposition to the (eventual) merger of the SDP and Liberals and his decision, unsuccessfully, to maintain a separate SDP. Differences in approach also underpinned a different problem that helped to undermine the SDP. The media constantly raised the issue of coalition and the potential role of the SDP and Liberals as potential coalition partners. The question was not addressed but gave the impression that whatever transpired, neither party – nor especially the SDP – were strong enough to form a government and thus in the public mind questioned the value in voting for either party.

The lack of guiding philosophy meant that the SDP never really knew why it existed and where it was going. This comes through strongly in the book, throughout the entire decade there were endless meetings about rules, structure and policy, endlessly discussing the same issues. The impression given is one of not knowing what to do or say, so just keep talking; policy such as it was appears to have been at best flexible, at worst irrelevant.

Dealing with Wales during this decade is where the book comes into its own. Set against the background of Thatcherism and the disappointment of the 1979 referendum, the SDP emerged very much as Wales “nationalist” party. Not surprisingly it attracted members from across the Welsh political landscape. What is truly notable is the success of Welsh members in successfully maintaining a separate Welsh party and insisting that the establishment of an Assembly was central to policy. Reflecting David Owen’s centralist view, the SDP in London was clearly unsure of this separate organisation but significantly was totally opposed to an Assembly being central to policy. It is to the major credit of the members at this time that this policy was maintained throughout the decade and certainly contributed to the referendum result less than a decade after the SDP’s demise.

Although not central to the narrative, the failure of the 1979 referendum, the loss of dozens of councillors and the dismal performance in the general election of that year, resulted in Plaid Cymru all but disappearing during the decade. This was not helped by Dafydd Elis Thomas’ unsuccessful attempt to turn the party into a left-wing socialist movement. The irony of politics is that as the decade ended, the SDP and its glorious hopes had disappeared and Plaid Cymru began to re-emerge as a political force.

Written from Gwynoro Jones’s extensive archive, who was central in the activities of the SDP in Wales. The book sometimes reads as an autobiography. However, his commitment both to the need for a new force in politics within the UK, coupled with his determination that there should be a national voice for Wales, clearly shines through and makes this book highly readable.

Overall, for those reading this book today, it provides a fascinating picture of what might have been and how things have changed. Indeed, this was in some ways the forgotten decade and yet also one of upheaval and strife. The eighties did change the political landscape and informs life in Wales today – and Gwynoro Jones was there.