Tuesday, 11 April 2023

Pages from the book ‘The Forgotten Decade’ about the creation of S4C

 As S4C enters its 40th year ‘Y Swn’ is a timely contribution to the story.

The film, ‘Y Swn’, giving an account of the events which led up to establishing S4C has attracted a lot of attention in recent days. It is timely as S4C celebrates its 40th year.

There had been a campaign going on since the 1970s with the Welsh Language Society prominent in that campaign, as was Gwynfor Evans and several of us in the Labour Party at the time.

It was the struggles in Westminister that were the crucial ones however and in Alun Gibbard and my book The Forgotten Decade (pages 49-53) we gave a flavour of went on.

Here it is:

Northern Ireland, indirectly, played into the formation of a Welsh language TV channel for the first time in the nation’s history. There had been a campaign for many years for better provision of television programmes in Welsh and a channel dedicated to Welsh programmes. As the discussions to form such a channel seemed to be heading for the rocks Gwynfor Evans threatened to go on hunger strike if the political discussions led to a rejection of a channel for the Welsh language, as was looking likely in September 1980, the time that he made his threat. 

Six months later, a major hunger strike campaign was started in Northern Ireland when IRA activist Bobby Sands led a mass hunger strike protest in the Maze prison. Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike, and a total of nine other IRA prisoners died as the result of the same action. Gwynfor Evans’ continuing threat to go on hunger strike then was made at a very sensitive political time for such action.

The discussions for a Welsh channel, in Westminster terms, went back to 1979. Both Labour and the Conservatives had promised a Welsh language fourth channel in their General Election manifestos of that year – a year, of course, that also saw the devolution referendum. After that election, however, things changed. The new Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, decided that there would not be a dedicated Welsh channel after all. The existing situation of opt-outs for Welsh programmes on BBC and HTV would continue. 

This situation was seen as highly inadequate by those who campaigned for a Welsh channel. Welsh opt-out programmes were usually at anti-social and inconvenient times, seen as a sign of marginalisation and disrespect. The decision to keep that status quo sparked another period of protest. There were sit-ins in TV studios, refusals to pay the TV licence and the attacking of TV masts.

 By May 1980, Gwynfor had enough of the political obstinacy from the Tories and promised to go on hunger strike if the decision wasn’t reversed. At the National Eisteddfod of that year the Eisteddfod Court asked Cledwyn Hughes, Sir Goronwy Daniel and the Archbishop of Wales to form a deputation and to intervene in the whole sorry saga.

Within the Conservative party, however, there were also those who were lobbying for the party to keep its 1979 manifesto promise: Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards and, in particular, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales, Wyn Roberts. In his autobiography Right From The Start, outlines the discussions that had been happening within the cabinet to enforce a U-turn on the fourth channel for Wales. These took place long before Gwynfor’s September declaration. 

Roberts, however, conceded that Gwynfor’s hunger strike threat had taken the publicity initiative away from the Tory government. 

They have licked us hollow in the publicity battle because they have the more newsworthy story. We can only react to it now.

In his entry for September 20, he says that on return from a short holiday in Germany, he sees that:

the government – that is Willie and Nick – has completed their oval turn on the 4th channel issue and declared that the television licence fee must be raised by a £1 to finance the project. ‘Silly Willie’, proclaimed the Sun newspaper – but Gwynfor can now feast rather than fast.

In The Whitelaw Memoirs (1989), the then Home Secretary refers to this change of mind:

Eventually, Cledwyn Hughes, whom I regard highly, led an important delegation to see me … They persuaded me that it would really cause much bitterness and anger in Wales if we persisted with our plan. I thus persuaded my colleagues that we should abandon it. A Welsh Television Channel of its own was, therefore, established offering 22 hours of Welsh Language programmes each week.

John Morris goes on to say in his memoirs:

it was the prospect of defeat in the Lords that proved to be the final turn of the screw necessary to get the government to revert to its Welsh manifesto commitment to establish the core of a national service for the Welsh speaking minority. As far as I was concerned, and Nick Edwards too, conscience played some part in it. We did not like breaking promises and fought against it as hard as we dared.

The House of Lords, he explains, was set to oppose the Broadcasting Bill, which included the Government’s opposition to a fourth channel for Wales. He ends this chapter that deals with this issue on a reflective note:

There was more than a tinge of sadness in the whole business for me because the Conservative government gained minimal credit for the establishment of the Welsh service. The hero of the hour and for many years to come was the gladiator-cum-martyr Gwynfor, with his will and determination. The beneficiaries were his nationalist followers, and the lesson of his example was not lost upon them. Our Welsh language policy would have to be rebuilt against the background of suspicion and hostility among those it was intended to serve.

The decade’s first year drew to a close with differing prospects for Plaid, Labour and the Conservatives. At this point, Plaid could be regarded as the most buoyant of the three, having secured, as they saw it, the formation of a Welsh Language television channel. Sianel Pedwar Cymru, S4C, started on November 1, 1982, a day before English Channel 4.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

How to achieve becoming ‘the world’s most exciting economic zone’?

Well, according to PM Rishi Sunak get ‘‘privileged access’ to EU single market

In his desperation to get the DUP and the Tory euro sceptics to support the Windsor Agreement Sunak has got very over excited and thereby inadvertently' but quite unbelievably, has let the cat out of the bag.

The event in Windsor was rather effusive and the warmth of feeling between them was palpable. Sunak and von der Leyen (EU President) know each other well from their years in Stanford University, USA. Hence her addressing him  ' dear Rishi'.

Northern Ireland he said is in a unique position of the entire world –‘having privileged access not just to the UK home market, the fifth biggest in the world, but also the EU single market.’

Sunak went on:

 ‘’ Nobody else has that. No one – only you guys only here...I can tell you, when I go around the world and talk to businesses, they say: ‘That’s interesting’’.

 ‘’It’s like the world’s most exciting economic zone.”

 The irony is of course that before Brexit all of U.K. benefited from this ‘privileged access’.

 The question now for him and indeed the leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer, is why not extend this ‘fantastic deal’ to the rest of the U.K.?

 Instead over three years the Tory government has erected immense barriers to trade between the UK and the EU. Its impacting on imports and exports, hurting investment and has contributed to significant labour shortages in several sectors of the economy. A whole range of businesses farmers, fishermen, across Britain have had to cope with all sorts of trade barriers, form filling and red tape.

 The economy has already taken a hit and businesses have suffered, losing trade and business opportunities.

 Studies show that by the end of 2022 the UK economy was 5% (£31bn) smaller than if the UK had not left the single market. The Office for Budget Responsibility says Brexit will have a long-term effect of cutting UK GDP by 4%. The Financial Times says such a decline amounts to £100bn in lost output and £40bn less revenue to the Treasury

So, the PM having opened Pandora’s box, it is now time to redouble the effort to re-join the single market so all the nations of the U.K. can achieve this ‘privileged access’’ to the huge EU market.

Time was of course that Sunak extolled the virtues of the Northern Ireland Protocol deal negotiated by Boris Johnson claiming that Brexit depended on it. Anything else would have been a sell out. For three years he saw nothing negative with the deal.

In the House of Commons on Monday however he boasted how he had managed to change the protocol highlighting in detail what had been wrong with the 2019 deal. More or less admitting it all had been a rubbish idea from the outset.

But that’s politics I suppose. 

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Sixty years this weekend I was in Murrayfield for Scotland v Wales

 All the struggles just to watch the most boring game in history

The beginning of 1963 witnessed heavy snow and freezing conditions since the worst of all winters which was in 1947. I recall the 1947 winter vividly with snow on the ground for four months. It was just as bad in 1963 but nothing on quite the same scale.

Wales and England was only played at Cardiff Arms Park in the January because some 15 tons of straw had covered the playing field for quite a while to protect it from the snow and the severe frost.  In the final days of 1962 a severe blizzard had spread throughout south Wales.)

 In the hours before the game dozens of volunteers helped to clear the straw just beyond the touchlines. It was said that the temperature was minus 6 degrees during the game.   Wales lost 13 -6 in a game that was the only sporting event that took place in the UK on that day. In truth it should not have been played, parts of the playing surface were frozen and the referee tried to get the game called off, but there were some 55,000 in the ground.

I was there being a rugby fanatic and a student at Cardiff University.

A fortnight later, February 2nd, Wales was due to meet Scotland at Murrayfield. The weather was still bad – snow and frost – but the pitch had an underground heating system so there would be no doubt about whether the game would go on.

In any event along with a few of my student friends I was sat in the common room of what was known as the new Arts block of the University. Somehow the topic of the game in Scotland came up and more surprisingly the conversation about going to see the game came up. This was the Thursday afternoon.

Anyway it ended with a bet between me and William ‘Nash’ Bevan, a school mate from Gwendraeth Grammar days as well. The bet was who had the courage to thumb it to Edinburgh. Matters got out of hand and both of us foolishly agreed to meet at 4.30 that afternoon outside Cardiff castle and go from there.

I remember going to my digs in Grangetown to collect some stuff, all the while desperately hoping that ‘Nash’ would not be there by the castle. My heart sank – he was.

So off we went along Queen Street and then on to Newport Road trying to catch a lift. Eventually a jeep stopped with an open back. We sat there until Birmingham, desperately cold. When we were dropped off in the centre of the city the first thing we did was to go into a telephone kiosk to plan what to do next, but more importantly warm up. Why a kiosk and not a cafe or pub – don’t ask me!

By now it was around eight in the evening so off we went again and this time got a lift from a lorry. I am not sure which way we went – was it towards the North West or the North East of England. In any event around eight in the morning we were dropped off not too far from the Scottish border. We came across a pub, and went in, explained to the landlord what had happened and he was kind enough to let us wash etc and also cooked us a breakfast. We stayed there a while to recover and warm up.

As we were about to leave a man came in for a break and it turned out he too was going to Edinburgh so he offered us a lift in his rather big car I seem to recall.

By mid afternoon we were in Edinburgh. Now came the decision what were we going to do about accommodation for the Friday night. But first we took a stroll along Princes Street. Then to my surprise we came across a group of Tumble RFC players and got chatting and going to a pub with them. (In the 1962/63 rugby season I was playing for them every Saturday – travelling back home from Cardiff on the Friday night each time).

When they found out what we had done they thought we were nuts and in any case just asked me ‘why didn’t you come up with us on the bus?’ I explained all this was a spur of the moment decision with no thought given to the implications.

One fortuitous thing happened. They said you can stay in our hotel. The management won’t know because half of us won’t be back in the hotel until the morning.  So it turned out. When we were having breakfast on the Saturday morning in came about ten of them from their ‘night out’.

They also suggested we could travel back with them, but that was not going to be until the Tuesday, so again we foolishly declined.

So on to the game on a bitterly cold day. Two spare tickets had been given to us by the players.

What a game! There had been nothing like it before or since. In fact the rules on kicking straight to touch was changed as a result. There were 111 lineouts. It was a war of attrition between two sets of forwards. Clive Rowlands (nicknamed ‘Top Cat’) did not pass once to David Watkins the outside half – he just kicked to touch from every scrum and lineout. He set out to win, as Wales had not won in Murrayfield for over a decade, and in that he achieved his aim. Wales won 6-0.

We had already decided to start on our way back after the game. This time we would go via Glasgow. The snow was starting to fall as well. We picked up a lift pretty soon after starting from Edinburgh and reached the outskirts of Gretna Green. I just recall us hanging around in a bus stop shelter for quite some time. Snow falling and being bitterly cold.

The journey back to South Wales is vague in my memory now except arriving in Newport mid Sunday afternoon. But the irony was ‘Nash’ and I were so tired and cold we caught a train to Cardiff!

So there we go, not quite as described by Max Boyce in one of his famous songs The Scottish Trip