Friday, 6 February 2009

Biting the hand that you want to feed you

I was truly amazed at the comments by Rhys Williams, the Labour candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, in this month's edition of Barn.

I'll come to what he actually said in a moment, but I can't simply ignore the politics of it. For a candidate to say that he 'hates', as a group, two thirds of the people whose votes he is seeking reads like a political suicide note. If any Plaid candidate made that sort of comment about the people (s)he was seeking to represent, I'd be initiating serious discussions about changing the candidate. And I cannot imagine that any serious candidate for a serious party would get away with such comments if they were based on race, creed, or colour.

As I said on Dragon's Eye last night, my own experience is completely different from that portrayed by Rhys. What I see is not the language being used by Welsh-speakers to exclude others so much as Welsh-speakers excluding the language in order to include those who cannot understand it.

Time after time, I see meetings and events conducted wholly or mostly in English - even when there is a translator present - often simply in order to make everyone feel fully part of the proceedings (or perhaps they just don't trust my translation?). I see people - community leaders amongst them - who speak excellent Welsh in conversation before and after the meeting or event turning to English for the duration if there is anyone present who does not understand Welsh.

Not everyone does this of course – there are some who do use Welsh when there is a translator present. That's why there is a translator present - to enable those who don't understand Welsh to hear everything that's said. Perhaps that's what he doesn't like - but what's wrong with it? It's fascinating that anyone should see translation as a means of excluding people, when the intention is exactly the opposite.

If that is really what he believes, it tells us more about Rhys than about 'Welsh-speakers in rural Wales'. The only way to overcome that sort of 'exclusion' is to assume that Welsh is OK for the hearth and social settings – and between consenting adults in private - but English is essential for the more serious stuff.

Right at the end of last night's discussion, he made what I took to be his crunch point, when he said that the difference between us was that I had "accepted the package" that comes with living in rural West Wales – the implication being that he has not. Worse, the group which he 'hates' have not all rushed to embrace his own form of Welsh identity. I wonder whether the core issue here is that he himself is less than completely confident or comfortable with his identity, and somehow wants to blame those who have a different sort of Welsh identity.

Labour politicians are an increasingly endangered species around these parts – it looks as though at least one of them is doing his very best to ensure that they become extinct.


Anonymous said...

is there a translation of the original article by Rhys Williams in Barn?
the one on their website is obviously in Welsh:

I'm amazed by his comments but hope no one will 'demand' that he stands down or anything like that.

Anonymous said...

I think the Labour party should demand that he stands down. partly because of these comments, as you state they would not be accepted if it was based of race or religion. But more so they should ask him to stand down because he has done his very best to ensure that their continuing demise in West Wales and Carmarthenshire in particular is moved on to nuclear proportions!

Progressive Comment said...

Well done Rhys Williams for losing the election before it has even been called.

John Dixon said...

Anon 10:34,

As far as I am aware, there is no translation available on the web, sorry.

On the whole, I don't go in for 'demanding' that people should resign. I merely comment that, if a Plaid candidate had made these sorts of statements, I wouldn't be sitting around waiting for such a clamour from outside the party.

cymrumark said...

Excellent post John. As a non Welsh speaker I cringe when people switch to english in meetings where we have translators available to make me feel "included" it actually has the opposite effect.

It is quite difficult to maintain a discussion in two languages but in a formal meeting there should be no problem at all.

Mind you my colleagues are of the view that oif all our meetings were in welsh only with no translators I would not be able to speak thus ensuring the meetings finished on time :)

Unknown said...

The sooner they become extinct (referring to 'New Labour') the better for Wales. Long may their demise continue! True socialim, and progressive politics, belongs to Plaid.

Rhys Wynne said...

In the article, he claims Welsh speakers are 'racist' based on three examples, one of which is that Cynog Dafis felt it was sad that some Welsh speakers (including Cynog's own friend) didn't pass on the language to their children when the other parent didn't speak Welsh.

In his article, Rhys Williams hints that he thought that Cynog's attitude was intolerant towards his friends decision to bring his child up in Englsih.

On the Dragon's eye, he's changed his story completely and he's now saying that he thinks Welsh speakers are at fault for not transferring the language from one generation to the next.

I'm confused now as to what he doesn't like. Is it people pointing out the obvious, that failure to transmit language is damaging to it's future, or just when Welsh speakers themselves point it out (especially if they're in the Welsh nationalist movement)?

What a funny little man!

Re: Welsh speakers willingness to switch to English.

When my wife was learning, one big obstacle was that Welsh speakers have become conditioned to switch to English as not to be 'rude'- but of course, that's the last thing you want when you're trying to learn a language and 'fit in'.

It's an old habit to shake off, but I imagine in future, using translation equipment (i.e the Welsh speakers continuing in Welsh) will become more normal.

Anonymous said...

I watched the interveiw on Dragons eye , how you didnt laugh I have no idea.
If that is the calibre of what Labour are putting forward , they have lost the plot.
There was no cogent arguement and no sense from him.
I wonder if he had a phone call this morning

Anonymous said...

I thought you both looked mad.

John Dixon said...

Gareth Orton,

Not really surprised that your contribution to debate maintains its usual high standard of wit and relevance to the subject matter.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you not "demanding" that Rhys Willimas resign. Firstly on principle that he's entiled to a viewpoint and it is better for us to argue the contrary case than seek to throw out viewpoints that are deemed to be "unacceptable", but secondly because he is exactly the sort of Labour candidate we in Plaid want in Carms East

David Walters

Anonymous said...

As a Plaid supporter, I was shocked by what Rhys said. I know and like the man and do not understand what he was trying to say. My gut feeling is that like many traditional Labour supporters, Rhys is finding it ever more difficult to justify his membership of a party that has moved away from almost everything he believes in. Yet for him like many other Labour supporters, it's like deserting your family.
I'm a bit worried about him, because Thursday's broadcast did not show the Rhys I know and respect.

Anonymous said...

some good points here:

... I think many Labour people (Welsh-speakers in particular) just feel uncomfortable in Welsh-speaking enviornment. Rhodri Morgan and Eluned Morgan, for all their 'Welsh credentials', seem constantly pissed off and disinterested when they're at Welsh events (Eisteddfod) or on Welsh panel discussions (Pawb a'i Farn). People notice that.

It's a great loss to the Welsh language that Labour and their community, seem to have decided to disengage with modern Welsh language culture.

Not everyone cares about Welsh, or it not be everyone's priority. But if you do, then it's obvious, Welsh isn't safe in Labour's hands.