Review of Adrian Masters’ Nothing has changed.

I reviewed Adrian Masters’ book Nothing has Changed for Wales Arts Review. Here’s a longer version of the review:

I’ve known Adrian Masters since he worked for BBC Radio Wales and came to interview me in my Tonypandy home prior to my election to the National Assembly in 2003. I’ve forgotten now what the item was about, but I think Adrian had been interviewing people in the Rhondda on the issues that mattered to them and then come to candidates for their views.

Adrian has always been one of the most thorough of interviewers in Welsh broadcasting – fair, but firm. His infamous red notebooks contain many secrets, some of which he shares – without revealing sources where they didn’t want to be named – in this volume of his 2017 election diaries. His title of course comes from the statement by the Prime Minister after she reversed her disastrous manifesto pledge on social care during the election campaign. By the early hours of 10 June, however, as Adrian says, ‘Everything has changed’.

This was an election where, as Adrian reminded us, the Conservatives started well-ahead of Labour in the polls and senior Labour figures thought that the party would do well to hold 200 seats. ITV Wales’s own Yougov poll had the Tories well ahead of Labour at the beginning of the campaign, poised to win 21 seats. I remember this well from a Twitter spat at the time between my friend the late Carl Sargeant and my Cardiff University colleague Roger Scully.

Though the substantive election inquests have yet to be published, this election seemed to one of two halves, reflected in the cross-over in the opinion polls and the dramatic final outcome. For the third General Election in a row I watched an exit poll come in and said ‘I don’t believe it’. Only unlike the previous two general elections I wasn’t sitting in a BBC Wales studio at the time.

Adrian’s book takes us back to the days before the election, which genuinely seem like a different electoral world. As he says ‘certainties have been lost, rules bent or broken and leaders have risen and fallen.’ His account starts with the terrorist incident in Westminster, moves through the death of Rhodri Morgan and the further terrorist outrage in Manchester, and concludes with Labour picking up Welsh seats like Vale of Clwyd, Gower and Cardiff North.

Adrian is in no doubt that the Labour surge can be put down to changing and more positive reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, a strong showing by Welsh Labour under Carwyn Jones’ leadership, and argues that ‘the tributes to Rhodri Morgan also cemented the view of Welsh Labour being different.’

Where Adrian scores most heavily in these diaries is on background colour. Messages come in from different party representatives, both elected and backroom, which may have surfaced on Adrian’s Twitter feed at the time but may not have made it into broadcast reports. Things that Adrian was told then on background now surface – unattributed – in their mistaken glory.

What is written from a Labour perspective reflects conversations I was having with people at the time, but it is interesting to get an all-round view of how Conservative, Plaid and other party insiders were feeling. I can make guesses at some of the sources on the Labour side in particular, but while Adrian quotes them here to give a sense of the contemporary mood, he doesn’t embarrass them with personal unmasking. Nor would you expect him to do so.

Where people were willing to be quoted, Adrian makes good use of the material he gathered. ‘By any sensible consideration, I’m toast’ says Paul Flynn at one point. Later in the campaign he tells Adrian ‘More optimistic now. There is a favourable Welsh dimension because of Carwyn and memories of Rhodri.’ As late as the last week of the campaign a Conservative AM tells Adrian that they (he doesn’t specify gender) now think they will elect ‘a rugby team and a few reserves’. They went down to eight.

Adrian’s personal account of the ITV Wales debate is fascinating, and gives a good sense of the challenges facing a broadcast journalist trying to both maintain balance and keep the flow of the debate. His account of the behind-the-scenes row within the Conservative Party as to whether Andrew RT Davies or Alun Cairns was to appear for them is entertaining and becomes a sub-plot within the text, as does Adrian’s battle to get an interview with the PM. Campaign insider accounts of the use of Facebook and social, media to mobilise young people are interesting and valuable.

Throughout this book, Adrian demonstrates what a good print journalist he could have been. His account has pace, is well-written and thoughtful, with contemplative passages added to the contemporary diary and reconstructed notes. Reading it in the aftermath of Carl Sargeant’s tragic death made me reflect on how long ago it all now feels. Yes,  everything has changed.

Twenty years ago today, Wales voted for a National Assembly.

Twenty years ago today, Wales voted to create a National Assembly  the only political institution the people of Wales have ever voted to have.

I wrote this in February about the campaign. I have posted some pictures from 1997 on my Tumblr site. My book on the campaign can be bought from Seren. Today we are holding a conference on the anniversary, with the Wales Governance Centre and the Institute for Welsh Affairs.

Metropolitan provincialism and the Welsh Language

I wrote an article for the Welsh language magazine Barn on some of the recent London-based media items on the Welsh Language. The article follows in both Welsh and English.

Barn

 

Taleithgarwch Dinesig a’r Iaith Gymraeg

 

 

Leighton Andrews

 

Dros yr haf cafwyd erthyglau neu eitemau anwybodus yn y Guardian, The Times a Newsnight ynghylch yr iaith Gymraeg. Oherwydd y cyflymder ymateb a ganiateir gan gyfryngau cymdeithasol heddiw, gorfu iddynt oll amddifyn eu hunain rhag beirniadaeth sylweddol cefnogwyr yr iaith Gymraeg, boed rheini yn siarad yr iaith ai peidio. Dywedodd fy nghysylltiadau i yn y ddau bapur newydd yn ddioed y bu’r ddadansoddi golygyddol mewnol yr un mor hallt. O ganlyniad cyhoeddodd y ddau bapur yn fuan wedyn erthyglau ystyriol a oedd yn fwy cefnogol i’r iaith.

 

Roedd ymateb staff yn y BBC a gynddeiriogwyd gan Newsnight yn gyhoeddus a buan, er i ffynonellau swyddogol dewi tan ar ôl darlledu ymddiheuriad llugoer braidd Newsnight. Wedi hyn oll, cyfaddefodd y BBC y gallasai’r item fod wedi bod yn drafodaeth well pe bai siaradwr Cymraeg yn bresennol.

 

Mae’r traethiadau ysbeidiol hyn yn amlygu problem ehangach pan ddaw hi’n fater o drafod yr iaith Gymraeg a Chymru. Mae gan y Deyrnas Gyfunol un o’r sectorau papur newydd mwyaf canoledig yn Ewrop. Roedd gan y BBC, ysgrifennodd ei chyn-olygydd gwleidyddol Andrew Marr unwaith, duedd diwylliannol ddinesig ryddfrydol. Bu agwedd Newsnight tuag at rannau eraill o’r BBC, hyd yn oed oddi fun i’r uned newyddion a materion cyfoes yn Llundain, yn drahaus erioed. Bu i Marr a Martin Kettle y Guardian, bitïo methiant cyfryngau Llundain i drafod y Deyrnas Gyfunol a’i dadlennu hi iddi hi ei hun, gan fethu i helaethu dealltwriaeth pobl mewn gwahanol ardaloedd, dinasoedd, rhanbarthau ac o wahanol genhedloedd o lefydd a diwylliannau eraill. Galwodd Kenneth O. Morgan a Raymond Williams ill dau yn unigol yr agwedd hon yn ‘daleithgarwch dinesig’ (‘metropolitan provincialism’).

 

Ar ôl bron ugain maligned o ddatganoli, dylem allu disgwyl gwell, ond nid wyf yn disgwyl i hynny ddigwydd. Dyna pam y bu i’n Tasglu diweddar ar newyddion digidol ac anghenion gwybodaeth y Cynulliad godi’r posibilrwydd o blatfform newyddion digidol i’r Cynulliad.

 

Mae ystafelloedd newyddion Llundain yn darganfod y Gymraeg yn unig pan maent am wneud hwyl ar ben beth sydd iddyn nhw yn rhyfedd, neu yn egsotig neu yn wyrdroad o’r norm iaith Saesneg. Y storïau na chȃnt eu hadrodd yw’r rhai am amrywiaeth siaradwyr y Gymraeg; am lwyddiant addysg ddwyieithog; taw dwyieithogrwydd yw’r norm yn Ewrop a thu hwnt; a’r llwyddiant gwleidyddol a ddangosir trwy’r polisïau i feithrin y Gymraeg dros y 60 mlynedd diwethaf.

 

Ges i fy magu yn ddi-Gymraeg: er fod fy mamgu o Ddinas Cross yn Sir Benfro, a symudodd i’r Barri ar droad yr ugeinfed ganrif, yn medru’r iaith, ni throsglwyddodd yr iaith i fy nhad. Nawr gallaf gynnal sgyrsiau yn Gymraeg, wneud areithiau yn Gymraeg, gynnal cyfweliadau yn Gymraeg, ac yn bwysicaf oll gallaf siarad Cymraeg fel tadcu i’m wyres hynaf. Mae hanes y Gymraeg yn hanes llwyddiant Prydeinig a gresyn na all golygyddion Llundain weld hynny.

 

 

 

 

Metropolitan provincialism and the Welsh Language

 

Leighton Andrews

 

This summer the Guardian, The Times and BBC Newsnight all ran ill-informed articles or items about the Welsh Language. With the speed of response allowed by social media today, each was immediately placed on the defensive by the concentrated criticism from supporters of the Welsh Language, whether they spoke Welsh or not. My own contacts at the two newspapers very swiftly told me that the internal editorial post-mortem was also fierce. Both publications subsequently published critical pieces more supportive of the language.

 

The reaction from BBC staff appalled by Newsnight was public and prompt, although official sources were silent until after Newsnight broadcast something of a half-hearted apology. Subsequently, the BBC has admitted that the item would have been better debated with the presence of a Welsh-speaker.

 

These spasmodic commentaries demonstrate a wider problem when it comes to UK coverage of the Welsh Language and Wales. The UK has one of the most centralized newspaper sectors in Europe. The BBC, its presenter and former political editor Andrew Marr once wrote, had an urban cultural liberal bias. Newsnight has always demonstrated an arrogance to other parts of the BBC, even within its London news and current affairs operation. Both Marr and the Guardian’s Martin Kettle have lamented the failure of London media to report the UK to itself, helping a widening understanding by people in different districts, towns, cities, regions and nations of other places and their cultures. Kenneth O. Morgan and Raymond Williams separately called this attitude ‘metropolitan provincialism’.

 

After almost 20 years of devolution, we should expect better, but I do not expect that to happen. That’s why our recent Task Force report on the Assembly’s digital news and information requirements raised the possibility of an Assembly digital content platform.

 

Newsrooms in London only discover Welsh when they want to poke fun at its perceived quaintness or exoticism or deviation from the English-speaking norm. The unreported stories are about the diversity of Welsh-speakers in Wales; the growth of Welsh-medium education; the fact that bilingualism is the norm in Europe and beyond; and the political success that Welsh language policy demonstrates over the last 60 years.

 

I grew up not speaking Welsh: though my grandmother from Dinas Cross in Pembrokeshire who moved to Barry sometime before the turn of the twentieth century had the language, it was never passed to my father. Now I can hold conversations in Welsh, makes speeches in Welsh, do interviews in Welsh, and more importantly speak Welsh as Tadcu to my elder grand-daughter. The story of Welsh is a British success story, and it’s a shame that London editors can’t see it.

 

Twenty years since Yes for Wales

Twenty years ago we had launched the Yes for Wales campaign, which was of course dependent on Labour winning the 1997 General Election campaign and implementing its referendum promise.

In September, we are planning a conference to mark the twentieth anniversary of Wales’s historic vote. More soon.

In the meantime, I wrote this about the launch of the 1997 campaign recently. You’ll find some entertaining photographs from the campaign on my Tumblr site here