On Monday 15 May Rhodri Morgan addressed around 80 members of Pontyclun U3A at its monthly meeting. It was entertaining. It was educative and thought provoking as Rhodri responded to many questions. We were enjoying the company of a friend.

We learned of Rhodri’s childhood in Radyr. He told us that his parents were a Welsh teacher and a Welsh professor who shared with Rhodri their concern for social justice in the communities of Wales. Rhodri and I had previously shared memories of our collier grandparents in the neighbouring villages of Ynystawe and Glais. Rhodri had studied politics at Oxford and Harvard before becoming an MP for Cardiff West in 1987.

We learned of Rhodri’s doggedness in putting aside Tony Blair’s opposition to his becoming First Minister in the new Welsh Assembly in 2000. He was determined to make Wales as proud of its own government as it was of its own rugby team – being seen to overcome challenges such as ‘foot and mouth’, as well as setting new directions for our economy and society. A Pontyclun U3A member told Rhodri that devolution to Wales had made her more confident of herself and her Welshness.

Rhodri’s talk in Pontyclun was his last public engagement. On Wednesday 17 May Rhodri suffered a fatal heart attack whilst riding the old bike he had recently rediscovered in his shed. He had told us of his new enthusiasm for his old bike. If any of us thought there might be risks in this enthusiasm, we would have recognised Rhodri’s life-long determination to make his own decisions and do it his own way.

I worked as Rhodri’s special adviser for the first eight years of his time as First Minister. He was a very special man, politician and friend. He was absolutely comfortable with his deep understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses. Whereas other politicians can be worn down, become defensive, by the constant challenge and negativity of 24 hour political scrutiny; Rhodri’s open and genial personality was unshiftable. He was fascinated by every person he met: the initiator of a global corporation, the nurse at A&E or the coach of a junior rugby team. They would never forget Rhodri and, amazingly, he would never forget them. In a very rare sense for a modern politician, he was a father to our nation.



Shameful Fiasco for Welsh Planning

Last week Welsh planners wantonly wrote off the economies of the Ely and Rhondda valleys when Cardiff Council approved an application to develop 10,000 houses near Creigiau in north west Cardiff.

The planners have offered only restricted access to junction 33 of the M4 and so most of the new residents will drive to Junction 34 in Rhondda Cynon Taf to reach most of their destinations. They will cause total gridlock to a junction already working well beyond capacity. The result is that economic and housing development in the Ely and Rhondda valleys will be undermined by some stubborn determination to develop these disconnected fields of outer Cardiff.

It is so obviously bad planning, why did it happen?

Back in 2010 Cardiff Council’s draft Local Development Plan had been rejected by Welsh Government because it had not met the targets set for housing development. I attended meetings to pick up the pieces. A Welsh Government planning official laid down the law: no LDP would be approved without 40,000 extra homes within Cardiff’s boundaries. I questioned this, arguing that the projections for household formation were based on data from before the financial crash and, in any case, we should be looking for well-connected housing growth outside of Cardiff’s borders and not unconnected growth from within.

The civil servant, surprisingly brash and brazen, asserted that as a qualified planner he knew what was right: Wales needed a bigger Cardiff with bigger boundaries and a bigger population. Small countries, he said, needed big cities. I gave examples of successful city regions which had small, high quality cities with big, well connected, diverse and productive hinterlands. It was to no avail. The die was cast.

A new Cardiff LDP is now in place offering 40,000 new homes concentrated within the city boundaries but with no connectivity. Cardiff’s new residents will surge into transport corridors, outwith the city boundaries, originally designed to open up valley communities. Well connected sites for housing development outside of Cardiff will be shunned as developers cherry pick the green, green fields of Creigiau and St Fagans.

The emperor has no clothes but in the professional cabals of Welsh planning, there is barely a whisper.


Theatre of Politics

I went to a production of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land this weekend. I wanted to see if the last forty years had made me more receptive to Pinter’s dialogues. The main actors were Ian Mc Kellan and Patrick Stewart.

I often read that Pinter is a north Londoner of high principle and fine social values.

At the interval, one theatre goer, who had travelled from Manchester to Cardiff, told me that she was finding the play self- indulgent gobbledygook. My only additional thought was to refer to its surprising misogyny.

The theatre audience was by far the youngest I had seen in decades. When I asked a person half my age what had drawn them to the play, it transpired that they had come to see Gandalf and Star Trek’s Picard.

I found their performances disappointing – lacking any emotional or intellectual impact. The show was almost rescued by a Welsh actor called Owen (Teale) who at least provided a bit of oomph.

The young audience had come to see a messiah and they were determined not to be disappointed. There were standing ovations and queues at the stage door for McKellen and Stewart. If this was Star Trek I would be lost in a parallel universe.


‘Independence’ for Wales within the Eurpean Union

We are looking for light at the end of the Brexit tunnel. Here it is!

Before the UK negotiates its departure from the EU, Scotland will vote in a referendum to leave the United Kingdom and stay in the European Union.

This will allow us in Wales to claim that our EU referendum took place on a false prospectus. We were offered a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as an alternative to membership of the European Union. Scotland leaving the UK changes the offer.

On this basis the Welsh Government should demand a new referendum in Wales in which we are asked to choose between a union with England or a separate Wales within the European Union.

An ‘independent’ Wales within the European Union would be uniquely placed to have access to markets in an otherwise isolated England and in the EU. In this context Wales would build on its current manufacturing base to be Northern Europe’s key location for steel, the automotive and aeronautic industries, new energy and bio-medical technologies. Former UK university research groups will relocate to Wales to maintain European networks. Key financial services will move from London to Cardiff to maintain a bridgehead into Europe.

Disaffected Welsh voters who have recently voted to leave the EU in a desperate desire for change would instead be persuaded to constitutionally detach themselves from England if the vision of a new future was clearly articulated.

Is this fantasy? Sceptics will point to the large gap between tax revenues and public expenditure in Wales, a gap that will widen so long as our economy is subservient to the needs of London as a beleaguered base for finance capital. If we have the vision to grow our economy through innovation, investment in skills, a march of the makers, a rich mix of small and large enterprises replicating the ownership and banking structures of Germany and Scandinavia, a more equal resource distribution, empowered and purposeful trades unions; our public finances will look after themselves. People of Wales, united with Europe, providing a bridge into England, we have nothing to lose but our chains.



Staying Local within the European Union

Well done the new Welsh Local Government Minister. Mark Drakeford has given the Williams Report the burial it deserves – no more dreams of a militaristic, top down public service. Local people can retain their engagement with local services with local councils building networks to share what needs to be shared.

The same vision needs to underpin the European Union we will create after a ‘Remain’ vote this Thursday. Throughout Europe we will retain responsive national governments, accountable to their citizens. Through a European Union those national governments can work together to challenge the inequalities of global capitalism, ensure the rights of workers to share control of their own workplace, and sustain an environment we can hand over to future generations.

Outside a European Union, Wales loses its potential to be European centre for advanced manufacturing, lead Europe in energy supply, steel manufacture, automotive supplies, aerospace supplies, bio and medical technology, and much else.

With confidence and vision we can control our own communities and work together across Europe.

Carwyn to renounce Local Government Reorganisation

Huge congratulations to the Welsh Labour Party. Against all predictions, today’s election results provide a mandate to Carwyn Jones and his Assembly colleagues to continue providing the Government of Wales. For over a century Labour has been the party of Wales and once again the people of Wales confirmed this reality.

Carwyn, as in the last Assembly, will lead a minority Labour Government. Once again there will be no coalition and no majority for any legislative proposal to diminish local democracy by reducing the number of principal local authorities in Wales.

In recent years councils have been radically re-shaping public services in the context of 40% austerity cuts to most services and have been doing so in a debilitating environment of constant denigration and threats to their very existence.

Sadly, the last Welsh Government accepted the analysis of the Williams Commission with its advocacy of top down, large scale oganisational structures last seen in the heyday of Henry Ford and Joseph Stalin. All the opposition parties in the Assembly election specifically set themselves against the Williams prescription.

One of the first acts of Carwyn’s new Government must be to state that there will be no bill to reduce the number of principal local authorities in Wales, recognising that any such bill will fail to gain a majority. This would release Welsh local government to build on a certain future; create the regional structures necessary to promote economic development and regional investment; and also empower local towns and rural communities. This would be an exciting agenda which would enthuse local councils and gain a large majority in the new Welsh Assembly.


A Concrete Vision for Welsh Local Government

I took a break from canvassing for Labour candidates in the Welsh Assembly election to spend last weekend at the Porthcawl Jazz Festival. It was an opportunity to revisit the Grand Pavilion and evoke memories of my teenage years in the 1960’s – weekly rock bands each culminating in a mass brawl: a sort of ritualised Porthcawl v Cornelly Haka, participation in some very odd amateur dramatics and a two month stint as Assistant Stage Manager at a Stan Stennett pantomime. A far cry perhaps from the official history of eisteddfodau and the magnificent transatlantic address of Paul Robeson in 1957.

Until last weekend I had not marvelled at the achievement of creating a concrete dome structure in 1932, combining the most advanced building material with Art Deco detail and classical design. All this was achieved by the Porthcawl Urban District Council serving a population of less than 5000 residents. Faced with closure of the coal port, the town’s original raison d’etre, and the impact of a global economic depression, the local council re-imagined the town as a tourist destination with a pavilion and palm court to match the promenade. They matched their vision with large scale investment and organisational determination.

As the newly elected Welsh Assembly re-imagines Welsh local government for the 21st century, will they share the vision of the Porthcawl UDC in 1932?