Adam Price’s Blog

The Blog of Adam Price AS/MP, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Adam Price MP / AS - Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

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Archive for August, 2009

24th August 2009

Quantum leap

What industry needs lots of cheap land, plentiful access to water and cheap energy?  No, not woollen mills, but one of the world’s highest tech industries: data storage.  Remote areas in the United States have been offering big incentives to the likes of Google and Apple to locate massive server farms in remote rural locations.  Apple for example have just confirmed what could develop into a $2 billion investment in a poor, rural county of North Carolina.  Google has also got a smaller facility in the state.  The need for a cheap source of electricity is obvious for these huge energy-guzzling data centres; the water is needed for the cooling systems; cheap, accessible land with easy planning and room for expansion is also key.   Google has already patented the idea of a floating data centre generating its own tidal energy offshore, and the Scottish – who see an opportunity to leapfrog into pole position in these two key industries of data management and marine renewables – have come up with an interesting project which handily combines both elements. 

But isn’t this a great opportunity for rural, coastal  Wales, especially the North which has high fibre-optic bandwidth with spare capacity?  The Scandinavians and the Balts are already on the case.  Let’s not get left behind.  Let’s get ahead of the wave.

20th August 2009

A design for plaid


Paolo Coelho, the author of The Alchemist,  argues that people come in two generic types – gardeners who invest in a lifelong passion, patiently pruning and planting and enjoying the slow, steady transformation  that creates a truly great garden.  Then there are the builders who work on projects, who love working to a plan with clear objectives and when the work’s completed – after a brief moment of satisfaction – it’s time to move on to the next project.  It’s quite important for your own sense of happiness to work out which camp you’re in:  I know classic ‘gardeners’ who get frustrated because they never have the time or the continuity to achieve their long-term vision.  Equally I know builders who sometimes get trapped in a rut – building the walls that then confine them. 

I am a builder – tthe fact that I don’t even have a garden is probably symptomatic – I have an intrinsic loathing of repetitive tasks.  I like to set goals, hopefully achieve them and then invest my energy in something new. 

It’s this with this in mind that I am standing down at our Annual Conference (in Llandudno this year from September 10 to 13th) as Director of Elections.  I have been on Plaid’s National Executive on and off continually for the last twenty years so hopefully  I’ve earned a break.  But I am particularly pleased to have been part of a team that has taken the party from the doldrums of the middle of this decade to being, not just a party of Government for the first time in its history, but the most dynamic force in Welsh politics today poised as I think we are to win a national election for the first time in 2011. 

When I agreed to stand for this post  back in the Summer of 2005 it was on condition that the party was prepared to back an agenda for radical change in the way that it organised and presented itself to the Welsh electorate. The combined ‘buy-in’ by the then Chief Executive Dafydd Trystan, Ieuan as Leader and Dafydd Iwan as President was absolutely crucial.    It was branded a ‘rebranding’ exercise – and the swapping of the ‘Welsh poppy” for the ‘Triban’ was an useful early indicator that something interesting was happening in Plaid.  The party’s new visual identity projected a new modern. inclusive image which has stayed with us ever since.

But the transformation of the party in just four years has been much more than just superficial.  Critical to the success that we have enjoyed (our share of the vote has risen in every set of elections compared to the previous round – the party is back on an upward curve) was the creation of a National Campaigns Unit headed by the tirelessly dedicated Geraint Day and staffed by an incredibly talented team.  The related decision to create a Director of Communications post (filled by the uber-talented Alun Shurmer and now the mega-bright Morgan Lloyd – an old management trick is always to appoint people under your leadership who are far more talented than yourself)  – helped us to create a new professionalism in our media, web presence and campaign communications.  The 2007 party political broadcasts were the pinnacle of a strategy that sought to position as having the most innovative and fresh of all the parties’ campaigns.  We won that battle…though little did we think that we’d be copied across the Atlantic (hat tip to Vaughan Roderick).

One of the other objectives we set was to inoculate the negatives that the party had faced at previous elections.  We needed to project Ieuan’s personality and take off some of the negative perceptions that had been a feature in 2003.  My seemingly off-the-cuff comment about the ‘good country solicitor’ was latched upon as a gaffe but was part of a deliberate attempt to emphasise Ieuan’s strengths :  dependability,  attention to detail, rootedness, approachability, a sense of leadership as service.  That strategy culminated in the Wales-wide-walk which didn’t just project the image of a party united behind its leader but cemented the reality. 

The idea of the permanent campaign is now at the heart of everything that Plaid does, not least at the grassroots level where Plaid has overtaken the Focus-leaflet fanatics of the Lib Dems as the most prolific leafleting organisation in Wales.  We telecanvass like the rest, but the continued importance of face-to-face contact has been drummed into a new generation of Plaid activists through the ‘five streets a week’ concept, which, incidentally, we borrowed from Sinn Fein.

The revolution that began in 2005 is now, to a large extent, self-sustaining.  We are a party of continual innovation – as Plaid supporters pre-eminence in the Welsh blogosphere proves (well done to Che Gravara, who is now officially the Capo di tutti Capi of Welsh bloggers).  A new National Development Unit has been formed to use the same underlying philosophy as the NCU but apply it to those parts of Wales, like Merthyr, where we have the potential but currently lack the base.  These are exciting times and I am glad to have helped lay the foundations.  But like every builder, I know when it’s time to move on.

19th August 2009

the glacial speed of Welsh progress

Re-reading K.O. Morgan’s Rebirth of a Nation the other day and I came across a reference to Labour’s five priorities for Wales in their 1945 General Election literature.  They were:

“a Secretary of State” – not created till 1964, soon to be abolished by the Tories

“a separate Welsh Broadcasting Corporation” – not really ever fully realised, even now: a Welsh Broadcasting Council was created in 1953 to oversee the output of the BBC; Teledu Cymru flickered into life for two years in the early 60s, and, in the Welsh language, of course, S4C was established – reluctantly – in 1983.  But the fact that we are still waiting for overall control of media in Wales, more than fifty years on, is to be seen in the current campaign for a Media Commission for Wales - supported by the Welsh Government, but opposed/ignored by Whitehall. 

“an end to the forced transfer of labour from Wales to England”  - this was something more commonly associated with the Nazis and its Zwangsarbeiter in Poland.  Presumably the reference is to redundant miners and steel workers being offered transfers in England, a practice which did continue I think beyond WWII.  Nowadays the Labour Government is busy with the ‘forced transfer” of ex-miners and steelworkers from Incapacity Benefit to the cheaper ESA.

“a central body to plan and develop the Welsh economy” – this took thirty years to achieve with the creation of the Welsh Development Agency.  The WDA rose to become one of the most respected economic development bodies in the world.  Then the Labour Party abolished it.  Some people think we should bring it back.  I tend to agree.

“a new north-south Wales trunk road”.   Half a century later and for large parts of the route, the A470 remains more of a figment of the national imagination than a road in the conventional sense.  At least the present Transport minister is finally getting to grips with Labour’s unfinished business. 

What is really striking about the last point is that Labour were passionate about ‘north-south’ links in 1945, where, now, if they mention them at all, it is to attack them as a dangerous nationalist obsession.  

The reason for the change of heart as far as Labour is concerned is obvious: then they were just as much a North Wales party as a South Wales party, thanks to the coal miners of the north east and the quarrymen of the north west.  They were, in other words, a genuinely pan-Wales party whereas now, as Richard Wyn  Jones persuasively argues in Barn, they are fast becoming a regional party within Wales confined to the post-industrial south.  An interesting tit-bit within the article: which are the only two parties in Wales that received more than a thousand votes in every constituency  during the European elections?  The answer: Plaid and UKIP.  For all Huw Lewis’ protestations about the irrelevance of identity politics, Welsh politics in the 21st century will be a battle between Welsh values (including social democratic notions of equality) and reactionary British nationalism.  I know which one I want to win, the question to you, Huw, is do you?

14th August 2009

A Tory Victory: ten consequences for Wales

The surprise news on the UK Government’s conversion to electrification of the Great Western main line to West Wales was a landmark decision and is the first step in the campaign to have a high-speed rail link through London into the European main land as air travel will become prohibitively expensive over the next thirty years due to a combination of peak oil and climate change policy.  The Conservatives’ immediate response that they would dump this policy is very bad news for Wales.  It also contrasts with their refusal, so far, at least to apply the same logic to the Crossrail proposal which the financial lobby in the City of London and Boris Johnson continue to clamour for.  Wales it seems is not the same priority for the Tories as London. Plus ca change.

Which raises the question what else could be at stake if the Tories are elected at Westminster.  Here’s my best guess:

2.  A wholly  undemocratic (as it doesn’t represent the political balance of Welsh MPs but the composition of the House of Commons) Welsh Affairs Committee will render the LCO process even more unworkable.

3.  A Conservative government in Westminster may delay or reject a demand for a referendum on further powers on the basis that it may split the Tory Party and would be an unwelcome distraction in Cameron’s first year.

4.  Anti-EU Conservatives would push for the renationalisation of EU regional policy which means that West Wales and the Valleys,which would on current predictions at least qualify for transitional funding worth £700 million post-2013 when the current programme ends, would lose out.

5.  Where Labour deny plans to privatise the Royal Mint, and have put them on hold for the Royal Mail, it would be full speed ahead with the Conservatives. 

6.  Cuts, cuts, and more cuts in public spending would hit Wales disproportionately hard – especially with no commitment to bring in a needs-based formula. 

7.  Digital Britain’s lifeline to English-language television in Wales is unlikely to survive the onset of a Tory Government – and BBC Wales too will be put on ‘rations’ (to use a topical turn of phrase). 

8.   Every cloud has a silver lining I hear some of you thinking – and it’s difficult to see the multi-billion pound Defence Training Academy surviving Liam Fox/George Osborne’s promised defence expenditure review.  Nor do I detect much enthusiasm on the Tory benches for the Severn Barrage.  Good news for peace campaigners and conservationists, but a disappointment for Welsh construction and engineering.

9.  The Conservatives promise to be even more swingeing in their attack on the economically inactive – and since we have more of these in Wales than almost anywhere else, the result in the short-term at least will be even less disposable income.

10.   English votes on English laws together with the probable dropping of the Secretary of State for Wales from the Cabinet will mean this will be an English Government and an English Parliament (with English Priorities) like nothing we have seen in the modern period.   

Let’s hope a hung Parliament remains a possibility.

13th August 2009

THe strange death of Liberal Wales

In the continuing imbroglio (to use a suitably Italianate term) following my original piece about the WNO, the Lib Dems’ Jeremy Townsend was upbraided earlier in the week in the Western Mail for his  comments on Bala  as being ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and the Eisteddfod  as being less deserving of public money as it is a) popular (it generated a surplus) and b) less ‘ambitious’ than the Brecon Jazz festival (presumably as the Eisteddfod features “male voice choirs and traditional Welsh costume’, which for Mr Townsend, presumably, are ‘culturally regressive”.)

Now an anonymous author  (Peter Black please note) at the Welsh Lib Dem site Freedom Central has pitched in with a defence of Mr Townsend’s right to express the view that “our arts policy was being hidebound by a traditional and backward looking view of heritage”  which is code for those of us who see part of culture’s role as giving us a nation the confidence that comes from hearing our own voice, in our own language/s and in our own country.  I happily plead guilty to that.

What I do take issue with though is FC(UK?)’s argument that my description of Townsend’s views on the relative value of the Eisteddfod’s cultural output as Anglo-centric is mis-placed because all he was arguing for was its move to a permanent site as other have also advocated.  That, in fact, is not what Mr Townsend was arguing – as he himself points out in a response to Freedom Central – nor was it the basis for my comment.  Suggesting that organising Europe’s largest peripatetic cultural festival in a minority language in a country neighbouring the home of the world’s most dominant language is somehow less ‘ambitious’ than organising an international jazz festival seems to me to be making a ’value judgement’ which places jazz someway above cerdd dant, cynghanedd, choral singing, the finest Welsh tradition of  grassroots participatory culture and the entire artistic output of the Welsh language community.    This in my view, is a curious position to take, but, like Freedom Central, I will defend his right to take it.

Which brings me on to my second problem with the moderator of the FC site – their suggestion that I have somehow tried to close down debate on this issue.  As a liberal and a democrat (no caps) I take that charge very seriously and perhaps, for their own credibility’s sake, they may want to consider withdrawing it.  It was my original contribution, after all, that initiated this debate – and I have continued to engage in it as I am doing again now.  If anything, it was Mr Townsend that appeared to be attempting to curtail debate by suggesting that politicians should not be openly critical of the commissioning policy or the cultural output  of arts bodies, a suggestion with which I take issue.

The accusation that FC makes that my critique of the opera somewhow renders me an Establishment figure while Mr Townsend’s attack on the Eisteddfod makes him, presumably, a revolutionary,says more about Fredom Central and the Liberal Democrats than anything it says about me.  The central charge that the Eisteddfod is the recipient of largesse where more ‘cosmopolitan’ art forms suffer from some disadvantage because of some ‘nationalist clique’ is simply not borne out by the facts.  The Eisteddfod receives about 500k annually from the Welsh Government, while the WNO receives nearly 6.5 m (and another 300k of emergency funding in the last month).  I think this demonstrates the continuing salience of the point originally made in the ‘Culture in Common’ report by the Assembly’s Culture Committee almost a decade ago (under a Lib Dem culture minister)  that traditional dance and traditional music in Wales are ‘poor relations’ compared to virtually all other art forms despite their unique contribution to Welsh cultural identity.  Mr Townsend’s argument that traditional Welsh culture is given preferential treatment is simply plain wrong.

That said, JT’s own reply to my response to himis much more measured and intelligent than FC’’s defence of his views (Mike Powell’s comment is puerile, and worst of all, not funny).  I think he is wrong though to suggest that the ‘culture ministry’ model, which after all, is the norm in most of Europe should be equated with totalitarianism.  Different countries do operate different systems ranging from from centralist and pro-active to consensual co-ordination but I don’t think any of them are in the Stalin/Shostakovich mode.  Personally I still do not think that a Royal Charter body is the best placed to deliver an accountable and accessible national cultural policy for Wales.    

I think he is also wrong to argue that the New York Metropolitan Opera are not interested in the pursuit of original American operatic work.  Indeed there was an identical debate raging in relation to the Met a century ago when critics were clamouring for more American-penned work.  The MET first staring producing American opera in 1910 – and launched composition competitions for new American opera. (I think the idea of a competition for a new single act opera in the Welsh language would be an excellent new category for the Eisteddfod, either in conjunction with WNO or the new Welsh language company Opra Cymru -with its first performance at the following year’s Eisteddfod.)  The first recipient of a $10,000 prize was Horatio Parker whose opera ‘Mona’ was the first full-scale American opera to be performed by the Met.  Ironically, it was set in Wales under Roman occupation and featured a love affair between Princess Mona and Gwynn, the son of the Chief Bard, Caradog.  Gwynn even appears in the green bardic robes of the Ovate order which could be seen gracing the Maes only a few days ago. Small world. 

The Met did produce opera by about a dozen American composers in the first half of the 20th century.  In the immediate post-war period the company did become notieceably less interested in Amerian composers with the exception of Samuel Barber, leaving the field open to the New York City Opera to commission and perform new work.  But the MET’s interest in American music has re-emerged since the 1990s with premieres of new work by Philip Glass, John Harbison, William Bolcom,  John Corigliano, Tobias Picker as well as revivals of work by John Adams and Carlisle Floyd.  I think the ideal of a Welsh MET is actually therefore what I am calling for.

At a more fundamental level I think the source of our disagreement is this: I think it is right that culture (and therefore cultural policy) is about renewing a sense of national identity.  As Ceri Sherlock has written, we are both “custodians and creators’ of our culture.  Culture is Janus-faced:  it is about history, traditions, symbols etc and it is also about innovation and creativity.  It is our story – that only we can tell – about who we are and where we are going.  It is also about what we believe is valuable to pass on to future generations; for when this blog and Freedom Central and their authors have disappeared into the ether, it is only our culture that will be left as a symbol of who we were.  Culture in this sense is the transmission mechanism of identity.   If I want my identity to survive, than I have to care passionately about culture.  

In the last analysis Freedom Central’s comments on culture are interesting because they reveal the underlying values with which Liberals in Wales now identify: urban not rural, modern not traditional, British not Welsh.  The Liberals in Wales - which would once boast in the days of Emlyn Hooson, Geraint Howells, and even Richard Livsey of their small ‘n’ nationalist roots - have now possibly overtaken the Welsh Conservatives as the most anglicised party in Wales.