Archive for the ‘ politics ’ Category

The Dangerously Insane Season: Part 1 David Starkey

Given that this is a rather sedentary period in the Welsh political calendar, and with the Eisteddfod out of the way, cultural offerings are somewhat on the wane as well, I thought a silly season programme of commentary was in order, entitled ‘The Dangerously Insane Season’, an opportunity to muse on some of the more terrifying public figures who are currently attracting far too much public attention than they deserve. I really wanted to start this with Michelle Bachmann, but there is some confidence that the longer we hold off on her, the more bizarre ramblings she will produce to make use of. So, we will look closer to home for part 1, and someone doing their best to destroy any shreds of credibility left in their career recently; that would have to be David Starkey.

Starkey of course has had a long history of foot in mouth syndrome in Wales, where for many he is seen as a contemporary cultural ethnic cleanser. His histories of ‘Britain’, as inapplicable as that word might be to his actual historical commentaries, have consistently served to identify Britain as English, and the Royal family as the single most important body of people in the history of mankind. Wales, as well as Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, have served as an unwelcome distraction, an obscure non-English cultural anomaly on the coat tales of the true Britain, the English Britain. As horrifyingly ignorant as Starkey has been to Wales and the other ‘peripheral’ cultures of Britain, I think it also fair to say that we have made peace with his Anglo centric gibbering, and written him off as a frustration best ignored, while he bellows forth his pure-England propaganda.

What nobody really expected though, was that Starkey would take his England only attitude, so frequently subjected upon Wales, and expand it to a whites only attitude on his pure England. It was with bafflement that the nation watched the BBC broadcast Starkey’s descent into racial madness, as he lambasted [his understanding of] black culture, as he described it, condemning black politicians for sounding like white politicians, and lamenting the transition of white children becoming black children. If this madness had passed you by, do sit through this:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14513517, it is one of the most staggering examples of racism ever to have been given a public platform on the BBC. Not even the BNP or the English Defence League have come out with such atrocious rantings, which should really put Starkey’s hate into perspective.

As a Welsh commentator who has long been frustrated, angered and at times incensed by Starkey’s disregard for Wales, it is in some respects with a degree of relief that he has come out with these views. Hopefully now others in Britain, especially the English and the BBC, can now see Starkey for what he really is, and always has been, a savage xenophobic little old man. One wonders if he has a copy of Mein Kampf stashed in his back pocket, which he feverishly grips at night, offering silent kisses to it during his hate inspired dreams of a pure white English only Starkey built utopia? Whether that happens or not is something we can only speculate at, but what can be said for certain, is this is clearly a dangerously insane man, and the BBC must think long and hard about ever giving him a platform on which to spout his views with a voice of authority. Here’s hoping the term of Starkey as BBC history correspondent is at an end, though knowing the BBCs approach to things, I wouldn’t bet on it.    

For Want of Welsh Riots?

Following news coverage of the constantly rebranded riots, the general public could be forgiven were they to feel confused as to where the recent (and ongoing) rioting is actually taking place. It is notable that over the last few days the BBC newsfeeds, their website in particular, have struggled to decide where exactly the riots are emanating from. Starting as the ‘UK riots’, in the last 24hours the outbreaks have been rebranded as the ‘English riots’ or ‘England riots’, though occasionally bouncing back to ‘UK riots’ as phantom reports of Welsh outbreaks of violence bubble to the surface, only to disappear again. In some respects, elements of the media have been eagerly looking for signs of malcontent beyond the English borders. Today the Guardian carried this http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/10/uk-riots-wales-minor-arson?INTCMP=SRCH rather clumsy article, as so called ‘attempted looting’ reports were gathered. Not just England then? Well, that is at least how elements of the ‘national’ media would have it presented. Despite local policing describing the incidents as ‘isolated’ and ‘minor’, these were still considered worthy of consideration within the wider reporting of the ‘UK riots’. Yet in reality, there have been no Welsh riots, and without any sense of smugness and without wanting to tempt a heavy dose of hubris, this has remained an English issue.  This though has not stopped the rumour mill, or the occasionally desperate attempts from hacks to create an extension of the story. Walk around Cardiff though, or Newport, an area far more likely to exhibit signs of the social disorder currently promoting the British Isles to the world, and you will find some fairly relaxed and quiet cities.

While it is unlikely that there has been a media conspiracy to get everyone involved, it has been evident in print and television media, that there has been a concerted effort to identify examples of what happened in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, in other area such as south Wales, though ultimately there has been nothing to find. Which raises some interesting questions, notably being, why have we not seen such behaviour in Wales?

Of the excuses put forward for the violence, shootings aside, social issues relating to unemployment and the economy have been thrust forward as underpinning the reasons (not that in practice reason has had anything to do with the outbreaks) for what has gripped many English cities. Yet Wales, especially communities across the South Wales Valleys regions, are affected, if not considerably more so, by the same issues. Unemployment and a bleak economic future are realities of life for many in Wales, and have as much, with the same reservation being applied to the use of the word, reason to take to rioting as any others in the British Isles. Still, nothing of the sort has occurred.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Wales has been spared the violence, and it is certainly not the intention of this submission to paint a picture perfect image of society in Wales. There are no shortage of problems, with small scale theft, drug distribution and dependency issues, and the same shared social problems that come with any Friday and Saturday night. But the inclination to engage in widespread destruction is not evident, and generally the concept of rioting in Wales is a rare commodity. In the history of Wales, there have been occasional and very localised occasions of race riots, usually manifest in violence against people rather than on property. Those incidents of property based aggression have usually been politically driven, and again highly localised and uncommon.

Understanding the reason both for the recent violence and the lack of it in other locations could ultimately prove to be impossible, as stated above, reason probably has very little to do with it. But in Wales at least, we might conclude that part of what makes the nation distinctive, is a long standing sense of community. Valleys communities in particular have managed, in the face of constant social pressures, to maintain a sense of cohesion. There is almost a ‘don’t shit on your own doorstep’ attitude that has been ingrained in Welsh youths. This might be manifest in youngsters going out of their locales to nearby towns and cities for their drinking binges, but areas seen as local and as ‘home’ seem to be spared the brunt of the darker impacts of social decline. It doesn’t make communities in Wales perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an important focal point on the importance on the idea of community that, we might hope, continues to prevent towns and cities here from following the decent.

That being, said, it is with a great sense of relief, and pride in a wider representation of the British Isles as a whole, that that idea of community is being seen across the country. Clean up operations, vigilante groups and strong arm council views on the eviction of looters, does highlight the fact that the acts being committed are the product of a subsection of society, and we must maintain faith in the positive views of society that can be seen in the aftermath. The positivity of community identity does exist, and perhaps instead of looking for stories of violence and looting in Wales, we might be encouraged more so to tell the story of the lack of violence and looting, just as stories from the news media coming out of London now fall on the community led clean-up operations. In Wales, community can be seen in the lack of violence, and that is a story worth telling in its own right.

Monmouthshire CC Humbled

A little clichéd perhaps, but it is with a great sense of relief and optimism that Monmouthshire County Council have come out in full support of Kate Humble’s planned rural skills centre development (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-14330147). The innovative proposals put forward by Humble will see an abandoned farm turned into what hopefully will be manifest as a centre of excellence for rural crafts and farming practices. With the Council’s backing, the Monmouthshire authority is making a very visible commitment to its natural landscape and rural communities.

The use of the phrase ‘humbled’ in this articles title, though the pun may be intended, it is also in many respects an accurate assessment of the current situation in Monmouthshire. For, despite being dominated by swathes of rural land, below the surface you will find a rural Monmouthshire which has been ravaged by economic downturns, authority neglect and backhand property deals. For years what investment that has been provided for infrastructure and community wellbeing, has been poured into the urban areas. Towns such as Chepstow and Monmouth have grown fat from council money, directed towards poorly planned and inappropriate projects, simply because here is where you will find the most people.

The rural communities though have been left to rot. Farms are failing, village services are closing on a daily basis, while housing is becoming an impossibility for future generations. While Humble’s skills centre is an admirable project, one wonders how many farm small holdings will be given, at the right price of course, the planning permission required from the local authorities to construct the next mansion or villa that have come to symbolise the slow execution of rural Monmouthshire. Follow the conversation in many a rural Monmouthshire pub, and you will easily learn what price must be paid to convert a farmstead into a palatial manor. The price certainly won’t be measured in the cost of bricks and mortar, but in how expensive a ‘lunch’ you are willing to provide to the right person.

The evidence is all around our rural areas, monstrous constructions overlying the location of a former single cell barn. Although protection areas are in place to preserve the ‘character’ of the countryside, and while guidance is in place to ensure new builds and conversions are in keeping with this so called ‘character’, so many developments seem to fly through planning which flaunt these regulations that the entire process of protecting the countryside appear to be completely farcical. Indeed were in not for the celebrity and attention that comes with a well known BBC television presenter, could it be imagined that the Monmouthshire council would countenance such an offer from anyone else? The cynic must conclude that they would not, and the property would have been turned over, like so many before it, to a wealthy stay away owner, who would have developed something big, something ugly and something expensive.  

We should not overlook the fact that this is a good news story, it is a wonderfully positive enterprise put forward by Humble, and it, as well as the Council’s decision to support it, should be applauded. But it must not end with this one project. Attention needs to be directed to all the farm buildings that don’t have the wealth and status of Humble to protect them, otherwise Humble’s project will act less like a rural skills centre, and more like a museum to a lost rural landscape.