Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Welsh cause for optimism, depending on next week…

Another game on international rugby, another defeat, and one supposes yet another opportunity to reflect on what might have been for Wales, as the great comeback almost happened again, though not quite. No doubt many will reflect on whether Warburton, shining as captain, went in for his try or not (it certainly was a close call) and the impact that will have had on the game, but ultimately, whether a Welsh win had been recorded or not, the lessons to be learnt will have remained the same. Though as much as there is cause for positive analysis to follow today’s efforts, many hardy travelling Welsh fans will be relieved to know that Wales do not leave from Twickenham after a World Cup Warm-up fixture on the back of a hiding, for some that may well be enough.  

So where were the rights and wrongs of today’s performance for Wales? In some respects we might be inclined to write-off the first half. What we did in attack was effective, but so very very slow. An excellent try from North who continues to excel should not hide the fact that Wales took an inexorably long time to turn an attacking position into points. The fact they did was in itself promising, but turn-around time from attack to score must be something to improve upon as these games go on. That being said, the intensity and speed of the Welsh attack become noticeably better in the second half, and that probably has as much to do with the departure of Mike Phillips as anything else.

Maybe it’s too easy to point the finger at Phillips these days, but one must wonder how a scrum half whose delivery of the ball seems to be, if anything, slower than on his previous outings, continues to own the No. 9 jersey. Tavis Knoyle certainly showed what quick ball could do, and it is something that Phillips simply cannot offer. There is bulk enough in the squad to go forward, with ball carriers all over the field these days. Do we still need the bullocking Phillips in that position, when our main strength lies in the quality of our backs, when the ball gets to them that is?

Defence wise, either side of the half was disappointing, yet so much of the Welsh game was based on solid hard hitting tackles, which should have produced better rewards if certain officials noted balls flying forward some 30m out of tackles..(okay, so it only happened once, but how all the officials overlooked that one huge knock-on will forever remains a mystery). A better front row might have helped with the first, but better thinking was simply required with the second, and it was perhaps in this one area in which we missed Stephen Jones’ organisational skills. That being said though, the old master was not missed, as Priestland turned in a stellar performance, which surely secures his position as the number two outside half in Wales, if not edging for a more prominent starting role?     

Where things had gone wrong though in the first half (and the start of the second), many of those errors were, if not completely resolved, certainly ironed out in second. The defence tightened and the attack developed a certain whizz, missing in the first. Suddenly Wales were romping up the field with an intent missing in the first 50 minutes. Shane Williams led the way, who following an uncharacteristically quiet first half, opened his feet and began to make fools of those a generation younger than him, until of course Jamie Roberts took it upon himself to remind England how to tackle the aging speedster (another thing that might best be ‘ironed out’ come next week). The bench then lit up the park, and the Scarlets region will no doubt be bouncing with excitement having seen an almost entire Llanelli based team finish the game in the backs. Warburton grew and grew, hitting some magic internal switch that saw him unleash a pace we have not seen from him before, while the front row reserves showed some metal that was equally unexpected.

A defeat certainly, but not one that should worry. Take the positives from this fixture, build on them and carry the good attacking play into next week, and a crucial win could be on the cards. Let the same thing happen again, and we will have to look back on this weekend as yet another occasion of the Welsh team failing to deliver. Let’s keep fingers crossed that the positivity keeps flowing (and that Mike Phillips gets dropped).

 

As a side note, although the focus here is naturally on the Welsh performance, words must be given to Danny Care. The scrum half, who this column has never taken kindly too, exhibited a form of sportsmanship rarely seen in rugby these days. With Morgan Stoddard seriously hurt and leaving no cover at fullback, England could have had a golden opportunity to attack and potentially seal the game early on. But Care turned down that opportunity and asked the referee (Steve Walsh, who was as abject as he always is) to stop play. We might not like Care much, but we certainly have a new found respect for him, and a relief that sportsmanship is alive and well in international rugby.

Next week: More attacking play required from Wales, more tempo, more speed. Frankly that means one thing, no more Mike Phillips. Yes he made a break today, and he certainly entertained with his abortive NFL leap, but ultimately he is the one thing that stops quick ball reaching the fast backs.

In the forwards, any chance of seeing some of our first choice front rows would be a positive, the seconds and thirds are holding up, but we need more grunt from that department, and finally a start for Ryan Jones is probably deserved, after a decent cameo saw some of his better play in a Wales shirt in some time.

Otherwise, with a tightened performance and a lower error level, more of the same please, so long as the same is the better elements of the second half!

E-petition to Welsh Freedom?

The update to Blair’s online ‘pester the government’ programme got underway amidst a fanfare of capital punishments and computer crashing. Yes, as soon as the general public got wind of the launch of the e-petitions page on the direct.gov website, the first subject to grip the national attention was the campaign to bring back capital punishment. Soon enough afterwards came the counter proposition, to maintain capital punishment. Needing only 100,000 signatures to be considered for a Parliamentary debate, one might hope that with such a sensitive subject area, enough voices might be heard to encourage a Parliamentary debate on the subject, though as many commentators have already observed, no matter how successful the e-petitions project proves to be, the actual time set aside for Parliamentary debate on anything coming out of this online endeavour, will be severely limited. Perhaps an e-petition should be started to ensure that e-petitions with a certain degree of support should, by law, be debated in the Commons…?

As exciting as all this talk of capital punishment might be, the one thing that immediately disappoints is that, so far, the Welsh Office page of the e-petitions remains eerily empty. Granted this is only day one of what we might hope will be a successful and long lived programme of public engagement, but one can’t help but be surprised that no one has had the confidence (or moment of rash action) to put forward something about Welsh independence, seems a given no? Perhaps it is simply the case that we have so much confidence in the Senedd, that we think we don’t need the Welsh Office anymore…perhaps.

Whatever the reason, it seems like there is a wonderful opportunity for a social experiment here, perhaps a test of the sense of national identity, and what real backing there might be in Wales for, oh, let’s say, independence? Only 100,000 signatures are, in theory, required to bring an e-petition to the floor of the House of Commons, so why not put forward the proposal. After all, we can surely find that many people in Wales willing to put their name to such a concept, no? As interesting, would be to so how committed any counter claims might be. We have seen above that the issue of capital punishment stimulated an immediate counter measure, would the now traditional ‘No’ camp in Wales make a similar move.

There is great potential generally here. How about a petition for the abolishment of the Welsh Office all together, control of Severn Bridge Tolls to come under the jurisdiction of Wales, or how about a move to control incomes generated from Welsh water supplies, currently taken by English users for free? There is a world of opportunity to bring some Welsh major issues (and ones that the Senedd will have little to no say on in the future) into the limelight, to potentially force them in front of the Commons, but also to provide some meaningful statistical evidence to show just how strongly our population thinks about some of these themes. There is an opportunity for the Welsh nationalists to seize here, one just wonders whether they have the guts to test how many signatures they would actually generate for any of the ideas above. I for one would be happy to, but I would be equally as fascinated to see how many other people in Wales would do the same?

Truth, Prayers and the Savage Human

It’s a dangerous thing, trawling through the world of blog entries, because you will inevitably come across something that irks, and niggles, and just won’t leave the back of the mind alone. One such entry, which need not be re-publicised here, focused on the fall out of the atrocity inflicted upon Norwegian society just a little over a week ago. In one particular blog, although far from constrained to that one entry, have been outpourings of finger pointing at ‘belief’, tied into the issue of faith and religion. Ironic in many respects as of course the initial kneejerk news reports considering what might have been happening in Norway, fell on the extent to which Muslim extremists were involved, which of course it was shown that they were not. Nor even could Christianity really be finger pointed at in this instance. Yet both faiths have attracted their fair share of criticism in the build up to and fall out following the massacre that so shocked the world. In a more general sense, beliefs have been challenged, the beliefs of one man to feel that he is in the right to exact some manner of nation changing pre-emptive justice, with the notion that beliefs need to be controlled, that the purity of truth without belief is the way forward. This of course is a complete fallacy. There is no one truth, for truth is a fluid entity, it changes from one to another. One person’s truth is another’s lie, and this is seen the same in reverse, offering a cyclical process of denial and counter denial.

There have also been claims that greater regulation of material is a requirement. Welsh MP Paul Flynn suggested greater control measures be introduced for the material seen and available via the internet, that the darker aspects of online contributions be removed from the reach of browsing fingers. As one man looks to impinge upon the freedoms of the many, our politicians suggest taking some more freedoms away at the same time.

All of these entries, pointing at the evils of faith based belief and the dangers of over stimulating online materials, all feel though as part of a wider desperate collective, though disjointed, strategy to cope with one simple problem, that this was not a religious fundamentalist, and not a teenager driven mad through accessing online quotes from Mein Kampf while jacking off to animal Nazi porn, this was a human being. Strip away the religion, and the extreme beliefs and you are left with one man, a single human. Of course the sad condition of humanity is that we need no religion or belief to exact such horrific suffering on each other; in many instances reason has absolutely nothing to do with it. No species on this planet has the capacity that we humans have to inflict pain on one another, this is the sad violent truth we must learn to address.

So for those who are looking for reasons for what happened in Norway, don’t think that by pointing at finger at faith, that somehow your scapegoat will come bleating at the front door ready to carry away the heavy burden of responsibility that society bears for the creation of such monsters. For all the damage that can be attributed to organised religion you will find as many, if you take the time to look, examples of good to come from such faiths as well. While if you try to control materials seen by some, those individuals will rebel, and draw more attention to their niche than they would have had before. This is not a defence of organised faith, nor is it a defence of those who distribute more hateful materials through the internet and other more traditional forms of publishing, both have their share of the world’s pain to carry. But kid yourself not that in pointing a judgemental finger at these two areas, that all this suffering will go away. Don’t think that by imagining a world without the malevolence of or a church or a mosque, that people will no longer stop dying without any logical reason.

 The human condition is a sad one, a dark one. Take away its right to pray, and its freedom of belief, and little will change, because in our current state, we do not need a reason or an excuse, bad things will happen because humans are gripped with this innate capacity to hurt. It is not religion that needs to change or be abandoned, nor is it freedoms that need to be removed or controlled, it is humanity itself that must change. Without some form of mental evolutionary shift, faith and belief will continue to serve as excuses for a problem that goes much deeper, and is rooted in our very being.  

Eisteddfod – Why doesn’t the BBC give a damn?

In a contemporary cultural climate which profanes to support the arts and embrace talent, it seems strange that the start of yet another National Eisteddfod remains tucked away in the old Welsh only television corner of S4C. Stranger still, given that the BBC has in recent years given attention to the cultural offerings of Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, the southern scene of the United States and various nations of Africa, that the main bonanza of cultural entertainment to come out of Wales is overlooked. One wonders what it is about the Eisteddfod that results in it being so consistently marginalised.

It should be stressed that coverage on S4C is no bad thing. The commitment shown to the festival is admirable, it’s near blanket coverage a bold display of faith in its viewers’ interest in the event. But one must wonder why so little attention falls on the Eisteddfod from beyond the sole Welsh broadcaster. BBC4 for instance makes bold claims about being a preserve of the arts, it, alongside BBC2, fawns over the Edinburgh Festival each year, goes giddy for the annual and often repetitive Proms programme, while BBC3 appears to prostitute its airtime to any music festival they can afford. Yet the showcase of cultural Wales is not deemed worthy of coverage.

It is telling as well, that although we as a community of nations, seem to pride ourselves on our ability to appreciate the cultural arts, we seem consistently dragged down into a mire of banality. The appreciation of the mainstream media, and those who view it, has sucked on the teat of the average for too long. X Factors and Talents and Problems being solved, have meant a generation is growing up understanding that the mediocre is the pinnacle, that those who cannot sing actually can sing, that those who cannot act indeed can, and those who seem to have no natural ability to dance or ice skate, should be celebrated as if they were Olympians.

Perhaps it is an issue of quality that holds back the Eisteddfod from a wider television audience, are our competitors too good? It can certainly be said with some confidence that, while of course not applicable to every competitor in the Eisteddfod, the standard of the competitors are particularly high. Be it solo monologues performed by some who seem barely old enough to walk, to the choirs littered with those at the exact opposite scale of the age range, the Eisteddfod should be proud to boast of the ability on display, and should equally sigh with the heavy realisation that, without a wider television audience, this talent will only be seen by the same, loyal but small, audience who has seen it tens of times before. But the notion that the quality is too high is a nonsense, as would be any acceptance of standards being too low, any viewer, however cynical, would struggle to argue such an angle. So what is it about the Eisteddfod?

Sadly the simple fact of the matter is that the BBC cultural channels have no interest because the medium of communication is Welsh. Too narrow an audience would no doubt be put forward, too parochial, too nationalistic. Yet are not most aspects of the arts narrow in audience and parochial? Indeed, BBC2 and 4 are channels that thrive on delivering the narrow and the parochial to new audiences. The Eisteddfod does and should remain fundamentally connected to S4C, their relationship is essential to each other, but the Eisteddfod, its traditions and events, and most importantly of all, its highly talented competitors, deserve a wider audience, even if it’s one night. Too much television is given over not to those who ‘can’, but to those who ‘can just about’, no real singers, but loud enthusiasts, no real dancers, but people who cry if they are told they can’t and are then encouraged to carry on anyway.

At the Eisteddfod, viewers will find those who can, those who can sing, dance, perform, at a standard that should embarrass those who are given their chance at the ‘big time’ on the strength of so little ability. It is not the place of the BBC to show 10 hours of coverage a day, but there should be no legitimate reason to prevent the channel from bringing some of this wonderful festival to a wider audience, even if it were to be just an hour, or even half that. The language should be no barrier, it serves as no such barrier to any other culture covered by the channel, subtitles are a wonderfully simple thing to make use of after all… There is no excuse, and it is time for the BBC, especially if they are having custodianship of S4C placed upon them, to look across the border, and give the cultural brilliance of the Eisteddfod the coverage it deserves. If they were to look for the best young talent, they would find it wherever the National Eisteddfod is.

You don’t have to understand Welsh to respect it.

It’s always a risky thing, the weekly trawl through the offerings of the internet. The faceless nature of blogging and the comments which accompany them offer many the luxury of vitriolic anonymity (though one hopes this column does not suffer from the same misgivings, even if it is given over to a little vitriol from time to time). The rage and ignorance that bubbles under the surface of online comments can shock, horrify but ultimately disappoint us, and so it is that we come to the Welsh language. Flip through the Western Mail over the space of a year and you will inevitably find a report on someone being glib towards a Welsh speaker, a company acting in an insensitive manner towards someone wanting to use their first language in a business place, and so forth. Thankfully, these public and named instances of either abuse or ignorance towards out language are, if not rare occurrences these days, they are certainly far less prominent than they were, were we to look back to the 1980s and ‘90s, where Welsh acted as the poor man’s stand-up comics last resort should all other material fail.

However, just because our mainstream media are finding less instances of public abuses of the Welsh language and culture, does not mean for one moment that the consensus over the border has become one of tolerance and acceptance to the idea of people in Wales having a language which is not dead/dying/irrelevant, and acknowledging it as an important part of the modern day Welsh cultural landscape. Reading Jasper Rees’ article in the online version of the Telegraph, proved a worthy distraction (have a look here http://t.co/l4AdJ2c) in the build of the Eisteddfod, but more troubling were the comments added below. While in the minority, it is clear that an attitude pervades, predominantly from across the border, that the Welsh language is a costly irrelevance that should be left to die a peaceful death (or forced to die a rather aggressive one should the tone of certain commentators be taken on face value). Type the phrase ‘Welsh language’ into a blogging search engine such as digg.com, and sadly the best results you will find topping the search will be meshed together with foul diatribes lambasting the importance and position of the language.

We must remember in Wales that the language is part of us. While you do not need to speak Welsh to be Welsh, you cannot have Wales without Welsh. Long term that relationship may be untenable, but that is why we encourage rather than force the use of Welsh, we embrace its use rather than wield it as a stick to smack those who would undermine the nation (as once was the way in which the language was used around the 1970s-80s). But we must also remember, and always be on our guard, that within and nearby to Wales, are many who would look to strip us of our most distinctive cultural resource. Just because the reports are less frequent, the same old ignorance, antagonism, and jealousy of our distinct cultural traits, are alive and well, just hidden in the murky realm of the blogosphere.

The Welsh embarrassment of the Olympics.

Having been subject to one of the most outrageous financial injustices in recent memory, of having millions of pounds drawn not only from the pockets of Welsh residents of the British Isles, but of every other non London based resident as well, the nation now has to suffer the public humiliation of being shooed away by the London Tory Tafia of Gito Harri. To have Wales and the Welsh political elite (as members of the Senedd should now be seen), pointed at and essentially laughed out of town in the national media, is a disgrace on numerous levels.

There may well be some rightful scorn poured on current Welsh whingings at the lack of events and business drawn to Wales as part of the Olympics build, it is indeed far too late in the day to start complaining about such things now, and the Labour Government in Cardiff should be well aware of this , but the real point of embarrassment should rest in the initial complaints about not having enough events in Wales. As a concept, surely this is critically flawed? It is after all, a London Olympics, while many have gone on record to describe it as being the English Games. If we were to reverse this concept, and think of a hypothetical Welsh Commonwealth Games for instance, how would we in Wales respond to what have occasionally sounded like demands from the Senedd, but instead from Westminster, for events to be moved from South Wales, to London? Not well I wager.

Let’s be clear, far too much money, Welsh money, has been lost to these games, therefore Wales should see some return on its enforced investment. But to despair at the lack of competitions being held in our country is backward. We look more desperate and more pathetic by the day as this Olympic farce goes on. To benefit, we must see investment in sports facilities in Wales and a share of the long term profits of the games. What we do not need is a succession of middling to irrelevant events scattered in and around Cardiff. Let London have their games, and let Wales have its share of the revenue, but let us not shame ourselves further by chasing some elusive dream of games in Cardiff, let us not look to piggyback some promotional aspects of a games that we know will ultimately be more of a financial burden on our nation than anything else. Let us look to what we can do for ourselves.

There will be teams, there will be tourists, and there will only be so much space in London for all who come to suckle at the sporting teat of this overblown sporting institution. Let our strength be found now in our ability to play host to those who are attracted to Wales as a base during their Olympic visit, and encourage others to follow suit it settling in on this side of the border for their stay. The ship of manufacturing contracts and additional events has sailed, and we do nothing for our own credibility in bleating about it further. We must look grown up, we must look assertive, and we must now look to what we can take from these games, rather than dwell on that which can no longer be ours.  

The Slow Death of the Celtic Crusaders

There was some excitement several years ago regarding rugby league in south Wales. This new team had emerged from the rubble of Bridgend RFC, home to one of the great fallen clubs of Welsh rugby history. Over time, this entity known as the Celtic Crusaders, went from being a rugby league infant in 2005, to a noisy teenager knocking on the door of Super League opportunity in the space of a mere 3 years. However, the Crusaders, unsurprisingly for such a short space of time, never quite showed their worth on the field. In 2008 the Crusaders were more than competitive for their division (National League One) but they never showed themselves to be the best in their division. Yet courtesy of the Super League taking up a franchise system for teams involved in the tournament, coupled with a long held desire to affirm the position of rugby league deep inside Wales’ union heartlands, the Crusaders were handed their shot at the top flight, Super League rugby was parachuted into south east Wales.

But it didn’t take long for the players to realise that many pieces of their Super League puzzle were missing from the box. Money and a fan base ultimately stood out as being key components that were lacking in the business model, not to mention that the then home of the Crusaders, Bridgend’s Brewery Field, while possibly being suitable for a Welsh Premiership Club in unions semi-professional ranks, was nowhere near the grade required for the audiences provided by Super League, home was simply an embarrassment to the team, and the competition.

So a move to Newport was suggested, but failed. Had it of gone through, it would have been disastrous. Newport’s Rodney Parade ground, already hosting two full time teams in the Newport Gwent Dragons and Newport RFC, would never have sustained a third team, either in terms of willing paying fans, or in the grounds ability to cope with so much rugby. So a move to Wrexham came, way up north, to the good ol’ safe harbour of the rugby league aficionado; though one wonders what the loyal fan base that grew up around the team in Bridgend thought of all this? Wrexham itself seemed a bizarre choice for a rugby league team to get in bed with, given the constantly precarious state of the clubs finances. Wrexham AFC, a team with history, once equipped with high quality professionals and kitted out with an excellent stadium, find themselves in constant financial difficulties, predominantly it must be stated, because not enough people turn up to watch them play, producing next to no gate revenue Why then, talk another club to an area where professional sport is clearly under supported?  

There are many questions which can and should be asked of the enterprise. But the sad state of affairs today is that with the announcement of the Crusaders pulling out of the Super League, it is as good a sign as any that the club itself is looking close to requiring life support. With the lack of revenue and status, what fans that have stuck with the club will have less of a product to watch, both in terms of players as the current squad will be unsustainable, and in terms of the quality of opposition on display. For a club with no money, what little income there was will now melt away, sports fans in Wrexham have shown that they do not back a team on the slide, look to the round ball ground sharers for a glimpse of the future.

But what really went wrong here? One must point to the franchise system above all things. The Crusaders were not ready for Super League. They should have played another two to three seasons in the first division, top it, and then apply. The desire for Super League was ambitious and rushed, and ultimately damaging for the south Wales rugby league project. But once the club started bouncing around south Wales and then up to the north, it was doomed. Perhaps the club owners thought, ‘it’s a Welsh club, so Welsh people will come and watch’. Incorrect, this was a Bridgend club, with Bridgend fans, and Bridgend fans have also been shown to be unwilling parties to following clubs that don’t play in Bridgend, and no one will blame them for that.

For this project to work in the future, the club must stay where it belongs, build up as a team and through its fan base over time, and finally it must earn its place at the top table, rather than buy their way in. The Crusaders will now, in a matter of seasons, be wound up, and the experiment will be over. Or at least the experiment will be on hiatus. One hopes that enterprises such as the South Wales Scorpions don’t suffer too much from the loss of the Crusaders from Super League. Here is another team, building up, slowly, and we can hope that in time it might earn its place. But the lessons must be learnt. Getting into the Super League might be the prize, but if it is reached before the team, facilities and fans are ready, it will only be a short matter of time before another Welsh rugby league club stares at deaths door.

What has Sky ever done for you?

So it begins, the defence of the Murdoch realm is in full steam ahead mode, with Sky broadcasting being held up as some sort of bastion of protection for the common man. Trawl through the commentary and voxpops and you will find assorted comments pointing to the possible world we would live in was it not for the actions of Murdoch and his cronies. While a number of people have cited that The Times would have been lost, though how the loss of this publication would have resulted in some great depreciation of the quality of life in Britain is a little beyond me, it is the defence of Sky which seems to be the go-to place for most defendants of the Aussie empire. But what has Sky done for us exactly?

Plenty of stereotypes have found their way on to the radio, no doubt spitting into their mobile phones from inside their white vans, grease stained copies of the Sun scattered around their feet, citing the great role Sky has played in the saving of the elite of British football, predominantly though the injection of vast quantities of money. Now, if we take a moment to survey the state of the Premiership, we have a competition where many clubs push themselves to the point of financial implosion in an effort to remain in the competition, players have lost all concept of club loyalty and regularly sign away their career and competition ambitions in order to secure a weekly wage that should make the fans who follow them vomit in desperation, given the fact that that those who in theory the game has been saved for, are year on year, increasingly priced out of the possibility of following their teams. Sky, though direct and indirect measures, has served to destroy what was good about the top flight of English football, just as its parent company has managed to achieve with regard journalistic standards in its publication.

Would the top flight of English football have collapsed were it not for Sky? Of course not. Would wages be less than astronomical, with clubs retaining an interest in the people who turn up to support the 11 commodities on the field? Probably.

Let nobody be deluded. Murdoch has not saved anything. He has certainly commercialised a lot of things, encouraged the top tiers to turn their back on the lower tiers, introduced a policy which concentrates on the undermining of  the connection between standards and products, but ‘saved’, has he ‘saved’ anything. Not at all. Everything that has been cited as having been saved by this man, can equally be cited as having lost, lost what made the product or entity what it was in the first place, lost its soul and sense of purpose. And with each thing that Murdoch has tried to ‘save’, we will find an example where we, the poor saps of the general public, who have lost.

The Pain that is Peter Hain

It is one of the upshots of devolution in Wales, that those who once held powerful sway over the movements of politics in Wales, have found themselves increasingly marginalised and distant from the day to day happenings of the Welsh political scene in Cardiff. Figures such as Elfyn Llwyd have repeatedly embarrassed themselves with references to party policy, which have been shown to be, in many cases, the exact opposite of party policy. Perhaps the lack of a fully electrified train lines means that the details of Welsh policy are often delayed in reaching those who claim to represent the voice of Wales in the houses of Parliament in London.

However, no one figure has looked more desperate and distanced from the Welsh homeland than that of Peter Hain. Hain for a time stood at the very heart of Welsh political movements. A prominent figures in Yes campaigns, a vocal and very visible Welsh secretary, similarly so in a shadow capacity as well, Hain served in many respects as the face and voice of Welsh politics for almost a decade. Yet today he is a lonely figure. A shadowy figure lurking around in the corridors of opposition politics, he appears to have little sway in London anymore, and so we see his eye wander back across the border, and commit pen to paper on one of the most ludicrous and unapologetically transparent policy proposals ever produced.

Had you missed it, Hain, in what smacked of opportunistic sound biting, now suggests that every seat in the Senedd should be voted for on a first past the post system, as opposed to the partial policy of proportional representation currently used in Wales. Everything about this concept is an indictment on Hain, and the attitude of London politicians towards Wales. First things first, everyone reading this has applied the small amount of intelligence required to see this as a move to secure Labour’s future as the largest party in Wales. There is no hidden agenda here, it is clear what Hain is suggesting that should be created, a block Labour vote across Wales, with the odd Tory here and there, perhaps one or two Plaid members for good measure. In short though, Hain wants an electoral system that will paint the Senedd red, for an eternity.

But this is not where the outrage should rest. The real ire should be poured on his rational, that being the UK wide vote on AV for General Elections. Hain should perhaps remind himself of the whole point of devolution, that being that Wales should have control over its own affairs. Taking the result of a UK wide referendum on an issue that is different to the one being discussed is not devolution, it is the exact same attitude enforced by Westminster on Wales for all of the decades leading up to 1997. Wales it can be said, did not vote for AV. Equally it can be said that Wales was not even asked if it wanted to scrap PR for the Senedd elections, just as much as it was not asked it if wanted to switch Senedd voting to FPTP. The logic applied by Hain is critically flawed, and should be derided accordingly. He has looked out of his London office and reminded himself of the good old days when London could wave a hand and dictate what happens in Wales. Not so Peter, not anymore, you more than anyone should remember this.

Perhaps he would not be so out of touch were he to give up his seat in Westminster and contest a Senedd seat instead. Of course Hain would never consider stooping so low so pursue a career in ‘local’ politics, so the notion is irrelevant, but were he too, perhaps these occasional interventions that he attempts in the Welsh scene, might have a little more weight, Until he does so, he will remain a distant, intrusive and out of touch voice, who would be better off taking some time out to decide if his political future will be focused on chasing the Tories in London, or coming back to Wales and having a direct impact on policy here, rather than trying to subvert it from afar.  

Anyone for ‘Welsh’ Art?

Much cultural excitement to be had in Wales at the moment, as a brand new National Museum of Art is opening up. This marks the culmination of what might be described as stage 2 of the National Gallery of Wales plan. Stage 1 has been in development for some time, with the establishment of the Artes Mundi competition. Stage 2 will see the new museum opened on the 9th of July 2011, while efforts will be pushed through over the coming years to establish a National Gallery, the Stage 3 of this new cultural development. The Museum Wales website talks enthusiastically about ‘giving a new visibility to art in Wales and to the art of Wales’, that this will act as a wonderful promotion for both Welsh art but Wales as well.

It is certainly an admirable goal, but one must wonder how effectively this costly endeavour will be in achieving its ambitions. The arts in Wales have in recent years suffered too much from being trapped in a clique. While other nations in the British Isles have succeeded in opening up art to new larger audiences (Tate Modern being the prime example of such success), Wales has seen too much of its art, both contemporary and historical slip further and further away from the limelight. This new National Museum should have the potential to address that, but how effectively will it engage audiences, and more importantly how effectively will it promote Wales?

 The heart of this issue is how much actual Welsh material will be promoted in this endeavour. There is an important distinction here between having a permanent collection, and pushing particular collections or exhibitions to new audiences. The Artes Mundi for instance, has no doubt raised drawn attention to Wales in a particular artistic community, but outside of that community, how much connection is there between Welsh people and Welsh hosted exhibitions, and how much attention does it actually draw to Welsh produce? Welsh representation at the Artes Mundi has been minimal from a point of view of competitors, and what is this saying about the current state of art in the country. Perhaps it is this issue that has seen the Artes Mundi fail to reach out to a wider Welsh audience, we as a nation do not see this competition as ‘ours’, we view it as ‘theirs’, the establishments, the non-Welsh.

The National Art collection is certainly impressive, the works assembled by the Davies Sisters in particular draw attention, but few of the works in this collection are Welsh in terms of those who produced them, equally as rare is Welsh subject matter in display. This element, Welsh subject matter, is something that is addressed in the new exhibitions, and should be welcomed, but we should be concerned that the volume of Welsh artists is still thin on the ground. The exhibitions welcome artists who have spent time here yes, but that is akin to hailing a visitor who stays a week before going home, as a Welsh National. This area is one which the Museum must be careful with. Is our National Gallery to be one which promotes Welsh work, or promotes international work? In doing so, might it be counterproductive to view this project as a Welsh National Gallery at all, and forget about any Welsh branding, after all, if we are not selling something distinctly Welsh, what point is there in branding it as such?

This might seem overly negative, but there is an important point of consideration that must be drawn out. Museums live and die on their communities, fail to connect here and no matter the number of non-community visitors that come through the door, the project will fail. All the Museum Wales institutions live through their local Welsh domiciled audiences, St Fagans in particular is a site that draws well over half its visitor numbers from within a 50 mile radius. Will this new set of galleries and exhibitions speak to the community audiences? Will it speak to local/national audiences that might not have been tapped into in the past by the previous set of art galleries? My concern is, that in trying to develop something that is inevitably going to be slanted towards the international, that we will end up losing sight of the importance of the national, the Welsh. If we fail to stress the importance and relevance of these collections to Welsh audiences, then we will be left with one critical question, that being who are we producing this for, indeed, what are we producing this for? If it is not for Welsh audiences then its merit is dubious. The strength of a museum collection rests in whether or not it will bring back the local-national visitor time and again. If that proves a success, the non local/international visitor will follow. Fail with the first, and the second will not be seen either.

This is not to say that I think this will fail, more a concern of the consequences should it fail, and a hope, that Wales has not been forgotten in its new National Art Museum.