I recently became involved with the Rhondda Cynon Taff Ratepayers’ Action Group. We’re a bunch of disaffected folk who intend to field Independent candidates at the May 2012 council election. The plan is to challenge the Labour stranglehold on the former mining valleys of South Wales. This hegemony has existed (barring a very brief period when Plaid Cymru were the majority party at Clydach Vale) pretty much since the Labour Party was formed.
Telling people in the Valleys that there is a viable alternative to voting Labour is (as a Carpenters Arms toilet graffito once said) like trying ‘to nail a jelly to the ceiling.’ For example, in the last General Election, when Dafydd Trystan Davies was the Plaid Cymru candidate, Mother still voted Labour. She knew full well that Dafydd was my friend, and that Dad and his father Rowland had been friends as well. She admitted afterwards that she thought Ed Miliband was a waste of space, and that Ann Clwyd might as well not exist. So I pressed on her on why she voted to send Ms Clwyd back to Westminster after her annual appearance in Aberdare.
Her excuse was classic: ‘Well, Dads [her adoptive father] was a miner, so, you know …’
Well, no, actually I don’t know. However, I do know that the Labour Party stripped the miners’ pension funds and awarded my gran a stupendous 75p a week pension increase. Oh yes, Comrades – Up the Workers indeed!
Back in 1987, the Red Wedge tour came to Aberdare. The aim was to persuade young people to vote – regardless of whom they actually voted for – when election turnouts were dwindling. Our leg featured a gig at the Coliseum by Billy Bragg. Rowland was editor of the Aberdare Leader at the time, and asked me to cover the event for the paper, which I did (complete with typos!)
In the afternoon, Mr Bragg gave a ‘meet and greet’ at Trecynon Hall. Looking back, that was where the fault line between Old and New Labour first became apparent. The councillors were there, party stalwarts and trades unionists to a man, rubbing shoulders with the bright young things from Walworth Road.
The local lot turned up in their Sunday best, their council ties, and with their hair immaculately coiffed by Ken One-Cut on the Gadlys. At least one of them is still around. He was a councillor before Dad ever got elected to the old Cynon Valley Borough Council, and remains a councillor at the time of writing. He might as well have been awarded a Life Seat by Clement Attlee himself.
The Party apparatchiks wore designer gear, expensive shoes and spoke in a dumbed-down Estuary English. Each of them sported what a long-forgotten Ranting Poet of the day termed ‘his/her non-sexist haircut on top of his/her head.’ They kept their degrees in Sociology or Politics or PPE under their haircuts for the duration. They didn’t want to intimidate the Workers by being ‘college boys and girls’, after all.
Mr Bragg himself was charming, down-to-earth, funny and very entertaining. He’s subsequently distanced himself from the Labour Party. Even a quarter of a decade ago, the divide between Old and New Labour was there for those with eyes to see.
I voted Labour for the last time in 1997. Like the rest of us, I celebrated Tony Blair’s victory and watched it turn sour as the years unfolded. They weren’t interested in the working class any more. So when a former councillor named Graeme Beard announced that an alliance of independent thinkers was getting together to contest key seats in RCT, I pricked up my ears. I put a load of posters around town to publicise an open meeting in Aberdare at the end of November. We promoted it via Facebook and Twitter. Graeme even managed to get a mention in the Cynon Valley Leader. And nobody came.
I think I identified a major part of the problem over ten years ago. I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to my unpublished letter of April 2001.
Since then things have gone from bad to worse. After a raft of broken manifesto commitments, blatant volte-face (see Marxist Economics) and the Parliamentary expenses scandal, it’s no wonder that politics and politicians have been discredited.
Talk to anyone in their twenties or thirties and you’ll hear a variation on this basic theme: They’re all a bunch of crooks!
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s no point even discussing politics with the majority of people aged over sixty. They’ll vote Labour for the same reason that Mother does – they still believe they’re the party of the working class. That’s when you can steer them back into the Twenty-first Century, of course, and away from the general run of pub conversation one overhears:
‘What was that pub called …?’
‘Barry John is the best number ten Wales has ever had …’
‘My father was there the night the committee in the club paid Tom Jones off …’
‘Remember old Frank? Used to work days regular down Deep …?’
‘That bloody Dr Beecham [sic] ruined the railways …’
Then they sink another pint of bitter (bemoaning the fact that it no longer costs tuppence) and sing along to Engelbert Humperdinck on the jukebox.
As for the youngsters …
The majority of the white working class I meet these days would make up the bedrock of Nick Griffin’s support if they lived in England. The guy I wrote about in Insights into the Mind of a Working Man is a perfect example. Their parents were the ones who voted Labour throughout the 1980s, when they were the party of Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Racial Equality and Gay Rights.
If they’d actually stopped and read the party manifestos for two minutes, they’d have realised that the Labour Party was totally antithetical to their own views. They’re racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and bigoted in every way.
Even so, they’ve allowed Ann Clwyd to indulge her hobbies at the taxpayers’ expense for nearly thirty years. They have what Kelly Jones called Just Enough Education to Perform.
There’s also a fair percentage without even that much education. They’re the ones I wrote about in Not Born Beautiful. We can count them out entirely. They wouldn’t know how to vote if their lives depended on it. Just putting a cross on a ballot paper would stretch their literacy skills to breaking point.
I’ve called this entry No Future because that’s the way a very large number of people in the valleys tend to think. Telling older people that they need to think about their children and their grandchildren, and the sort of world they’ll inherit, is like pissing into the wind. Meanwhile, the youngsters inhabit a weird parallel version of the late 1940s. There are jobs for all once they’ve done their stint in the army, and the MV Empire Windrush has just docked at Tilbury with our first wave of colonial cousins. O brave new world, that has such people in it.
Just seeing a non-white face in the Valleys is enough to strike Old Labour supporters down with paroxysms of terror. They must be ‘asylum seekers’ or ‘illegal immigrants’, apparently. They conveniently ignore the fact that there’s a massive university ten miles away, attracting students from all over world. There’s a huge hospital just over the mountain, and an even bigger one in Cardiff, filling the local skills gap with nurses and doctors from overseas. Property is as cheap as chips. People sell up in the cities and move into the area. That’s what people do, when their horizons aren’t limited by the houses they live in, the places they work at, and the pubs they drink in. That’s a subject for another blog.
I’m pushing the RCTRAG argument as often as as forcefully as I can, but I have a terrible feeling that I’m wasting my breath.
As for the people who vote Labour, election after election and generation after generation, without any thought for the consequences, there is a good reason for it. Just ask my mother.