The Welsh valleys have been left behind, to try and shrug off the industrial omens of the past and Tonypandy is no different. And yet its hard bitten streets, crammed with charity shop thrift and short supply spending money, are full of smiling ‘Hellos’ and thoughtful ‘Alrights?’
Its people are generous to strangers, even though they do not have much to give.
Chris Bryant has his work cut out in this constituency of socialist dominion and brave working class warfare.
LFW caught up with the MP at his office. He was wearing a formal, tieless suit and one couldn’t help but be immediately reminded of Cameron’s first serious and tieless encounter with the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher and her disquiet at such casual ferocity, but we live in different times and rolled up shirtsleeves, so what the hell.
Is Mr Bryant a Blairite or Brownite, LFW was compelled to ask?
“I supported Tony Blair from the beginning but I sent him a letter in 2006 telling him it was time to go”
No room to manoeuvre here then. And Gordon Brown?
“I had hoped that being Prime Minister would make him a bigger man. It didn’t, it made him smaller.”
And what about Blair Incorporated?
“I have nothing against people making money.” Came the quick reply, but there were some words of genuine concern about the growing gap between rich and poor attached.
The MP also appeared exercised about the whole business of Westminster patronage, implying that it had got out of hand and needed reforming.
Well, we all know that a hundred odd ministerial posts, numerous Special Advisers and not to mention all the sweet shop honours, have turned the political class into a ‘What’s in it for me?’ instead of a ‘What can I do for the people I serve?’
Towing the party line and risk aversion has become the name of the British political game and why? Favours and grace come first in all things?
And the death of passionate, honest politics?
Fear of speaking out more like and Mr Bryant didn’t argue with LFW on this point.
Neither did he pause when asked about whom he will be supporting in the Labour leadership stakes.
“Yvette Cooper.” Came the unequivocal reply.
He did however muse that power changed politicians, sometimes for the good, sometimes the bad. One can only hope that the former will apply to the venerable M/s Cooper. She will certainly have more freedom of movement and thought, now that her husband Ed is off the political scene.
This last conclusion of course remains to be seen. LFW can’t quite see the formidable Ed existing in a barren political wasteland for long, but who knows?
Mr Bryant is a devolutionist to his core, as he was quick to confirm to LFW. When it was pointed out that since Welsh devolution in 1997, Wales had gone further downhill in respect of health, education and its economy – in fact LFW would argue that Cardiff Bay Team Morgan and Jones have done nothing but imperil Welsh success in all the areas referred to – he compared the Welsh problems to those of North East England. An interesting comparison and one the LFW was unable to take issue with. Both areas demand investment and a spanking new political approach.
And the thorny issue of the Welsh language?
LFW was expecting an immediate bout of ducking and diving here, as is usually the case with Welsh politicians but not this time. Mr Bryant immediately stressed his own multi-lingual background (Welsh language not included) and certainly had no problems with preserving the language, but he did believe that further promotion needed to be treated with considerable caution. As he pointed out, most of his constituents are English first language speakers, as indeed is the case with 82% of people living in Wales.
Unable to avoid having a dig at nationalist Plaid Cymru, he noted Plaid’s policy of no fees for Welsh students going to the Welsh universities which LFW followed up with: More insularity? Less of a talent pool for Wales to draw from? Prioritising Welsh speaking trainee doctors…….? These comments were made to Mr Bryant and drew neither agreement nor disagreement.
Not quite safety play, but as Mr Bryant himself remarked, he had come in for a lot of stick the last time he dared to criticise the Welsh language lobby (who doesn’t?). Either way, LFW had to conclude that here was one Welsh politico at least who was prepared to speak his mind and be frank about things, so all credit to him.
And Mr Bryant’s take on the BBC licence fee?
He was all for it, as in his view, it was the only chance his constituents had of viewing any quality programmes – since interview, the BBC has been nobbled for the over 75 pensioner licence fee subsidy, albeit that some of its ever so nice and over paid execs object on the grounds that it will become an arm of the government’s social policy objectives; well, it’s been waving around its liberal left wing limbs for years in this area, so what’s new?
LFW nearly took the gloves off on the BBC, particularly where nationalist, Welsh speaking and outrageously bias BBC Wales is concerned, but refrained.
To conclude then, the Tonypandy MP came across as sincere and remarkably bold. He does give the lie to the over ventilated, Islington/Hampstead Heath middle class London commentariat view that all politicos are villains and cads – they are not.
NB 70 odd percent of London’s smug, smartarse columnists are privately educated by the way, so they most assuredly know all about life’s ‘struggles’ don’t they just, but then so is the editor of LFW, so it had better belt up on this one!
Finally, and on a more observational level, LFW must give our politicians a gentle word of advice:
Politics is a serious business no-one would deny, but for God’s sake how about some spontaneous humour now and again? It’s worked for Boris, the rest of you should try giving it a whirl, and it would work wonders with the voters!!