Don't make the same mistakes

Ron Daviesargues that, if devolution is to succeed, both old and new Labour must do better

The first elections to the National Assembly for Wales on 6 May will not represent some constitutional "big bang". Devolution is not a single defining event but a process.

No doubt the Assembly will have imperfections but it will change and adapt over the years; it will grow in confidence and stature; its power will increase and it will become the respected forum and authoritative voice of our country. The task of getting our devolution proposals through the Labour Party was difficult enough. The task of making our new democratic settlement work will, I believe, prove an even greater challenge. And we can learn lessons from Labour's 1992-97 journey that are relevant to choices we face now.

From 1994 a new vocabulary crept into Labour's lexicon. Party members were now supposed to be, at least in the media's eyes, either new or old Labour, although many of us were neither. Old Labour had little time for devolution. It wanted statist solutions; it thought devolution pandered to nationalism. New Labour had scarcely more enthusiasm - it certainly wasn't part of the original "project" but Tony Blair, to his credit, honoured the commitment inherited from John Smith.

There was, I always thought, a third strand. Not new Labour or old Labour but Welsh Labour. We were the enthusiasts for devolution who wanted a new pluralist approach to Welsh politics that was libertarian, decentralist and patriotic.

It was during these early debates that one of today's common buzzwords - "inclusiveness" - first emerged. It signalled a new style of politics which was less tribal and less dogmatic. It attracted most outright hostility from those members of Labour's Welsh establishment who believed that the party had a monopoly of wisdom on all issues. Inclusiveness implied that Labour would engage in a dialogue with others who shared a common agenda and be less assertive of its singular dominance of Welsh politics.

For devolution to be a success it was essential for the Labour Party to make clear that it had no intention of replicating the worst practices of some Labour-dominated local councils. Inclusiveness was not attractive in marketing terms but it was an essential foundation stone for the whole enterprise. It was my strong view that we would only be able to generate public support for a devolved assembly if we stressed the principle of inclusiveness. When the Prime Minister, at my urging, put the word "inclusive" in his speech to the Welsh party conference in May 1996 it paved the way for the Welsh party's acceptance of "an element of proportionality" in the electoral system for the new Assembly.

For devolution to succeed we must acknowledge the mistakes we have made so far in order to apply the lessons to the challenges ahead. First, under pressure from old Labour, we failed to broaden our support among other parties and across Welsh civil society. Only Labour had the strength and organisation to deliver change but that strength carried, and still does, a heavy responsibility to others. We should have had the confidence to work more closely with others to seek wider agreement and to identify common ground.

Second, this time under pressure from new Labour, we failed to deepen our support among the population at large. New Labour's advisers and apparatchiks were cool about devolution, seeing it as not relevant to "the project", and a potential vote-loser, in England at least. Neither before nor during the general election did we take our case to the people. In Wales we had one brief press conference at the start of the six-week campaign on our plans for the Assembly. Although it was officially one of the party's election pledges, as far as Labour's national campaign was concerned Welsh devolution was a non-issue.

Third, we failed to acknowledge the extent of the changes that must flow from devolution. We should have made it clear that devolution was an essential part of transforming the way we govern ourselves; it has far-reaching consequences for government, the economy, society at large and the political process itself.

Devolution is not an optional extra to the modernisation of the UK. Nor is it a panacea. The early years of our new democracy will present us with some difficult choices and painful realities. For example, the temptation will always exist, even after devolution, for money to follow UK government priorities. This year, additional resources were made available to cut hospital waiting lists and to reduce class sizes below 30 for the under-sevens. This was perfectly sensible: Labour was elected in 1997 on specific pledges to do these things. After devolution, however, when the co-operation of the devolved assemblies will be needed for such policies, there can be no guarantee that targets as arbitrary as waiting lists or class sizes could withstand rigorous scrutiny in a Welsh context. There will be clear tension between those wanting "UK solutions" and those wanting national "opt-outs" or other variations.

Again, there will be conflicts when each constituency in Wales has two directly elected representatives, even where they are from the same party. Both can claim to be the authentic voice of the people. How will a constituency party respond, for example, when its Assembly member supports a call for more influence over Westminster legislation while the Westminster MP strenuously resists it?

These matters can be resolved but the political parties will have to change and innovate. Everybody concerned will need a degree of tolerance and creative thinking.

The writer was secretary of state for Wales until November. This article is an edited extract from his pamphlet "Devolution: a process and not an event", published this week by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, 01222 575511

This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again

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The secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s

As a new film focuses on the real founder of McDonald’s, his grandson reveals the unlikely story behind his family’s long-lost restaurant.

One afternoon in about the year 1988, an 11-year-old boy was eating at McDonald’s with his family in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire. During the meal, he noticed a plaque on the wall bearing a man’s face and declaring him the founder of McDonald’s. These plaques were prevalent in McDonald’s restaurants across the US at the time. The face – gleaming with pride – belonged to Ray Kroc, a businessman and former travelling salesman long hailed as the creator of the fast food franchise.

Flickr/Phillip Pessar

But this wasn’t the man the young boy munching on fries expected to see. That man was in the restaurant alongside him. “I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘But I thought you were the founder?’” he recalls. “And that’s when, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, my grandfather went back on the [McDonald’s] Corporation to set the history straight.”

Jason McDonald French, now a 40-year-old registered nurse with four children, is the grandson of Dick McDonald – the real founder of McDonald’s. When he turned to his grandfather as a confused child all those years ago, he spurred him on to correct decades of misinformation about the mysterious McDonald’s history. A story now being brought to mainstream attention by a new film, The Founder.

Jason McDonald French

“They [McDonald’s Corporation] seemed to forget where the name actually did come from,” says McDonald French, speaking on the phone from his home just outside Springfield, Massachusetts.

His grandfather Dick was one half of the McDonald brothers, an entrepreneurial duo of restaurateurs who started out with a standard drive-in hotdog stand in California, 1937.

Dick's father, an Irish immigrant, worked in a shoe factory in New Hampshire. He and his brother made their success from scratch. They founded a unique burger restaurant in San Bernardino, around 50 miles east of where they had been flogging hotdogs. It would become the first McDonald’s restaurant.

Most takeout restaurants back then were drive-ins, where you would park, order food from your car, and wait for a “carhop” server to bring you your meal on a plate, with cutlery. The McDonald brothers noticed that this was a slow, disorganised process with pointless costly overheads.

So they invented fast food.


In 1948, they built what came to be known as the “speedy system” for a fast food kitchen from scratch. Dick was the inventor out of the two brothers - as well as the bespoke kitchen design, he came up with both the iconic giant yellow “M” and its nickname, the “Golden Arches”.

“My grandfather was an innovator, a man ahead of his time,” McDonald French tells me. “For someone who was [only] high school-educated to come up with the ideas and have the foresight to see where the food service business was going, is pretty remarkable.”

The McDonald brothers with a milkshake machine.

McDonald French is still amazed at his grandfather’s contraptions. “He was inventing machines to do this automated system, just off-the-cuff,” he recalls. “They were using heat lamps to keep food warm beforehand, before anyone had ever thought of such a thing. They customised their grills to whip the grease away to cook the burgers more efficiently. It was six-feet-long, which was just unheard of.”

Dick even custom-made ketchup and mustard dispensers – like metal fireplace bellows – to speed up the process of garnishing each burger. The brothers’ system, which also cut out waiting staff and the cost of buying and washing crockery and cutlery, brought customers hamburgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds.

The McDonald brothers as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

McDonald French recounts a story of the McDonald brothers working late into the night, drafting and redrafting a blueprint for the perfect speedy kitchen in chalk on their tennis court for hours. By 3am, when they finally had it all mapped out, they went to bed – deciding to put it all to paper the next day. The dry, desert climate of San Bernardino meant it hadn’t rained in months.

 “And, of course, it rained that night in San Bernardino – washed it all away. And they had to redo it all over again,” chuckles McDonald French.

In another hiccup when starting out, a swarm of flies attracted by the light descended on an evening event they put on to drum up interest in their restaurant, driving customers away.

An original McDonald's restaurant, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder


These turned out to be the least of their setbacks. As depicted in painful detail in John Lee Hancock’s film, Ray Kroc – then a milkshake machine salesman – took interest in their restaurant after they purchased six of his “multi-mixers”. It was then that the three men drew up a fateful contract. This signed Kroc as the franchising agent for McDonald’s, who was tasked with rolling out other McDonald’s restaurants (the McDonalds already had a handful of restaurants in their franchise). 

Kroc soon became frustrated at having little influence. He was bound by the McDonalds’ inflexibility and stubborn standards (they wouldn’t allow him to cut costs by purchasing powdered milkshake, for example). The film also suggests he was fed up with the lack of money he was making from the deal. In the end, he wriggled his way around the contract by setting up the property company “McDonald’s Corporation” and buying up the land on which the franchises were built.

Ray Kroc, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

Kroc ended up buying McDonald’s in 1961, for $2.7m. He gave the brothers $1m each and agreeing to an annual royalty of half a per cent, which the McDonald family says they never received.

“My father told us about the handshake deal [for a stake in the company] and how Kroc had gone back on his word. That was very upsetting to my grandfather, and he never publicly spoke about it,” McDonald French says. “It’s probably billions of dollars. But if my grandfather was never upset about it enough to go after the Corporation, why would we?”

They lost the rights to their own name, and had to rebrand their original restaurant “The Big M”. It was soon put out of business by a McDonald’s that sprang up close by.

An original McDonald restaurant in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/George

Soon after that meal when the 11-year-old Jason saw Kroc smiling down from the plaque for the first time, he learned the true story of what had happened to his grandfather. “It’s upsetting to hear that your family member was kind of duped,” he says. “But my grandfather always had a great respect for the McDonald’s Corporation as a whole. He never badmouthed the Corporation publicly, because he just wasn’t that type of man.”

Today, McDonalds' corporate website acknowledges the McDonalds brothers as the founders of the original restaurant, and credits Kroc with expanding the franchise. The McDonald’s Corporation was not involved with the making of The Founder, which outlines this story. I have contacted it for a response to this story, but it does not wish to comment.


Dick McDonald’s principles jar with the modern connotations of McDonald’s – now a garish symbol of global capitalism. The film shows Dick’s attention to the quality of the food, and commitment to ethics. In one scene, he refuses a lucrative deal to advertise Coca Cola in stores. “It’s a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs,” he rants. “It’s distasteful . . . crass commercialism.”

Kroc, enraged, curses going into business with “a beatnik”.

Photo: The Founder

Dick’s grandson agrees that McDonald’s has strayed from his family’s values. He talks of his grandfather’s generosity and desire to share his wealth – the McDonald brothers gave their restaurant to its employees, and when Dick returned to New Hampshire after the sale, he used some of the money to buy new Cadillacs with air conditioning for his old friends back home.

“[McDonald’s] is definitely a symbol of capitalism, and it definitely sometimes has a negative connotation in society,” McDonald French says. “If it was still under what my grandfather had started, I imagine it would be more like In'N'Out Burger [a fast food chain in the US known for its ethical standards] is now, where they pay their employees very well, where they stick to the simple menu and the quality.”

He adds: “I don’t think it would’ve ever blossomed into this, doing salads and everything else. It would’ve stayed simple, had quality products that were great all the time.

“I believe that he [my grandfather] wasn’t too unhappy that he wasn’t involved with it anymore.”

The McDonald’s Museum, Ray Kroc’s first franchised restaurant in the chain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite his history, Dick still took his children and grandchildren to eat at McDonald’s together – “all the time” – as does Jason McDonald French with his own children now. He’s a cheeseburger enthusiast, while his seven-year-old youngest child loves the chicken nuggets. But there was always a supersize elephant in the room.

“My grandfather never really spoke of Ray Kroc,” he says. “That was always kind of a touchy subject. It wasn’t until years later that my father told us about how Kroc was not a very nice man. And it was the only one time I ever remember my grandfather talking about Kroc, when he said: ‘Boy, that guy really got me.’”

The Founder is in UK cinemas from today.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.