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3 May 1999

For freedom, and thinner opera singers

Only an artistic revival can save Wales, believes Tom Davies. That's why he formed a new party

By Tom Davies

I come from a Welsh mining family and I have been a socialist all my life. But, as an increasingly frustrated Welsh writer who can no longer get anything published in Wales – even if I just about still make a living writing religious travel books for the SPCK – I decided to form my own party, the Celtic Alliance, with the specific purpose of invigorating our arts and sport.

It all began, innocently enough, in a column I was writing in the Western Mail about a year ago. Welsh artistic life is in tatters, I wrote. It may have been the chill winds of Thatcherism but we have lost everything there is. We are producing virtually no novels, no feature films and, outside television, no home-grown drama. All this must change because our writers offer us the only chance of ever becoming free after lying for so long with a Westminster boot on our necks.

It was the writers of Ireland who first set up a dynamic interaction between the slumbering Celts and the overweening power of English imperialism. This prompted a period of self-examination in their art and, in so doing, set the Irish free.

The Welsh Labour Party has shown no sign whatsoever of addressing this lamentable state of affairs. Peter Hain has never once mentioned the arts in his policy objectives. They say of Ron Davies that he did once read a book but lost interest when Jill fell down that hill. Alun Michael – Tony Blair’s parachutist, as he is known in these parts – did recently agree to debate the state of our arts with me but, when the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff was booked, television coverage arranged and seats sold, he backed down suddenly without a proper explanation. Perhaps someone had finally pointed out to him that the Welsh Labour Party doesn’t actually have a policy on the arts.

The Welsh Lib Dems say they want to set up a writers’ museum, presumably to pickle a few of our writers inside a glass case, if they can find any. The Tories aren’t saying much about anything since they never wanted the assembly in the first place.

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Allied to the cultural illiteracy of our politicians is the Welsh Arts Council, a bastion of total uselessness in its Cardiff offices in the aptly named Museum Place. Run by cormorants and caterpillars, it persistently fosters the cult of the amateur and wastes its considerable resources by spraying them thinly over everything that moves.

It is also a source of much Welsh anger that the Welsh National Opera receives around £7 million in grants from the Arts Council each year. Who decided that this minority self-indulgence of the chattering classes should receive so much? Why are they always abroad? Why do they need so many in the chorus? Why do they always take half an hour to die? Why do they always sing in Italian or Czech? What’s all this got to do with modern Wales?

As I continued writing about my new party in the Western Mail, I also tried to enlist the support of serious and intelligent writers and artists. Jan Morris was one of the first to respond. “I would be unwholesomely flattered to be described as a supporter of your new party, bringing a new freshness and gusto to Welsh politics,” she wrote to me.

Herbert Williams, our most distinguished poet, agreed that, if the Celtic Alliance were elected, he would be our minister of poets. Vincent Kane, our greatest broadcaster, agreed to be our honorary leader and Jonathan Davies, one of our best rugby players, agreed to be our minister for rugby. Professor Charles Stirton, the brilliant head of our new national botanic gardens, who wants the gardens to be in the vanguard of a quest for a new Welsh identity, said he would be our minister for identity with special responsibility for shrubs and the odd bulb. Sir Anthony Hopkins said I was raving mad.

The Celtic Alliance wants to set up a national publishing house, a fully funded film studio such as they are now building in Scotland, and a national theatre. We would also abolish the Welsh Arts Council and replace it with a council for artists which would set up the arts properly and professionally in Wales for a change. The fat WNO chorus would be put on a crash diet.

That sparkling sports writer Peter Corrigan would be our minister for the Premiership. It is plainly mad that tin-pot London suburbs have Premiership sides while we in Wales have nothing above Division Two, with Wrexham possibly soon dropping out of that. So Peter will invest, on behalf of Wales, in all three of our league soccer clubs until they reach the Premiership.

Unfortunately things fell apart slightly when I lost my column in the Western Mail about two months ago, but I decided to forge ahead anyway, arguing that if I could get my foot in the new assembly, that might well form a bridgehead to a new artistic and sporting life in Wales.

But it is not easy. I face a Labour majority of some 20,000 and, in truth, I’ll probably be lucky to hang on to my deposit. Yet even Aneurin Bevan had to start somewhere, and I have this strange gut feeling that there are a lot more Welsh people like me who are no longer prepared to live in Year Zero. But do enough of them live in Cardiff South and Penarth? I haven’t a clue, but I’m going for it anyway. Show them you no longer want to live in Year Zero, I’ve been telling them in Tiger Bay. Vote Celtic Alliance.

Tom Davies is a former “Sunday Times” and “Observer” writer. His latest book is “The Visions of Caradoc” (Azure, £6.99)

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