Two weeks ago I was amongst the first online bloggers and commentators to highlight a book review by the British journalist Roger Lewis in the right wing Daily Mail newspaper where he described the Welsh language as a ‘monkey language’ and claimed that Welsh speakers were turning Wales into a ‘foreign country’.
The controversy that blew up caused a huge reaction in Wales itself but was largely dismissed by the British political and media establishments. Indeed it became something of an excuse for further bigoted remarks towards the people of Wales across a spectrum of British news media and online forums.
However in a move supported by many in Wales the Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards contacted the British Home Secretary Theresa May and the British Press Complaints Commission, pointing out that though the views expressed in the article were entirely the concern of the writer some of the phrasing used by him carried racist overtones. As stated in Wales Online:
‘In his letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Mr Edwards writes: “The article is a disgraceful slur on the people of Wales. It is deeply inflammatory as the representations I have received indicate. The article equates Welsh nationality with mental illness. It indicates that the only way to achieve social and economic progress is to move to England. That Wales has been turned into a ‘foreign country’ as a result of Welsh language equality legislation.
It describes our national tongue as a ‘moribund monkey language’. This is an abhorrent comment considering that Welsh is one of the oldest living European languages, and comes only a week after the National Eisteddfod was held in Wrexham, one of Europe’s largest cultural festivals. The article throughout resembles the sort of language often associated with fascists in a different context.
It is often said that hatred of the Welsh is the only remaining form of acceptable racism. Articles like this further that perception…”’
Now, incredibly, the supposedly liberal centre-left British newspaper, the Independent, has stepped forward in a defence of the indefensible that stretches credulity and facts to beyond breaking point. According to the journalist Matthew Bell (with his highly original opening line):
‘Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Welshman and the Plaid Cymru MP? It doesn’t end well for the MP. A chorus of Welsh personalities has rounded on Jonathan Edwards, the member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, after he reported a book reviewer to the police, and wrote to the Home Secretary to complain the review was “sick” and “racist”. They say that he is giving the Welsh a bad name by overreacting.
But Mr Edwards’s response has drawn nothing but criticism from his colleagues. “I can’t believe Jonathan Edwards has risen to the bait,” says Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda in South Wales. “Roger Lewis’s piece is fatuous nonsense, but the last thing people want is a moaning version of Welsh nationalism. Wales is at its best when it is triumphantly insouciant about the criticism of others, and if we can’t take a bit of scabrous attack without running to the police, it’s a sad day for Wales.”
But others have gone further, criticising Mr Edwards for his assault on the freedom of the press. “With a free press, not everything that is written is going to be pleasant,” says Lembit Opik, the former MP for Montgomeryshire. “But people have the right to hold objectionable views.
“The best way to promote the Welsh language is to promote the positive, not to prosecute the negative. It can look a little bit oversensitive. He needs a reality check. If I had tried to prosecute people every time I didn’t like what they said, I would have become a barrister.”
Last night, Mr Lewis said he had been inundated with messages of support from Welsh and English people, including Stephen Fry and Gyles Brandreth. “I was quoting jokes made by Kingsley Amis in The Old Devils. He won the Booker Prize for that, and I get reported to the police.”
When Mr Edwards’s allegations against Mr Lewis were reported in the Western Mail, it provoked one of the biggest response from readers its website had ever experienced.
“Why write to the Home Secretary?” wrote one. “It’s a free press, and not North Korea. It’s hardly ‘inciting hatred’; it’s expressing dislike, which last time I looked, we were – just about – still free to do. Anything else he wants to alert the Cabinet to? Sun not yellow enough for him? Too much rain? He should grow up and do whatever MPs are supposed to do, which even in their la-la land of self-importance can’t encompass this petty and trivial meddling.”
Carol Vorderman, the former Countdown presenter who grew up in Prestatyn, North Wales, said yesterday that a sense of humour is usually a Welsh trait. “Roger Lewis is just doing what modern-day critics are paid to do, which is give everything a vicious pounding while attempting humour,” she said.’
Wow. That is some ‘chorus of Welsh personalities’. Lets see now. Two men who are members of political parties that are bitter rivals of Plaid Cymru in Wales? One a current Labour MP who laps up media attention with his rent-a-quote style when not embroiled in other controversies. One a former Liberal Democrat MP who is not Welsh and only moved to Wales after standing in seats across Britain in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to get elected to the British parliament before becoming a C-List celebrity through dating a, eh, pop star. Oh, and Carol Vorderman, a minor TV celebrity who is widely perceived to be sympathetic to the centre-right Conservative Party (which also contests against Plaid Cymru in Wales).
As for the other swathe of Welsh celebrities mentioned in the article there is… um… Well, there’s some nameless person who posted a Comment under an online article on a local newspaper site in Wales, and, er…
Oh, well there is Stephen Fry and Gyles Brandreth. They’re named as part of the evidence of the ‘chorus’ that expressed disapproval for Jonathan Edwards actions. Except of course they’re sort of not Welsh. Nor do they live in Wales. Or in fact do they have any association with Wales in any way shape or form.
So, in actual fact, this vast list of personalities in Wales condemning Jonathan Edwards is made up of one Labour MP, one former Lib Dem MP turned media buffoon, one former TV presenter who is close to the Tory party, some bloke who posted some comment on some local news site, one English B-List television celeb and former Tory MP, and one English TV and movie actor, writer and Twitterephile.
‘“People like Roger Lewis and people in the media who make these statements are, in my view, utterly risible and should not be given a platform.
One knows for certain that if you substitute any other language or culture or ethnicity for Wales, Welshness or the Welsh, it would not get in the paper.
I hope that Jonathan Edwards has every success and I hope that he gets a reply. I hope that it is taken seriously by the Home Secretary and that something is somehow done about it, because these attacks on Welsh culture, as embodied by the Welsh language, cannot be allowed to go on.”’
- An Bhreatain Bheag – Little Britain (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- A New Plaid Cymru For A New Wales? (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- Jamie Bevan, Welsh Rights Activist, Jailed By British Authorities (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Is Plaid Cymru Behind The Curve? (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- Forget David Starkey – Lets Talk About The Daily Mail And ‘Monkey Language’ (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- British Labour Party To Rig Welsh Elections? (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)
- Cyfri’r Geifr, or I Still Need to Learn Welsh (boymeets.wordpress.com)
- Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru – Oireachtas Náisiúnta na Breataine Bige (ansionnachfionn.wordpress.com)