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Remembering Steffan Lewis
Tributes have been paid to the late Steffan Lewis AM, who died at the age of 34 after a courageous battle against cancer.
Steffan’s funeral took place at Abercarn’s Welsh Church, established by the nineteenth century campaigner Lady Llanover, Gwenynen Gwent. The text of tributes given at the funeral by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price (translated text bracketed) and former Assembly Member Jocelyn Davies can be found here, together with a personal recollection of Steffan by Plaid Cymru History chairman Dafydd Williams. The funeral service on the 25 January 2019 was conducted by the Reverend Aled Edwards.
A Tribute to Steffan by Adam Price
[We are drawn together today by a great loss and a deep sense of pain. The loss of a son, the loss of a husband, of a father and a friend. And also the loss of a great Welshman. Wales has always been a country mourning the tomorrow that would never be. Because of our long history of loss, losing battle and brother. Losing Cadwallon and Rhodri and Gruffydd and Llywelyn. Owain Lawgoch and Glyndŵr. And to that roll call of princes we now add the name of another leader of hosts, our dear Steffan.
And yet woven in to that pain, there is another truth to be perceived in the vacuum. Loss after loss – and yet the history of our nation is about resolving to live despite it all.
There is something odd about the fact that we in Wales are still here as a nation – standing here only a few miles from the border, under the noses of the nation that for two centuries ruled the world. Steffan’s life, as a man of Gwent, a true Welshman, stands as a symbol of the fact that this frail nation, in the words of another borderer, Islwyn Ffowc Elis, proved it had a genius for survival.
Wales continues to live today because we are determined that it should, because of that remarkable tenacity that bends without breaking. We saw that exemplified by Steffan’s final year, by his success in living to the full, contributing until the end, and snatching life from the teeth of his sickness so many times in order to continue to make a difference for the people and the country he loved and that loved him.
In preparing this tribute I recalled the splendid tributes given by Steffan himself to Glyn Erasmus and Jim Criddle. From his early days he had counted Plaid veterans among his closest friends.
Because Steffan understood that the struggle for Wales is like a relay race that will never come to an end.
So all of us now bear responsibility not to let that baton slip from our grasp.
“When we set out for battle your sword will be like a flame before us
When we take counsel your word will be like a song in our memory
When we teach our children, your name will be melodious in our speech
And when we are no more known
To generations as yet hidden in the unfolding years,
Generations who know neither our names nor anything about us
You will be renowned as brave
You will be counted wise
You will be called great.”]
In my last conversation with Steffan a few days before he passed we talked about many, many things. Steffan was a man, in Whitman’s phrase, that contained multitudes. He had a large heart and a huge intellect – and those things don’t often come together. He was a brilliant orator and a champion listener – and that combination is rarer still. He was as we know courageously honest and he wanted me to know he had only a short time left. As I held him there were moments of silent sadness, but we also laughed a lot.
We pondered together the last message that he could convey through me to you. And his face was illuminated with a mischievous grin when he said, I know, we’ll ask them to pledge themselves to giving up beer and wine until we secure Welsh independence, forcing some of you into an excruciating choice between two of the things you loved the most. You know who you are.
He really wanted to see that independent Wales he said.
And he wished so much the prognosis would change. Knowing Steffan as we do I think he meant not so much now for himself but for Wales, for us, and for Celyn.
There was always a great sense of urgency about Steffan. Not for him the languid language of independence as a long-term goal. He wanted us to get there while he was yet young. He had the same boundless energy – but also perhaps the same foreknowledge that all of us have but limited time – that propelled the young John F Kennedy, to end his campaign speeches with those words of Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep /And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.”
The Monday morning after the terrible news I couldn’t face going into a Senedd with an empty seat. So I went for a run around the Bay. My face contorted with exhaustion and grief, an elderly gentleman offered his words of kindness and encouragement: “Not far to go now. Not far”. I stopped to look out over the clouds in the Bay, and suddenly shafts of sunlight cut through onto the water. In Sunday school we learned to call that Jacob’s ladder – but for me now these rays of sunshine will be for ever Steffan’s.
And it put me in mind of the inauguration of Jack Kennedy, that other great leader who gave a nation new hope.
Robert Frost was due to read out a poem he had written especially for the occasion, but as he approached the podium a sudden glare of sunlight meant he couldn’t read his text. So instead he read out another poem from memory, “A Gift Outright”.
“The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
To the land vaguely realizing westward
Such as she was, such as she would become.”
The poem is about a sense of one-ness between a people and their land.
Monmouthshire perhaps is Wales’ Massachusetts, Virginia its Gwent, where the magnetic pull of the border is strongest, where to be Welsh is not an accident of birth but an act of defiant will. Do we choose to withhold ourselves from Wales, to follow the easy paths of personal ambition and material success, or do we sacrifice ourselves for Wales? Steffan’s answer was never really in doubt. His mother Gail made sure of that. Steffan found salvation in surrendering himself to Wales. His life to his last was a gift outright to the nation.
Cymru to Steffan was par excellence a country of companionship. He wanted to plant it thick as trees along mountain-top and valley floor, and for our shores and our rivers to constantly water its roots. He wanted us to be indissoluble, inseparable, compatriots all, with our arms around each other’s necks, Cuumraag in Manx means comrade after all. And this dear comrade wanted Wales – all of Wales – to cwtch up close.
Like his great mentor and hero Phil Williams, Steffan railed against what Phil called the false ‘psychology of distance’ which divided our nation.
This is Steffan in 2012 in an email to Rhuanedd and me:
“We should talk about ending the Walian. We are not south Walians, north Walians, west Walians etc. Yes, Wales is a community of communities but the artificial regionalisation of Wales and the cynical divides based on language, geography, urban v rural are the tools of those who seek to divide us to protect the political status quo, for their narrow self-interest. Wales is at its best when Wales is one – One Wales (yes, with capital letters), facing common challenges together. This is needed more than ever as our country faces a full frontal assault from the UK Government”.
Steffan was a proud Gwentian, but keen to emphasise its fundamental Welshness. How Zephaniah Williams and John Frost were both Welsh speakers . As was the miner Edward Morgan – the Dic Penderyn of Monmouthshire – executed at age 35 as a leader of Tarw Scotch. Though it was the working class Welsh culture of these valleys that was the crucible in which Steffan’s personality was forged – he was also quite struck, and no doubt amused, by the stories of Lady Llanofer, insisting her staff only spoke Welsh, and wearing a bespoke Welsh costume, made out of the finest materials, with a superb diamond leek in her black silk hat.
He was himself a gem of a man, and so it’s fitting that he will be followed by a Jewell. And I know that it gave Steffan great comfort to know that he could pass the baton on to someone equally able and committed.
He touched us all in different ways, and it stings to know we’re no longer able to reach out and touch him.
Before I conclude I should like to read out some special messages of condolences that we have received.
Firstly from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister
“I was lucky to know Steffan. I first met him when he supported Leanne at those famous TV debates. I could see then what a keen mind he had and what a compassionate individual he was. As a result it was no surprise to me when he was elected in 2016. Steffan was a truly lovely man and a first rate politician. He had the good fortune in life to marry Shona, a Scots woman, and his young son Celyn has perhaps the even better fortune to be both Welsh and Scottish. Shona and Celyn can be enormously proud of what Steffan achieved and as you celebrate his life today, my thoughts, and those of Steffan’s friends and colleagues in Scotland are with all of our friends in Wales.”
And secondly on behalf of the Irish Government, Ambassador Adrian O’Neill
“I was very saddened to learn of the untimely passing of Steffan Lewis and, on behalf of the Irish Government, I extend my sympathies to Steffan’s wife Shona and his son Celyn and to all his colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Assembly. He will be remembered not only for his notable career in Welsh politics but also for his drive and passion in furthering bilateral relations between Ireland and Wales”.
In remembering Steffan here now our hearts are both beguiled and broken.
But he would not want us to despair in this our land of living.
So every morning when we wake let’s wake for him. When we rise, let it be the rising of a nation.
As Steffan’s years were halved let’s re-double our efforts on his behalf.
Steffan never learned to take his time so nor should we. He achieved so much in such a short while, inscribing in the arc of his life a great promise of things to come. Its realisation now falls to us.
Our future may lie beyond the horizon, but it is not beyond our control. Nothing is inevitable, no irresistible tide of history will determine our destiny. It is up to us.
We do not have far to go. The future is in our hands.
So let’s build it together in the name of one we loved.
And who loved us in return.
Such was the strength of that love that one nation would never be enough to contain it.
Steffan dreamed of creating a Celtic Union so he fashioned his own in bonding forever with Shona.
So it’s fitting we should say our goodbyes on that great Scottish poet Robbie Burns’ birthday.
And so I’ll end with his words to a dear departed friend that feel so apt today:
“Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
Eulogy to Steffan Lewis by Jocelyn Davies
From the tributes paid to Steffan over the last two weeks it is clear that Wales has lost one of her brightest and best political figures of our time.
But Steffan was so much more than a public figure – husband to Shona; father to little Celyn; son to Gail; stepson to Neil; brother to Dylan, Sian and Nia, an uncle and son-in-law; a keen historian; a nationalist and internationalist; a Celtic supporter; and a friend to many of us; and more besides and we’re here today to celebrate and remember all he was. And I’d like to share the story of my friendship with him.
When he asked me at Christmas if I would do this eulogy I started to think back to when our paths first crossed. That’s about 25 years ago. His father, Mark, used to bring him to Plaid Cymru meetings and Steff’s interest in politics was sparked by the Islwyn by-election.
Soon after, Gail brought him to the house because he wanted to discuss bullying in schools with a school governor. He was just ten – so mature; so polite; and so serious. And he wasn’t so much worried for himself, but for smaller children – like his younger sister Sian, and to whom he took his bigger brother responsibilities very seriously indeed. He wanted Sian to be safe.
Gail was, without doubt, the driving force in those formative years and it is to Gail that Plaid Cymru owes a massive debt of gratitude because she gave Steffan the gift of his love for Wales; for its language; for its culture and history; and for his nation. And, not forgetting, the typewriter she gave him from which the ten-year-old Steffan fired off letters to various people about important matters of the day!
He hadn’t at that point decided to be a politician. In fact, he was quite set on becoming a police officer. So, in typical Steffan style, sent one of his letters to the local police station about his intentions. So impressed were they that Steffan and Sian were treated to a tour of the station, put in the cells, and had their fingerprints taken for good measure. So, even at this tender age he had the directness and easy charm that impressed the people he met.
He was still a schoolboy when he made his first visit to the Commons by the invitation of Dafydd Wigley – after Steffan had written one of his letters, of course. Dafydd said he was immediately struck by a young man who had a passion for Wales; who already had an understanding of politics; and had a maturity beyond his years.
As a teenager, Gail continued to encourage him to maintain his interest in politics, and he seemed 28 speaking at conference – but was also happy tagging along with whatever was going on locally.
He helped us out in the historic Assembly elections of 1999, and it came as no surprise to me when he later contacted me about a work placement at the Bay. He was 15 and he spent that first summer making his way down from Tredegar to help me, and to learn, meeting everyone, and just being part of the excitement of it all – I think he also tried out my chair for size while I was out of the room! – already planning no doubt.
On the journeys home with Mike and I in the car he talked of his plans for A levels, of Welsh history (I think he’d visited every castle in the land) and of what devolution meant to him – the dawn of a new Wales.
We lost touch with our young friend when he went off to university and then travelling – and he told me later that during that time he’d even flirted for a while with the Wales Independence Party. I think he’d felt a profound deflation when it became all to obvious that the powers the Assembly had at that time were not going to build the Wales he was expecting to see.
It was 2006, with the Blaenau Gwent by-election looming, and our need for a Westminster candidate that he came back into our lives. Mike, of course, had the task of ringing him. By now he’d met the love of his life, Shona, in a pub in Cardiff when she was visiting from Inverness. He knew she was “The One”, and with his usual vigour and determination pursued her back to Scotland. He was working there and had joined the SNP, and had become a Celtic supporter – but you can’t have everything!
Becoming a Celtic supporter wasn’t, by the way, a shallow attempt to impress Shona. It was, Steffan style, thoroughly thought through and based on the fact that the team was originally formed with the specific aim of being a way of raising funds to feed poor children in the east end of Glasgow – well, that’s what he’d tell us when they were not on top form!
Luckily for us, Shona was fully supportive of him standing and he agreed to fight the seat for us. And what a candidate! Dai Davies recently told me that, in all the hustings they attended, all he need do was pray Steff answered questions before him and then agree with whatever Steff said. Steff was just 22. And already had the public speaking skills of a seasoned professional.
He and Shona came home to Wales and settled in Islwyn. It was a partnership of true equals and they were always 100% supportive of each other. I know he was happy in Scotland, but was pleased to be back near his family and to see his little sister Nia as often as possible.
It’s from this time really that he became like family to us, and not just Mike and me, but the whole Islwyn Plaid Cymru clan.
Over the years he’s paid some lovely tributes to me, and claimed I took him under my wing. Well, he was a very polite boy. I’m not sure that was entirely true. It’s probably more accurate to say I just took the opportunity to light a blue touch paper that was already there – the intellect, the talent and the drive were already there. All he needed was the benefit of some wise experience – and a little time and space – I think I gave him that. Yes, I gave him that. And if you light a blue touch paper, it is best if you then stand well back!
The real step-change for Steff was going to work for Leanne, and I know he was incredibly proud of the work they did together, and being right at the centre of the action was the perfect finishing school for him. And I’m sure she’d agree that, quite apart from his professional abilities, Steff was one of those nice people to have around – serious, yes a bit straight laced too, but he was really funny – we laughed a lot together, even on those very dark days.
He had his anxieties. He confided in me that he was worried he wouldn’t be taken seriously as an Assembly Member because of his age. Of course, his fears were completely unfounded. He was, after all, the star of the show – I might be a bit biased on that front.
I’ve come now to the really hard bit.
What happened to Steffan is a tragedy beyond words – but somehow he found the words for it.
The openness, clarity and tenderness with which he spoke about his experience and feelings was extraordinary. It was a noble selfless endeavour to tell his story in order to help others. And he did with a frankness that was truly touching. He and Shona, together, demonstrated a strength and generosity of spirit that made this last year easier for us all. And the dignity with which Sona has bore her grief is inspirational. Where she found the strength and fortitude, I have no idea. She is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met.
Steff and his whole family were on the most terrible of journeys and they invited us to share it with them and they were always grateful for our company and considerate of our feelings. And they did with a positivity that was truly humbling. They comforted us.
There are far too many people to thank individually for all the support they’ve received, and I know they are overwhelmed by the love and kindness shown to them from all quarters. But Steff would want me to say how proud he was of Nia’s fundraising work for Velindre, and he was especially grateful to Rhuanedd Richards for being a rock for Gail, who is bearing the utter despair that no mother should ever face.
The last time Mike and I saw Steff at home with Shona and his sweet sweet boy Celyn, he said one of the good things that had come from this was that his family were even closer than before, and he was looking forward to watching football that weekend with brother Dylan and his very special friend, Neil, his stepfather.
He was also making plans with us to make a last appearance at the Senedd to make a final statement to you – always planning, always working towards something. I don’t know what he intended for that statement – maybe he’d have told to, Harri Webb style, to “sing for Wales”. Steff certainly sang for Wales.
But I know for certain he would have thanked you all. So, I do that now for him. Thank you.
Steffan Lewis – A Personal Tribute
by Dafydd Williams, Chairman, Plaid Cymru History Society
I got to know Steffan during the first elections to the National Assembly in 1999. Phil Williams was standing for Plaid in the Blaenau Gwent constituency and as a friend of Phil and former General Secretary of Plaid Cymru I took part in the lively campaign run from our office in Tredegar. Steffan was a regular attendee, turning up almost every day after school was over. He must have been 14 at the time, but it was clear to all of us that he had great potential.
As time passed it was good to see how he put that talent to good use. When Steffan addressed the Plaid conference and National Council, people listened. His clarity of understanding and analysis of complex issues – especially the bumpy progress of devolution – was a revelation. His ability to put ideas across without the slightest pretension won him a growing following. It was no surprise to see him chosen as Plaid’s lead candidate in South-east Wales or to hear of the respect he gained among members of all parties in the Assembly – in a way that called to mind the respect accorded to Phil Williams in previous years.
Around eighteen months ago Steffan made time to travel to Swansea to meet Plaid members in a well-attended social function and brief us on all the latest developments and complications following the Brexit referendum. It was an enjoyable and inspiring occasion that succeeded in boosting activities in Swansea and Gower, an evening we will never forget. It came as a huge shock within a few short weeks to hear the cruel news of his diagnosis, and I cannot imagine the pain and sadness felt by his loved ones.
We extend our heartfelt sympathy and best wishes to Shona, Celyn and all the family.
Pioneer Patriot – The Life of Wynne Samuel
‘A man of immense talent who worked heart and soul for Wales’ – that is the thumbnail sketch of Wynne Samuel, one of Plaid’s early champions. It comes from the opening lines of this portrait of a pioneer nationalist – at one time considered a potential leader of Wales’ national movement.
This tribute by Plaid History chairman Dafydd Williams traces the course of Wynne’s extraordinary career, and for the first time publishes a number of new photographs and documents. It is based on an illustrated lecture delivered at Plaid Cymru’s conference in Cardigan on Friday 5 October 2018, but has been substantially amended and expanded. You can read it here.
Link > Life of Wynne SAMUEL
NEW LIGHT ON RHONDDA POLL
Many thanks to the family of the late Vic Davies, Rhondda, for donating to Plaid History a truly inspirational collection of material concerning the Rhondda West by-election that took place over half a century ago.
The collection includes a scrapbook of press cuttings that recall the dramatic contest in 1967 when Vic Davies succeeded in slashing Labour’s towering majority from seventeen thousand to just 2,306 votes, a swing of 29 per cent to Plaid Cymru.
There are a number of valuable telegrams and letters, including congratulations from Plaid Cymru president Gwynfor Evans, who had been returned as MP for Carmarthen the previous year.
The collection also includes a letter from the SNP’s Dr Andrew Lees of Bearsden near Glasgow inviting Vic Davies to travel to Scotland to support Winifred Ewing’s campaign in the Hamilton by-election – in particular by accompanying her down a local coal mine. Winnie Ewing had met Vic a few weeks previously in the Plaid Conference in Dolgellau.
It is clear from the contents of the collection that Vic accepted the invitation, went down the coal mine and also addressed a by-election rally. A handwritten letter from Winnie Ewing dated 2 October 1967 expresses her gratitude for his support and for helping make the events successful. Four weeks later, Winnie Ewing went on to win Hamilton and join Gwynfor in Westminster.
After copying items for Plaid History purposes, the collection will be sent to the National Library in Aberystwyth to form an important part of the Plaid Cymru archive.
Syd Morgan has been closely involved in Plaid Cymru’s struggle for five decades – since the days he ran a nationalist magazine in Swansea University in the 1960s. He gave up a post in university administration to become a full-time organiser for the party in the Rhymney Valley – and one of the councillors who formed one of the first Plaid administrations in the South Wales valleys. You can hear more about his work for the national movement in this interview with Plaid History chairman Dafydd Williams here.
Syd Morgan (on the left, above), Plaid candidate in the Pontypridd by-election, February, 1989
Geraint Thomas was a larger than life character who left an indelible impression on all who knew him. A Plaid supporter from a young age, probably his first political victory – as a 12 year old – was ensuring that the scout group of which he was a reluctant member in Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, ditched the union jack in favour of the Ddraig Goch. Of such victories are activists forged! Along with contemporaries Sharon Morgan, Sian Edwards, Dai Rees, Tony Jenkins and others, he was very much part of the enthusiastic groundswell of young Plaid members who contributed so much to Gwynfor’s by-election victory in 1966.
Geraint was blessed with a profound intellect (hence his nickname – ‘Prof’), a sharp wit, and an insatiable interest in the world around him. A voracious reader, he would engage everyone and anyone in lively and well-informed conversation on almost any subject. Following graduation from Jesus College, Oxford he returned to Wales to pursue a career in town planning.
Geraint fought two general elections in Aberafan (1974 & ’79), and later became a long-serving town councillor in his hometown of Carmarthen, contributing much to the well-being of a town he truly loved.
In many ways much of that early political potential remained unrealised, not least due to ill health. But he will be remembered as talented, energetic and able to carry those around him in his enthusiasm and drive; a synergy maker; a positive energy.
Following his recent death at the age of just 68, he has left fond memories and a smile on the face of all who knew him. He leaves a daughter, Ceridwen, and three grandchildren.
Tributes have been paid to John Harries, Tycoch, Swansea, a long-standing member of Plaid Cymru, who died in August at the age of 93. John became an RAF pilot towards the end of the Second World War when he saw service in the Far East before returning home to qualify as an architect, working in London and later, Swansea. He was appointed resident architect to the University in Swansea, where he worked until his retirement in 1982.
His family roots are in Dinas Cross in North Pembrokeshire, and John liked to remind people that he was the most senior member of Capel Tabor in the village. He was brought up in a number of places in south and west Wales before his family moved to London, where he was educated in Streatham school.
He married Gwenda, his first wife 1956 and they had two sons – Huw, who now lives in Switzerland and Bryn, who resides in London. Gwenda sadly died at a young age, and in 1970 he married Joy who died in 1996. John remained active until recent years, playing a valuable role in Plaid Cymru campaigns in his eighties.
Former Plaid General Secretary Dafydd Williams said that John would be always be among the first to arrive to help in Parliamentary by-elections – invariably with a large Red Dragon flag flying from his car and a loudspeaker putting out Plaid’s message.
John’s technical know-how meant he was ideally qualified to take responsibility for the stage settings of Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference – and create a backdrop the big parties would have paid tens of thousands of pounds to emulate, he said. Instead of a host of PR companies, marketing agencies and graphic designers, Plaids conference set depended on John Harries, who took full charge of designing, planning and building the staging in his garden hut in Tycoch, Swansea.
“John was a dedicated nationalist with strong radical views – and he believed in working to make his vision a reality”.
New Novel Charts Course To Devolution
Book review by Dafydd Williams, Plaid Cymru General Secretary, 1971-1993 and Chairman of the Plaid Cymru History Association
If you want to know about the crucial decades leading up to the successful 1997 devolution referendum, this is the book for you. ‘Ten Million Stars Are Burning’ is the enigmatic title of the newly published novel by the well known writer and political commentator John Osmond.
Osmond sets himself an ambitious task – to tell how the people of Wales struggled to come to terms with their identity during the last quarter of the twentieth century; and in particular how the disaster of 1979 turned into the hard-won victory of 1997.
To accomplish this, he uses the vehicle of a documentary novel, with two main fictional characters – along with a host of real-life players, who speak to us from the past in their own words, as recorded in interview and archive material. This is the first of a trilogy, and covers the period between 1973 and 1979.
There are heroes and villains galore, over two hundred of them. On the side of the angels, there is Gwynfor Evans, with his never-failing optimism together with the brilliant though sceptical Phil Williams (sceptical about the good intentions of the Labour Party, that is).
Among the villains there’s a starring role for Leo Abse, whom Osmond came to know well (and a detailed picture of how Abse’s firm of solicitors profited from the leasehold system in the valleys while the chief partner inveighed against its iniquity). Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that ultimately the visionary Gwynfor’s team prevailed against the cunning Abse.
I personally knew quite a few of the actors in this tangled drama, and can testify to the historical accuracy of a number of events I witnessed.
The result is a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the struggle for self-government; and since John Osmond himself played a central role in those events, we are entitled to conclude a considerable element of autobiography in the character of the main fictional character, Western Mail journalist Owen James. In fact I have a funny feeling someone using that soubriquet used to contribute to the Welsh Nation!
One thing is certain – this novel is required reading for everyone interested in the background of Plaid Cymru’s campaign for a free Wales. I can’t wait for the next two.
‘Ten Million Stars Are Burning’ by John Osmond is published by Gomer, price £11.99.
A special session will take place in next month’s Plaid Cymru annual conference to honour the memory of the late Dr Wynne Samuel.
Born in Ystalyfera in the Swansea Valley, Wynne Samuel helped lay the foundations of Plaid Cymru in the South Wales valleys and became one of the party’s first ever councillors when he won a seat on Pontardawe Rural District Council in 1946.
He went on to become a barrister and a leading expert on local government, and at one time was considered alongside Gwynfor Evans as a potential leader of Plaid Cymru. In 1965, he was appointed as Town Clerk – or chief executive – of Tenby Borough Council in Pembrokeshire, and later on he became secretary and driving force behind the Association of Welsh Community and Town Councils.
Wynne Samuel’s service will be commemorated in an illustrated lecture organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society and delivered by the society chairman Dr Dafydd Williams.
” Wynne Samuel was one of the towering figures of 20th century Plaid Cymru”, said Dr Williams, who served as the party’s general secretary between 1971 and 1993. “It is high time his outstanding service to Wales and our local communities was accorded proper recognition”.
The lecture takes place at 4:30pm, Friday 5 October 2018 during the party’s annual conference at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan. It will be delivered in Welsh with simultaneous translation into English.
At a special meeting in the Cardiff National Eisteddfod on Thursday, 9 August 2018, Plaid Cymru celebrated the life of the late Professor Phil Williams, the party’s candidate in the Caerffili by-election fifty years ago.
At the meeting, organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society, tributes were paid by Dafydd Williams and Cynog Dafis with a contribution by Dafydd Wigley.
Remembering Phil Williams
A tribute by Cynog Dafis
I could speak all day about Phil, wondrous polymath as he was, but I have only a brief 15 minutes and I want to concentrate on his very particular contribution to green issues – the most crucial subject – if I may venture to say, of every subject in the world.
But there is no way I can omit some special memories.
I have a clear recollection of the first time I ever saw him – in the Plaid Summer School in Llangollen in 1961, a pint of beer in his hand, and his face shining as he joined in the singing that resounded through the bar, Welsh singing of course. We usually think of Phil as a thinker – he said that reading Ted Nevin’s essay on Welsh economic statistics caused him to join Plaid Cymru – but his passion for Wales and its national movement flowed from the heart and guts. It was that visceral passion that drove his work for Plaid Cymru throughout his life.
My second memory of him is speaking in a meeting of the Plaid National Executive in November 1964 in the wake of a thoroughly disappointing general election, on a motion John Bwlchllan and I proposed that the party should cease, for a while, to contest parliamentary elections. And that reminds us that in those days Phil was a rebel, a member of the Cilmeri group, along with Emrys Roberts, Ray Smith and others, who sought to modernise the party’s organisation and by the way clip Gwynfor’s wings somewhat in the process.
But let’s move on to green issues, beginning with another disappointing election result, that of the 1989 European election. Plaid Cymru had held high hopes but in three out of four constituencies, had been pushed into fourth place by the Green Party. I clearly remember Phil in the count in Swansea, deeply engrossed in a friendly and harmonious conversation with Barbara McPake, the Green candidate. It is easy to understand the harmony – Phil, as a space scientist had long been convinced of the overwhelming and terrifying significance of climate change. I remember him saying, in a meeting of scientists to discuss the latest news about climate change that the feeling was one of cold terror.
Some days before that election, the Wales Green Party had been invited to take part in a discussion session on Sunday morning during the 1989 Plaid Conference in Denbigh (the invitation to attend had been sent before the election). A working party was set up between the two parties to explore common ground, with Phil leading for Plaid Cymru. It was to meet regularly over a period of several months. Two important consequences flowed from this process.
1 Phil drafted a lengthy, detailed and remarkably radical motion on sustainable development to the 1990 Plaid conference in Cardiff. We can date the greening of Plaid Cymru, which has had a quite far-reaching impact on Welsh politics, more or less from that day.
2 The Plaid National Executive Committee authorised local constituency parties to establish electoral pacts with the Greens where there was local support. Local agreements were made in the South-east and in Ceredigion, where a striking victory was achieved in 1992, as a result of which I was obliged to undergo an extended period of national service in Westminster. This was all warmly welcomed by Phil – the readiness to work across party boundaries with people of like mind to bring about valuable gains chimed with his natural instincts. I remember him telling me as much with approval when we both cooperated in establishing a cross-party group on renewable energy in the National Assembly.
Like Phil, I had been convinced early on of the revolutionary significance of the green agenda and as a result we came to understand each other very well. It was of course an unequal relationship – he was the guru and I was the disciple who would ask questions and make occasional suggestions. When I got the opportunity to lead a debate on renewable energy in the House of Commons, Phil’s policy on renewable energy and Wales formed the substance of the speech.
I would like to turn for a minute to a different matter, a very significant one as well. During the period leading up to the establishment of the National Assembly in 1999 I was Plaid Cymru’s director of policy. One day a message came from Phil stating that Wales had never received a penny of European money. Uh? said I. What about the hundreds of thousands that had come to Wales under the Objective 5b programmes and so on? But Phil had immersed himself in the Welsh Office accounts and had discovered that every penny of the European funding received by Wales for social, economic and agri-environmental programmes had been clawed back in devious ways by the British Treasury. This was nothing short of a swindle that was replicated in a number of European countries – the central state using European funds to swell their own treasuries at the expense of the regions that were supposed to benefit, completely undermining the intention of the European Union to increase the economic prosperity of poorer areas.
When Phil became an Assembly Member in 1999 this was a matter of crucial importance, with Wales by now eligible for Objective 1 funding – many millions of pounds. There was no certainty, to put it mildly, that this European finance would be genuinely additional to the existing Welsh bloc, the National Assembly’s entire funding. Gordon Brown refused, and Alun Michael could not, guarantee that Objective 1 money would be additional. The result of this was that (1) the National Assembly deposed Alun Michael in February 2001 and (2) the Westminster Government yielded on the issue in a statement, if I remember correctly in July. Objective 1 funding would now be additional to the block grant. The Labour Party claimed the credit. However, but for Phil, it is safe to say that the Treasury would have carried on with their fraud, at least for a while. Consider seriously the loss that this would have involved to the Welsh economy under these circumstances.
Phil’s contribution to the work of the first Assembly, in which he served on the economic development committee, was outstanding. I remember how he would always prepare his speeches meticulously and rehearse them with care. He would work all hours of the day and night apart from the occasional solo on the saxophone which would echo down the corridors between 10 and 11. But I somehow think he experienced an element of disappointment with the lack of direction of the Government under Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan. In the absence of any strategic direction, sustainable development was interpreted, not as an opportunity for Wales to take the lead in a number of new environmental sectors, but as a series of obstacles to development in the name of conservation and landscape protection. During those four years, for example, the growth of renewable energy was smothered rather than encouraged.
Despite that, being a member of the first National Assembly, no matter how restricted and unsatisfactory were its powers and internal capacity, was the pinnacle of his political career if not his life – and the fact that he gained this great privilege is a cause of happiness to those who came to know him – another great privilege.
Long may we cherish the memory of the brilliant and beloved Phil Williams.
This is a translation of the address to a meeting of the Plaid Cymru History Society delivered in the Cardiff National Eisteddfod, Thursday 9 August 2018