Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I've often thought that, left to its own devices, Wales would have developed a system of government somewhat along the lines of the Swiss cantons.  Fat chance of that happening of course, when we had the misfortune to share an island with such ambitious neighbours.

You find tantalising hints of the potential democratic canton in references like Lewis Glyn Cothi's request poem to the men of Elfael, or the men of Maelienydd paying £500 to confirm their medieval hunting rights.  Even in the 1630s the good people of Maelienydd were able to raise over £740, which they gave to King Charles to enable him to buy back the local Commons.  He had absent-mindedly sold them off to some rouge or other.  All these things, and we can find other examples, demanded an organisation of some sort and an organisation that had a fairly wide membership.  Even before the election of the first county council in 1889 the Radnorshire squirearchy realised that it had to rub along with the common herd, with arrogant newcomers soon learning that life was more comfortable if you didn't antagonise the locality.

It must have been this sense of localism that prompted some Radnorshire and Breconshire councillors to dip into their own pockets to raise much of the £23000 necessary to purchase the old Llanelwedd Hall estate in the early 1960s.  This was then gifted to the RWAS, enabling that organisation to provide a permanent home for the Royal Welsh Show. It's a bit hard to believe isn't it, not handing over a grant, but dipping into their own pockets!

I wonder what young people imagine life was like in 1960s Radnorshire?  One of my earliest political memories was of Tudor Watkins MP making a speech in our village street.  The gist of his message was that he knew exactly what the local councillors were up to, and he was the man to put a stop to them.  So what exactly were they guilty of?  Building council houses in almost every village? Maintaining roads that were the envy of  our neighbours; schools; libraries; social services; refuse collections, we had all that.  And all run without the assistance of the droves of imported officials deemed necessary for such things to function nowadays.

Of course a saintly few might have seen it as unfair that local families got the council houses and local school leavers got the council jobs, but at least the councillors could be voted off.  How do you get rid of an anonymous apparatchik without at least providing them with a cosy nest-egg?  Back in the 1960s we still had a degree of local government and now, perhaps for the first time in a thousand years, it doesn't feel very local at all.

1 comment:

Jac o' the North, said...

Local government is all but dead in Wales. Not only do we see officials - council employees! - dictating to our elected representatives, but the work of local government is increasingly undermined by a host of unelected cross-border 'charidees' and third sector outfits more concerned with pushing political ideology than with serving our people.