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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The purpose of protest

I have commented a number of times already about the ban on protestors outside the House of Commons. In discussions about the future of the Prime Minister on Radio Wales this morning it was suggested that Tony Blair is living in a bubble, divorced from the outside world. Therefore if he is no longer going to see protestors outside his main place of work, the House of Commons, then it is unlikely that he will come across them anywhere else. Convenient as this may be for him it does not give the rest of us any confidence that he is in touch with the general concerns of the populace.

When even the chattering classes around whom New Labour has been constructed are now being dismissed by Labour politicians as 'self-indulgent dinner party critics' and 'metropolitania' and being told that their views are irrelevant to the re-election of the Government, then it is surely valid to ask whether anybody is listening at all.

The condition seems to have spread to the First Minister, who at least does get out and about to talk to ordinary people. His visit to the Eisteddfod yesterday must be termed a public relations gaff if only because most of the protest he encountered could have been avoided if he had agreed to meet with the Cymdeithas yr Iaith to discuss their proposals. At least he could have argued then that he had listened instead of spending the day fending off a deafening megaphone and a road block.

Personally, I am not convinced of the case for a new Welsh Language Act covering the private sector which is currently being argued for. However, I do believe that more can be done with the existing Act and that there may be some measures that can be included in any legislation to abolish the Welsh Language Board that will help without proving too onerous a burden for business. Surely, that is the point of talking, so that acceptable solutions can be found to commonly agreed problems.

I do not think that the Welsh Language Board has helped this situation with its comparison with Quebec. Rhodri Morgan is right that the example is inappropriate but that should not preclude him talking with protestors. The reference by his office to 'bullies' was just crass. These people have a legitimate point of view and a right to be heard. After all we would not want to see the First Minister wrap himself in a bubble as well.

If I demanded a meeting with you under the threat of performing a high visibility direct action if you didn't agree to it, what would you say?

What sort of example would be set were WAG to give in to blackmail of this sort?

Above all, why did the Eiseddfod authorities allow Cymdeithas to get away with this? They should have had the protestors removed from the Maes. If I were Rhodri i'd simply say I wasn't going next year!

BTW, what more do you think should be done with the existing act? Do you publish this blog bi-lingually (and I don't mean using babelfish)? Would you be able to afford to continue it if yiou were legally required to be bi-lingual?
Well for starters the original request for a meeting with the First Minister was not coupled with a threat of direct action. In the circumstances it would have been perfectly reasonable for such a meeting to have gone ahead.

I am astonished that you would want protestors removed from the Maes, they have a right to protest. Why didn't the First Minister just sit down and talk to them, that is what I would have done. He has sat down with strikers in different circumstances in the past as well as met a number of peaceful protestors at the Assembly.

The existing Act does not yet apply to all public bodies - Housing Associations for example. A full review in partnership with Cwmdeithas and other groups could surely establish ways that it can be practically expanded. What is the Government afraid of? When Jenny Randerson was Minister for the Welsh Language she did in fact start this process and extended the Act's applicability.

I did say that I was not convinced of the need for a second Act applying to the private sector so that would cover your point on my blog. However, there is no reason why talks could not explore the position with regards to privately owned service providers over a certain size such as utility companies, banks etc. It would not need to involve widespread compulsion but it could explore signage etc. Some form of voluntary agreement could be reached.
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