Saturday, 2 October 2010

An Open Letter to Nick Bourne AM

Dear Mr. Bourne,

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm [-], a Conservative & Unionist Party member of several years now. I'm of Irish parentage, and the relationship between the Conservative Party and the Union is a long-term interest of mine. I blog on the subject under the pseudonym Dilettante.

I recently read an article that has finally prompted me to write to you. Although I have might ask several questions of you, in light of the nature of my blog and the hope of eliciting a response I intend to focus on one: the relationship between the Welsh Conservatives and the Welsh language. I was wondering if you could explain to me why the Conservative Party aspires to a bilingual Wales.

I am not anti-Welsh, and neither is the wider party. Indeed, in my opinion it is illogical to be a unionist if you are 'anti' any of the constituent nations of the Union. However, I do take issue with the Welsh Conservatives being "committed to making Wales a fully bilingual nation". I fear that in attempting to shed an 'anti-Welsh' image the party may have adopted nationalist baggage.

I have two potential objections to this policy. The first is practical: whilst I can fully understand supporting Welsh as an optional choice in schools for those who wish to learn it, to create a bilingual Wales would surely involve making Welsh mandatory - imposing it upon Welsh students who could use the slot to take a subject that more accurately reflects their own interest, aspirations and personal priorities. Furthermore, forcibly constricting their academic freedom divides them from English students - is this good either for them or the Union? Additionally, making Wales bilingual must surely cost money: money that could be spent actually improving the lives of the Welsh people, either spent by the state or by themselves. How is any of the above in accordance with Conservative principle?

This leads to my second question: why is a bilingual Wales something that the Conservatives aspire to? The pro-active resurrection of the Welsh language is of no material benefit to British citizens in Wales. It is an understandable nationalist aspiration - but one for the Conservative & Unionist Party? One does not need to be an anglo-supremacist to believe in focusing on improving the material condition of the Welsh people rather than expending money on nationalist indulgences such as bilingual road signs when English is near-universally spoken. Resurrecting 'bilingual Wales' is expensive, proscriptive and of no material benefit to the Welsh - what then makes it desirable?

I hope that you find the time to read and answer this email.

Kind Regards,


**Update: Mr Bourne's reply here.**


  1. What a sad post!

    Conservatives "conserve" they keep and cherish the best of the past.

    Sir Robert Williems Vaughan, a Conservative MP, was the last recorded Welsh Aristocrat to employ a court harpist and a court poet.

    Sir Geraint Morgan, a Conservative MP, supported the fledgling modern Welsh press by buying a copy of every Welsh Book printed and insisting that a copy was also bought by the House of Commons Library (Because of Sir Ger's insistence there are many more Welsh children's books in the Parliamentary Library than there are English children's books).

    Sir Wyn Roberts, a Conservative MP, championed legislation that ensured that every child in Welsh Schools should have the opportunity to learn the Welsh language.

    S4C, the Welsh TV channel, was established by a Conservative Government.

    Four of the current five Welsh Tory MP's are fluent Welsh speakers!

    A recent survey of the use of Welsh in the national Assembly showed that Conservative members were more likely to speak in Welsh in plenary sessions than Plaid Cymru members.

    The Conservative Party in Wales has an ancient record of proudly conserving the Welsh Language –it is part of the Conservative tradition of conserving, rather than the new fangled nationalist indulgence that you assume!

  2. The Conservative Party is not about conserving alone.

  3. Besides which, you don't really address the points I raised in the letter. Oh well.

  4. There are probably more Welsh speakers in Chelsea than my native south Wales. Street signs that have been in place for 40+ years have all been replaced in the past 3 years to placate these fiscally-constipated and indulged Welsh language zealots.

    The most expensive and unwatched TV channel in the world? That'll be Welsh. Fancy a job in the civil service, BBC or any other public body? Don't bother applying if you belong to the 85+% who don't speak Welsh.

    All this would be fine of course if Wales was spending money it raised from its own citizens. But let's be honest, the only reason this Lilliputian bubble is allowed to exist is that English taxpayers - including Welsh exiles like me - unwittingly and most likely unwillingly - support this madness with hard cash.

    Wales behaves like an irresponsible teenager and England (and the Welsh Tory party) from some kind of warped colonial guilt, indulges and cocoons its spoilt, freeloading neighbour hoping one day it might be grateful, grow up and vote Tory. Dream on.

  5. As someone who is Welsh and a Conservative and who comes from a part of Wales where Welsh is not widely spoken, I have to say that I disagree with some of your analysis and conclusions.

    You assume that Welsh will have to be mandatory - I disagree. A bilingual Wales is a place where people can use the language of their choice ... it is not Conservative policy in Wales to force people to choose to use one or other language. In parts of rural Wales (particularly), it is essential that we allow people to use the language that they choose and feel most comfortable using. I agree with you when you say that it will increase the cost - and that is why I have and the Conservative party has opposed the mandatory extension of the requirements of the Welsh Language Act to businesses.

    As for the Welsh language being in your words 'of no use' to British citizens in Wales, my instinct is that you fail to understand that most people from Wales understand themselves to be Welsh first - and the Conservative party in Wales reflects that understanding in its assessment of who they represent.

    I agree that the additional cost of bilingual roadsigns is regrettable, but they are not an outward sign of anti-English sentiment, they merely reflect the hiraeth of the Welsh - the sense of longing and belonging that Welsh people feel and understand.

    One cannot simply assume that we advance politically by imposing standards on others - we come from different backgrounds, different histories and hold different beliefs. I understand that you believe that the Welsh Language Act is both anachronistic and costly, but its purpose was and remains, for Conservatives, to promote the unique history of Wales and Welsh identity and as Conservatives we resist the unnecessary imposition of cost wherever we can but within the framework and understanding of the people we represent.

    You will note that I stood for the Conservatives in the European elections in 2009 in Wales and I have to say that I found very little opposition to a proportionate promotion of the Welsh language in Wales - if we had stood on a platform that you propose, I am entirely confident that we would not have made progress at that election and would increasinly be marginalised in Wales; which would be neither in the interests of our party nor the people of Wales.

  6. There is a difference between supporting people being free to choose Welsh and creating a bilingual Wales - which involves such issues as making Welsh mandatory in schools and other such impositions which I oppose.

  7. Additionally, I would say that in a time of national stringency when we need to make dramatic cuts to public spending, it is harder to make the case that Wales needs its spending protected whilst it continues to spend money on unnecessary things like language provision for the majority who don't need it.

  8. I agree that there is a difference between supporting people to be free to choose Welsh and creating a bilingual Wales, but the practical difficulty is that unless you at least take some steps towards the latter the former will not occur.

    BTW, I have difficulty with WAG or Welsh Assembly enforced learning of Welsh at schools - but would prefer to leave it to parents, governors and individual schools to make decisions about curricula.

    When times are hard, difficult choices have to be made. Some account must be taken of local needs when making decisions as to what to cut - and it seems to me that the additional costs of the provisions of services in one of our more ancient national languages that people wish to use is not something that should be ignored when making the decisions about local needs.