The Opposite of Centralization

When Kim Howells says:

everywhere I go in Wales has an Assembly building – a great huge shining edifice. I'm not sure what they all do in there, and why we need so much government?

BBC, 27 November 2010

... I'm tempted to say that he obviously doesn't get to see many towns in Wales. But seriously, what would he prefer?

Devolution is not just about making the political decisions that affect Wales for ourselves; it is also about making sure that the people who work hard to implement those decisions are employed in Wales rather than being based somewhere else in the UK.

So would he prefer civil service jobs to be based in London or somewhere else in England rather than in Wales? And if they are based in Wales, would he prefer them all to be clustered in and around Cardiff? Perhaps he would ... after all Pontypridd is only a short commute away, and he surely wouldn't want to see these jobs shared out fairly among the different regions of Wales when they could all be on his doorstep, would he?


What's the opposite of devolution? Perhaps that isn't so clear in English as it is in Welsh; but the opposite of devolution is centralization. So why is it any surprise to hear that an old-fashioned state socialist like Kim Howells feels "ambiguous and confused" about decentralizing primary lawmaking powers from Westminster to Wales?

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Anonymous said...

I agree but I think there's much more to it than you suggest. For 'Patriotic Labour' politicians like Howells, the norm is British nationalism which for them, of course, is unstated. He is loyal to a particular state: imperialist and still, in their eyes, a 'great power'. Any empathy with Welsh nationalism - its very antithesis - or the European Union threatens that and their privileged positions within it. We should always argue from the position that UK patriotism is particularly virulent, and not just here in the mild context of political devolution.

It is the very root of Labour as the "party of permanent war". Seriously, ask how many mostly innocent people have been killed by Labour policies and therefore politicians in their many wars of intervention since 1997? Must be approaching 500,000.

"Patriots" like Howells are at the core of the British Labour Party. Their ideological roots lie in the very origins of the labour movement in Great Britain (not Ireland) when it abandoned the European working class and supported British imperialism alongside Churchill and Lloyd George in World War One. Its most infamous adherent then was Charles Stanton, the 'Patriotic Labour' MP for Aberdâr, but we forget at our peril that he's just one in a long line of MPs and trades unionists that stretches to the present day.

Anonymous said...

Howells voted in just 7 of the 26 divisions on the Government of Wales Act when it went through the House of Commons.

I'm sure that this was due to his other work in Foreign Affairs, rather than an antipathy towards Wales...

MH said...

I don't exactly disagree, Anon 23:41. But what you're arguing for is a Wales that is separate from the "world power" ambitions of the United Kingdom ... and Howells' answer to that will be that separation from the UK is what he is making a stand against. In True Wales fashion, he knows he can't persuade people on the issue at hand in the referendum, and therefore his only hope is to try and switch the subject to independence instead.

I simply wanted to note that devolution achieves the very thing that he says he wants to do away with ... namely to get rid of "big government" ... though that does make him sound rather like a Cameron clone.

Devolution transfers power away from the centre, and closer to the people government is meant to serve. That is a good thing, and is therefore a good reason for us to vote "Yes" in March ... irrespective of whether we see the end goal as independence or not.

Anonymous said...

i think howells stopped being a socialist ..if he ever was one.....when he was the chief organisor of the south wales miners return to work 'without an agreement' at the end of the 1980s miners strike...a reading of seamus milne's excellent 'the enemy within' would tell anyone all they need to know about howells and his somewhat curious role within the british labour movement

While more latterly he is generally known for his gushing support for the columbian govt's right wing death squads.

Leigh Richards

Plaid Whitegate said...

Apart from Aberystwyth and Llandudno Junction, where has Howells been to see these sparkling edifices? I must have missed all the others, even tho' they're "everywhere".
Opponents of devolution always point to the bureaucracy of the Assembly, oblivious to the layer upon layer of bureaucracy in Whitehall and the sparkling edifices such as Portcullis House, which cost £800m to house a few more MPs.

Owen said...

It's surprising what carrying a red box does to people.

Firebrand socialists become small-government lower-case conservatives with peerages and knighthoods. Radical liberals and constitutional reformers become the most strident unionists.

Cynics of course might just write them off as blowhards and dinosaurs but I'm sure there's enough for a psychological study in there somewhere......

MH said...

Interesting to read this on WalesOnline about what Kim Howells thinks of being Welsh:

"I don’t particularly want to belong to a nation that hasn’t even got three million people in it."

Whether part of the UK or not, Wales is a nation. So if that's how he feels about the country in which he lives and grew up, he's welcome to go somewhere else. I'm sure those of us who are proud to be part of this nation don't particularly want him or anyone else to stay in a country they feel ashamed to belong to, either.

Anonymous said...

Shameful. If size of population matters so much to him, he would have emigrated to China or India.

Unknown said...

I don't think it is published on-line - but he also said in the WM yesterday, something along the lines of his disdain of the Welsh ruling elite, the 'Crachach', and that was another reason he was against the assembly. (I paraphrase, but I think accurately).

Now I think a lot of us have reservations about how a very small number of people who have done well out of S4C, and Devolution, strut their stuff, but at least in Wales it is a meritocracy! You don't get born into it!

His implication that the UK is an egalitarian socialist utopia when the whole second chamber and the royal family and their acolytes, and the Aristocracy, are chosen by patronage or birth!

And for me, it was not his decision to lead the miners back that should haunt him, as much as decision to lead them IN to the strike, when the South Wales coalfield had voted against a strike that singled him out for me for special disdain!

MH - does he live in South Wales? He strikes me as the sort who would have remained in Islington, or wherever his second home was!

Unknown said...

"I don’t particularly want to belong to a nation that hasn’t even got three million people in it."

True story- Kim Howells was once a junior Minister for Foreign Affairs. Presumably he didn't stumble across those dozens of fully-fledged UN member states that have even less than two million people in them.

The guy is a moron, sorry.

Anonymous said...

...and with Welsh political awards coming up youd've thought he'd have burned any evidence...

Anonymous said...

"I don’t particularly want to belong to a nation that hasn’t even got three million people in it."

Darwinism is the root of British Labourism. It's a movement of Victorianism with a crass Darwinism 'survival of the fittest' attitude towards language and culture. This Darwinism married by a centralised French revolution Jacobinism will always see Wales (and other small nations) as at best irrelevance at worse, dangerous and usually, by implication because they're against this Darwinism, 'irrational' 'conservative' 'peasant' and by a fine intellectual leap, 'anti-internationalist' and so 'xenophobic'.

Howell's banal British nationalism is rooted in this. It's roots are also in Marx and Engels amazing call for cultural genocide as small less developed nations stand in the way of international socialism. See video with George Watson 2.44 onwards and Marx's views on the Basque, Bretons, Scottish Highlanders etc. Welsh are except, one assumes, because he knew not of us or because we were industrialised. This attitude towards Welsh identity beginning with industrialisation or only being legitimate within the concept of it's contribution to industrial revolution is also a very Welsh Labour one.

But back to your point MH. Datganoli - uncentralise would probably be a better literal translation of the Welsh word - does what it says on the tin. There are 'new' offices (i.e. employing people, but usually saving money in the long run by having one site rather than 4 or 5 in the locality) are decentralising Wales. They're bringing jobs and prestige to Llandudno, Aberystwyth, Merthyr and Cardiff. Kim, it seems, believes civil serive jobs should just be in London or will he out-Cameron Cameron with calling for cuts in (Welsh) civil servant numbers.

As for wanting to be a part of a big strong successful nation (why equate size with success - another Communist trait) then it's the capitalist nature of British identity. Supporting Man U not your local soccer team; going to MacDonals not the local chippy; Starbucks not family cafe.

Has someone written a doctorate on the psychology of British and Welsh Labourism?


Unknown said...

I disagree with Nashi's point about Marx and Engels. Howells subscribed to the Kinnockite affiliation to Britishness which does not stem from Marxism but from pragmatism- they believe that a larger state has more money with which to fund a social security net.

When he actually was a Marxist Howells and his father belonged to the CPGB (which was pro-Soviet and folded in 1991, not to be confused with the current CPGB which is Trotskyite). The CPGB consistently supported Welsh devolution (though Howells is not on record as doing so) despite their marriage to Stalinism and later to Khruschevism. In Scotland they were even more prominent in the devolution forces, founding the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly after the defeat of 79 and later the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament.

Howells' developing anti-Welshness in fact coincided with his rejection of socialism (in 1996 he suggested the word 'socialist' should no longer be used by the Labour party). As far as subscribing to some kind of Marxist view on nations, it wouldn't ring true with his commitment to Israel and supporting Israeli solidarity projects (though I suppose you could try and equate support for Zionism with support for the British state, it wouldn't be a Marxist position whatsoever).

I think the theoretical roots of Howells' devotion to Britishness are in corporatist Old Labourism, and I also think you've distorted or confused Marx and Engels' position on national minorities and cultures.

The reason Labour's Britishness isn't ideologically rooted or scientific in the Marxist sense is obvious, just look at Ireland where despite their failures, all of Labour's tendencies consistently supported Irish unification and the SDLP. And look at the way some of their MPs support the Friends of Israel group and some of them support the Friends of Palestine group. Their attitude towards stateless nations is based purely on convenience rather than theory.

In terms of Marxism itself, Engels did visit Wales and knew about Wales. The key to understanding Marxism's position on nationalism is the division between 'historic' and 'non-historic' nations. Engels argued that some national groups were intrinsically reactionary. I haven't yet seen a serious piece of work that reconciles that theory with the experience of Wales where I would suggest the national politics on show since devolution (and even before devolution) has been anything but reactionary.

Nonetheless, Gwyn Alf Williams was authentically writing from the Marxist tradition (far more so than Howells ever could) when he argued that Wales was an imagined community of shared mindset and experience rather than the more old-fashioned homogenous nations and or multi-national empires that Marx and Engels would have encountered.

In terms of the modern day and moving on from the dogmas of the past (though they're still important), it's obvious to me that those jobs directly under the control of the Welsh state should be used to add economic value to parts of Wales where the market cannot or does not provide such jobs- any progressive person would want that to happen, for the state to stimulate those parts of the country the market cannot. It is shameful that Howells does not recognise that.

Fascinating discussion by the way- and good that everyone can see Howells' obvious hypocrisies and love of imperial power.

Anonymous said...

Welsh Ramblings - I think you're too kind to Marx and Engels. But I won't dwell on it.

I think you're half way there with Labour and its pragmatism. However, I also think there's a cultural and political mindset and philosophy which underpins the what Labour (like all political movements) think of as the 'norm'.

More than any other party I think Darwinism and it's ideas (or assumed ideas proscribed to Darwin) of evolution and survival of the fittest can by attributed to Labourism in Welsh. There's is certainly a strain within Labour which has advocated Welsh linguistic and political rights (not always the same people or the same thing by the way). But there is never a questioning of the validity or the normality of British banal nationalism. Welshness is something which has to fit in with Britishness. There's is no discourse that Wales is a nation which has been conquered by a stronger political, military, cultural and economic community. The anglicisation of Wales is just taken as a fact - 'these things happen' attitude ... a totally different attitude to any threat to the English language - either by Welsh or by immigrants.

In any case, Howells, who's not stupid and at least doesn't go in for the jingoism and hypocracy of many Labour MPs with their talk of 'socialism' is honest. He's saying he wants to be with the big boys, the Man Us, the Coca-cola. In this is in keeping with mainstream Labour cultural thinking which is that it is a child of British and American capitalist culture in a way Welsh nationalism (despite all the talk of crachach etc) isn't.


Unknown said...

Nashi- it's interesting you argue that Howells isn't stupid, because without necessarily stating the guy is unintelligent, I think there is something strange about the way he invalidates Wales as a nation based on the fact "it doesn't have 3 million people". Peter Hain and Chris Bryant wouldn't dream of making a remark as ignorant as that. We can see the things Paul Flynn has to say about Howells and his duplicity on all sorts of issues- and I can recall a number of books where Howells' role in various Labour issues is awful.

You're right that Howells doesn't even bother claiming socialism anymore. He is wedded to imperialism including supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which also used to be part of the British empire he now pledges full loyalty to. Though of course, now he is out of office he claims both of those wars were mistaken...


Anonymous said...

The discussion between Welsh Ramblings and Nashi on what is the basis for Kim Howells anti-Welsh views was very interesting.

I’d simply like to say, "I don’t particularly want to belong to a nation that has Kim Howells living in it”.

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