Before we start, let us accept a basic truth: there is nothing inherently Welsh about the Welsh media, and there is no such thing as a Welsh public sphere. The extent and consequences of this have been ably documented and analysed countless times, but to summarise: the average Welsh resident goes through their day learning almost nothing of the political machinations that govern their lives, be that their local council, the Welsh Assembly, or the UK government in Westminster. This is, evidently, a gravely unhealthy situation for the rump democracy that is the devolved Welsh state.
Throughout his writing, the late Mark Fisher refers to the concept of ‘hauntology’ to describe the way in which traces of the past maintain a ghostly presence in the artworks of today. We often observe this phenomenon in texts that evoke a feeling that the horizons of political possibility have contracted: that ‘not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible.’ Deployed in a British context, this usually refers to a future cancelled by the rolling back of the state and its replacement with neo-liberal marketisation, and the cultural ossification and impoverishment that has resulted.
Watching Netflix’s new ‘British’ teen comedy-drama Sex Education, viewers in Wales – and especially Newport – may well be struck with this same sense of melancholic uncanniness, of ‘a time that is out of joint’. For despite the shows liberatory and groundbreaking depiction of teenage sexuality, Sex Education is haunted by a Welsh culture and politics that has either died or never was, and whose presence is felt by its absence.
Waeth i ni gydnabod un gwirionedd sylfaenol ar y dechrau un: nid oes unrhyw beth cynhenid Gymreig am y cyfryngau cyfrwng Saesneg yng Nghymru ac ni cheir ychwaith y fath beth â chyhoeddfan neu fywyd cyhoeddus penodol Gymreig trwy gyfrwng y Saesneg. Mae difrifoldeb y sefyllfa hon a’i goblygiadau ar ein cyfer yng Nghymru eisoes wedi cael eu trafod a’u dadansoddi’n huawdl a hynny droeon erbyn hyn, ond i grynhoi: mae’r dinesydd Cymreig cyffredin yn byw o ddydd i ddydd heddiw heb ddysgu nemor ddim am y cynllunio gwleidyddol sydd yn dylanwadu cymaint ar ei fywyd, boed hynny trwy gyfrwng y cyngor lleol, y Senedd yng Nghaerdydd neu lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol yn San Steffan. Mae hon yn sefyllfa ddifrifol ar gyfer y gweddillion democrataidd a adwaenwn fel y wladwriaeth Gymreig.
It’s been almost impossible to ignore the recent rise of anti-Welsh bigotry in the UK’s popular consciousness. It’s detectable as a ‘structure of feeling’ in post-Brexit discourse, a cultural expression that’s palpable but not fully articulated.
As Ifan Morgan Jones has written, ‘it’s clear that in the name of post-Brexit unity the Westminster government is going to be ramming…British symbolism down our throats at every opportunity.’ Yet as with all cultural phenomena, it is essential to understand the material and social impact of this symbolism if we are to combat its underlying function.
Of all the strategists, ideologues and ‘outriders’ involved in Labour’s 2017 UK General Election campaign, you could be forgiven for being unaware of the contribution of Steve Howell, who served as Jeremy Corbyn’s Deputy Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. Compared to the attention (and, inevitably, right-wing smears) given to the likes of Seamus Milne, Andrew Fisher and Jon Lansman, for example, Howell has been a hitherto relatively under appreciated contributor to Labour’s better-than-predicted performance at the polls. Yet he proved to be an invaluable asset to the Labour campaign, and his Game Changer: Eight Weeks That Transformed British Politics is an essential chronicle of the context, campaigning methods and outcomes of the 2017 UK General Election.
With the appetite for Welsh independence apparently gaining traction, there are growing calls to depoliticise the movement in an effort to broaden the discussion and ‘widen the debate’.
While the desire to foster a greater interest and enthusiasm for independence is commendable, this can’t come at the cost of neglecting the political, social, ethical problems that independence should be seeking to solve.
For the first time in living memory, the opportunity to build a mass socialist movement within the UK feels possible, and it could even be on the cusp of obtaining state power. Yet despite the leftward shift of the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, in Wales it’s hard to be filled with much enthusiasm. Here, any hope is met with the daily reality of what living under a Labour government is actually like when the centre-right of the party clings on to power.