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Minding your language

Betsan Powys | 12:27 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009

The very first note I have scrawled in my notebook on the Labour leadership election says "Leader for the whole of Wales". I wrote it leaning against a wall in the back of the Ogmore Labour Club where Carwyn Jones launched his bid to become the next Labour leader and First Minister of Wales - "the whole of Wales" of course.

He used the phrase again in the interview he did after the launch and at a guess, he's used it at least twice a day since then. It is his pitch: that as a Welsh speaker with a broad appeal across the party, he is the right man to take over Rhodri Morgan's job and position in the party and in the country.

What does he mean by "the whole of Wales?" From the outset I think we - and certainly his opponents in the race - took him to mean North and South but in particular the Welsh-speaking bits of the country along with the non-Welsh speaking parts. He would thrust home his appeal in those areas "West of the Loughor and the Clwyd" as Rhodri Morgan once put it, where the language is as its strongest and where Labour has been made to suffer at the polls but he wouldn't play into the hands of those who feared he was a bit too friendly with Plaid.

He'd be like Rhodri Morgan - able to speak Welsh but not about to thrust it down your throat.

So when Edwina Hart tells tonight's edition of Y Byd ar Bedwar that it's wrong to say the next First Minister should be a Welsh speaker, that she's "no less Welsh than anybody that speaks Welsh" and that she'd "also find it very useful if I could speak some other languages like Bengali or Chinese when I'm in the Swansea community" what is she doing?

Is she being crass and insensitive, intentionally alienating Welsh speakers as supporters of the language have already suggested?

Is she making a political calculation that Welsh speakers with a vote will give it to Carwyn Jones and that she needs her own USP on this issue for her own party - in other words, he'll be soft on the language, you bet I won't be? A political calculation at work.

Is she displaying enough chips on her shoulder to feed a bio-mass power station for a whole year?

Her Plaid supporters - and she has plenty - talk about her action on the ground in her constituency, promoting Welsh medium education. Take heed of what she does, not what she says ... The Presiding Officer is one. I talked to others at the weekend at a festival in Newport that, how shall I put it, tends to attract more Plaid-leaning supporters than any other party. Of those I spoke to, every single one wanted Edwina Hart to win.

So which one is it?

None of the above, say her supporters. She is simply saying it as it is and appealing, wait for it, to the whole of Wales.

In this 'whole of Wales' what she's saying is common sense - "unexceptional and unexceptionable" as a supporter put it to me this morning. A reference in your manifesto to a fear that Welsh-medium schools could turn into "the exclusive preserve of a self-appointed minority" isn't read with raised eyebrows and as unnecessarily hostile. It's read as a reasonable desire for the Welsh language to be regarded as a language for everybody.

In this 'whole of Wales' Edwina Hart gets a nod for recognising that Wales is a diverse nation. After all, says one Hart supporter, hasn't Rhodri Morgan talked about "the whole of Wales" in the past in terms of it being ethnically diverse? (He has talked about a fear that closing an English-medium school to make way for a Welsh-medium one would be ethnically-polarising) And the out-going First Minister has said himself it's not essential that his successor speaks Welsh.

Where does all of this leave Huw Lewis? It leaves him with an opportunity to show he knows how sensitive the question is ... and keeping his head down in his Open University Welsh grammar text books.


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