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  1. ITV Report

Devolution 'was wrong' says long-serving Welsh Labour MP

Ann Clwyd winning the Cynon Valley by-election in 1984. She is now the longest-serving Welsh MP. Photo: PA

After a lifetime in politics, Ann Clwyd has published a frank autobiography, recounting her numerous battles. They began with the uphill task of getting the Welsh Labour party to take a woman wanting to become an MP seriously. But in 1984, she finally won the Cynon Valley by-election, becoming only the fourth woman ever to have represented a Welsh constituency.

Her many setbacks included being on the losing side in the 1979 devolution referendum, which split the Labour party in Wales. As an MP she made a career as a rebel, sacked twice from the front-bench but finally finding herself on the same side as Tony Blair. He backed a Welsh Assembly and then she backed him over the Iraq war, largely because she had long campaigned to highlight the plight of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein.

In her memoirs, published today, Ann Clwyd recounts a meeting in 2014 with Denzil Davies, a former Labour minister who had never been in favour of devolution. She told him "you were right and I was wrong".

Her distress at the poor treatment she felt her late husband received in a Welsh NHS hospital contributed to her disillusionment but she insists that it goes far deeper.

To say the reality of a Welsh Assembly did not live up to my expectations is understating the case. I feel bitterly disappointed and let down by an institution I campaigned so passionately for. No one is prouder of their Welsh heritage than I am, but I can recognise our weaknesses as well as our strengths. One of our greatest weaknesses as a nation is the giant chip that we carry on our shoulder, a symptom of the centuries of being a poor relation to England. As a result, we view any criticism, even the constructive kind, as an attack and immediately pull up the drawbridge. Translated into institutional behaviour this becomes dangerous as it means organisations do not learn from their mistakes or the experience of others.

Given that my party has been in power at the Assembly, either out-right or in coalition, since its inception, it pains me to observe that it has a poor track record. In health, education and other areas we are lagging behind the rest of Britain. Meanwhile the Welsh Assembly government refuses to accept people’s concerns, spending more time defending the indefensible rather than fixing what is wrong. What makes it worse is that people who genuinely care about what is happening, and speak out, are accused of betrayal if we dare to voice any concern or criticism. ‘Go back to Westminster and leave us alone’ is the subtext.

– Ann Clwyd MP
  • Rebel with a Cause, by Ann Clwyd, is published by Biteback, £25.