Gary Raymond asks what was more embarrassing for Wales last week: that Neil Hamilton was elected to the Welsh Assembly, or the way he was treated in the aftermath by our media?
As we all know, Wales recently ‘shamed’ itself by voting UKIP members into its National Assembly. For those who don’t know, UKIP is a political party, made up mainly of gout-ridden ex-Tories, people too timid for more obvious right wing movements, and women who, it seems, have arrived from a by-gone era when husbands allowed their wives two things as birthday gifts: a string of pearls and a hobby to get them out of the house.
That UKIP as a party is parasitic is beyond argument – but what party is not, to one extent or another? That it is a one-issue organisation is obvious too – obvious to the point of eye-rolling. But what they are also is representative of a political system and machine that is dysfunctional and largely unrepresentative of the people who live manacled to its mechanics. This lack of representation is not just a political problem, but is also a problem endemic to the British mainstream media. The two systems are joined are the hip, each one believing that they are forming a suit of armour for the general public when in fact they just reflect the inadequacies of each other. And so the real embarrassment for Wales was not in the election of UKIP to the seat of Welsh government – democracy can be many negative things but we should never be embarrassed by it – but was rather in the way Neil Hamilton was treated in the aftermath.
Now, hold your horses… I have not taken leave of my senses.
Everything that has been said about Hamilton is true. He is a liar and a cheat, an opportunist, and a man I would not even trust to represent me at the ‘Liars and Cheats Debating Society’ such is his untrustworthiness, incompetence, and general untouchably smug reptilian demeanour. What I am talking about here was the equally smug ‘interview’ at the hands of BBC Radio Wales’ Jason Mohammad the morning after the election, when Mohammad took the achingly lowbrow approach of attempting to ambush Hamilton – a man who has lived his public life in a torrent of ambush and humiliation without it leaving so much as a blemish on that smirk of his. Mohammad asked Hamilton if he would indulge him in answering some questions about Wales. We were immediately on the flip side of the coin; this coin has filled up hours of air time as radio presenters bus in regular people – and even not regular people like celebrities and academics – to mock the government’s attempts at compiling questions for a UK naturalisation test. ‘What was Churchill’s favourite brand of whiskey?’ ‘Name the five main points of Walter Bagehot’s English Constitution!’ ‘Who was third man from the left at the Battle of Smithfield?’
But today we would be on the side of ridiculous tests, as they would make us feel superior and damn the damned UKIPers and humiliate their supporters. Yeah!
Well, it didn’t quite work out like that, and Hamilton came off unnervingly well – that is, he did not come off ‘well’, but he was a long way short of goose-stepping in an SS uniform through Roald Dahl Plas.
‘What is the new name for the Wales Millennium Stadium?’ asked Mohammad. Forget for a moment nobody apart from the media and the corporate world cares, or indeed is required to remember this; forget that I know people of my father’s generation who have only in the last two years stopped calling it the Arms Park; forget that I was not the only person listening to this interview who had to stop and think, ‘is it Admiral? Is it Principality? Is it Legal and General? Is it the Teletubbies Stadium? Is it the Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day Stadium?’ Forget these things. I could not answer beyond an informed guess. Am I now not fit to live in Wales? Thank God – thanks to the god of chapels, leeks and daffodils – that I actually watch rugby! I may be lynched before the deportation truck even reaches the Severn Bridge otherwise.
The next question, however, was the most insidious and insulting. Mohammad, displaying exactly why Match of the Day 2 and not the Today Programme is the natural graduation spot of BBC Wales presenters, asked if Hamilton could name where the Manic Street Preachers come from? ‘I don’t really know anything about pop music,’ Hamilton replied. Mohammad pounced like a lion cub on a tump of weeds it has mistaken for a hedgehog. ‘Pop music?!?’ he said incredulously, winking down the mic at all the listeners he assumed were with him on this. ‘Manic Street Preachers are a ROCK BAND!’
Now, here I knowingly invite the ire of Manics fans across the globe, but anybody with a reasonable reaction to their music will admit the Manic Street Preachers haven’t been a rock band for twenty years. Any piece of rock music they might have released since ‘Design for Life’ has been a breath of fresh air, but an anomaly. Manic Street Preachers are the definition of a global pop act. Referencing the Spanish Civil War does not a rock band keep thee. The list of reasons is long, but only one really need emphasising here – BBC Radio Wales would not know a rock band if it threw all their televisions out of a hotel window. They also think The Stereophonics are a rock band. They think Katherine Jenkins is an opera singer.
But, of course, this point is arguable. I’m sure some Manics mega-fan with the cold dead eyes of killer will approach me in the street at some point after this article is published brandishing some b-side from 2001 that is as good as anything on The Holy Bible. In response to this I will beat them to death with a pirated download of the Manics’ godawful Euro 2016 single (I won’t hyperlink to it here for fear of my browser inadvertently playing a few seconds of it before I can click it off – but it makes Embrace sound like Led Zeppelin. I could write an entire critique of why ‘Together Stronger’ is the worst record ever released – and it’s so bad I’m actually thinking of supporting Switzerland this summer – but that is not the point of this article).
Back to the gladiatorial sweat and blood of the Mohammad interview:
It was revealed that Hamilton did not know the answer. He did not know where the Mancis are from. The Manics… wait for it… are actually from Blackwood. Hamilton laughed. ‘Oh fiddlesticks, I should have known that really. I grew up in Blackwood.’ But this is no laughing matter. How can you be Welsh – how can you possibly claim to represent the people of Wales and not know this stuff?!?! Mohammed threw down his mic, simultaneously channelling Barack Obama and Owain Glyndwr. He had his man. His next question about naming the Beverly Hills hotel where Katherine Jenkins conceived her first-born was not even needed. Hamilton was done for.
So what does Hamilton actually know about Wales? In this moment we found out that he’s very much like most other people of his generation and class I know. So now we know there was a key demographic of people listening to that interview who for the first time found themselves having something in common with Neil Hamilton. Because not only could Hamilton not say which insurance company was responsible for the new corporate re-branding of our national rugby stadium, or name the home town of our leading Team Wales pop group, but he quite clearly did not give a shit. And there are many people in Wales who also could not a give a shit about those things. It is a depressing moment when all the people I know who despise with a passion the BBC Wales definition of our country as being some kind of rugby-Manics-Katherine Jenkins chimera can sympathise with the dismissive teflon lizard that is Neil Hamilton.