There have been 18 Secretaries of State for Wales so far and the current incumbent, little Alun Cairns, is the 10th Conservative in the post. The job, which supposedly obliges the holder to ensure Welsh interests are taken into account by the British, was created in 1964 as a sop to damp down Welsh nationalism by the Labour government of Harold Wilson (1916-1995). This reluctant and tentative first step on what is proving to be an extremely lengthy journey to any semblance of coherent home rule was duly followed in 1965 by the setting up of the Welsh Office.
The Tories, of course, fought tooth and nail against even these small concessions to Wales – for the very simple reason that they were concessions to Wales. Yet, as was to happen with each and every devolutionary advance to come, that fierce opposition would eventually melt away when the prospects of career advancement, ministerial salaries, permanent undersecretary perks and new spheres of influence to co-opt became apparent.
The first Welsh Secretary, Llanelli MP Jim Griffiths (1890-1975) of Betws, near Ammanford, was considered a Labour centrist back in the 1960s. Today, his pacifism, routine working-class democratic socialism and ardent, decades-long support for Welsh devolution would put him on the Plaid Cymru left, so comprehensive has been the purge of patriotic leftwing Welsh people from the ‘Welsh’ Labour party. Over 54 years have passed since Jim Griffiths’ inaugural appointment and, apart from a few blips, it has been downhill all the way. This is mainly because the Tories are nearly always in power in England and therefore nearly always get to do the appointing, but the gradual degradation in the calibre of Labour’s Welsh MPs hasn’t helped either. We have had to get used to Welsh Secretaries who, rather than defend Welsh interests, actively work against them as autocratic colonial governors delivering London’s imperial decrees. The ‘Welsh voice at the cabinet table’ that Griffiths intended has long since been turned into an English voice braying and honking at Wales. And even the semi-consoling thought that the next one can’t possibly be worse than the current inadequate had to be jettisoned when petite Alun Cairns popped up.
How did we get to the diminutive Cairns? Here, in chronological order, are the terrible ten Tory Welsh Secretaries inflicted on Wales:
PETER THOMAS (1920-2008)
The first Tory Welsh Secretary was the best – don’t get excited, the bar is set very low so it’s not saying much. By the time Peter Thomas was installed in 1970 by new PM Edward Heath (1916-2005), the implacable Tory objection to the very concept of Wales had shifted somewhat as they calculated it might benefit them to join the 20th century. Thomas was the first of many Tory Welsh Secretary’s who weren’t even Welsh MPs. This brazen contempt for Wales, perfectly illustrating the democratic deficit intrinsic to Wales’ position in the UK, has now happened seven times – so often it’s more or less the norm. In fairness to the Tories – a fairness they don’t believe in – this is mainly because Wales so rarely elects any of them. Heath’s options, for instance, were limited by Wales’ traditional rejection of Conservatism: only seven of the 36 Welsh MPs were Tory, and all were unimpressive. Bilingual Thomas, son of a well-heeled Llanrwst solicitor and MP for Hendon South, was the only plausible choice, especially as he had previously been MP for Conway (sic) between 1951 and 1966 before losing the marginal seat to Labour. Thomas was a species of Welsh Tory that has since been wiped out by the Conservative party’s remorseless, accelerating swing to the extreme rightwing of politics. He had taken what was then a well-worn career path for upper-middle-class Welsh boys – Jesus College Oxford, Middle Temple, qualification as a barrister – and was a typical ‘one nation’ Tory of the post-War social democratic consensus, civilised, intelligent and open-minded, while also being a cultural Welsh nationalist, a member of the Gorsedd of Bards, keen eisteddfodwr and advocate of devolution. No such Tory exists in Wales today. He didn’t achieve much as Welsh Secretary, being hamstrung by the paltry Welsh budget pinched further by Heath’s perpetual economic crisis, but nor did he do much damage and he lasted the entire four years of the Heath government before Labour returned to power in 1974. Far too ‘wet’ for new leader Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), he returned to the backbenches and concentrated on shoring up his vote among Hendon’s large Jewish population as the enthusiastic president of the Conservative Friends of Israel before retiring as an MP in 1987. He was promptly made a peer as Baron Thomas of Gwydir, and then spent his last 20 years in the Lords ditching all his principles of yore and becoming one more ermine-swaddled Thatcherite apologist. In so doing, he demonstrated an old in-built flaw in the Tory mindset: the crude historical determinism and if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them cynicism cultivating the belief that if something has happened it was meant to be.
NICHOLAS EDWARDS (1934-2018)
When Thatcher became PM in 1979 she appointed High Tory Nicholas Edwards as Welsh Secretary, adding a new contemptuous twist to Heath’s selection of an English MP who happened to be Welsh. This time we got an Englishman who happened to be a Welsh MP (for Pembrokeshire from 1970 to 1987). Edwards remained in the job for eight years until he retired at the 1987 election and took that inevitable seat on the Lords gravy-train as Lord Crickhowell, making him the longest-serving Welsh Secretary of all time to date. Given that Thatcher reshuffled her cabinets with regular ruthlessness, this merely goes to show what a biddable loyalist Thatcherite he was. He came from a background of stratospheric privilege, following the time-worn gilded Tory trail of Westminster School, Trinity College Cambridge, something-in-the-City and Lloyd’s broker to prepare him for a life devoted to further enriching himself. To claim spurious credentials of born-to-rule antiquity, he made much of some distant Welsh ancestry, but his sole tangible link to Wales was via his delightful second home holiday retreat in the Black Mountains, where he liked to spend a few weeks a year yanking fish out of his private stretch of the River Usk on sharp hooks. His serial blunders as Welsh Secretary are far too legion to catalogue here, so three words will suffice: Cardiff Bay Barrage. This environmental crime of the greatest magnitude was thought up by Edwards himself on the back of an envelope in 1985 as a way to maximise land values. Dismissing all the mass opposition of Cardiffians and their elected representatives, Edwards arrogantly proceeded regardless. When the Barrage was finally completed in 2001 Cardiff’s fabulous inter-tidal mud-flats, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and unique natural habitat, were no more and the city’s raison d’être since humans first came here, its connection to the sea, was gone – and for no better reason than prissy Edwards found mud “unsightly”. By then Edwards was claiming his fat expenses on the red benches of the Lords and was raking in further booty having shamelessly joined the board of Associated British Ports, the body that owned most of the docklands after a thieving Thatcher privatisation in 1983, as well as pocketing lots of pin-money with cosy sinecures on just about every Welsh quango existing. His despicable legacy began to be unpicked when Crickhowell House, the ugly 1993 building named in his honour which acted as the Assembly’s debating chamber before the Senedd was opened in 2006, was renamed Tŷ Hywel in 2008 after Hywel Dda. Edwards shouldn’t have been name-checked in the first place, given that he campaigned against establishing the Assembly in both the 1979 and 1997 referendums. Oh, by the way, the Barrage has not been the rip-roaring success that is so often asserted as indisputable fact by the corporate pimps in charge of propaganda these days – forget about the promised jobs that never came, the public amenities that were lost, the cheap and nasty architecture, the debased infantilism and the non-existent communities in buy-to-let and Airbnb towers, just ask the sewer workers drilling away at the fatberg the size of a lorry in the drains under Mermaid Quay.
PETER WALKER (1932-2010)
Having won the 1987 election with a third consecutive thumping majority, Thatcher appointed Peter Walker as Welsh Secretary. He was both English (from London) and the MP for an English constituency (Worcester), so became the first Welsh Secretary to have no Welsh affiliation whatsoever. Thatcher didn’t care: her selection of Walker for the low profile, low esteem Wales job was firstly a calculated two fingers to the Wales that kept rejecting her (the Tory Welsh contingent was down to six MPs) but also a calculated humiliation of Walker. An MP since 1961, he was a ministerial survivor from the Heath years who enraged her with his consensual, pragmatic approach but who had to be kept in the cabinet to neutralise any possible challenge to her leadership. She needn’t have been so paranoid, he had already proved his Thatcherite credentials as her Agriculture Minister and then, from 1983 to 1987, as Energy Secretary. In that job it was he who co-ordinated, presided over and revelled in the defeat of the miners in the Great Strike of 1984/85, a defeat that eliminated the last working-class counterbalance to the hegemony of capitalism and, in the process, shattered the Welsh industrial economy – with consequences still being suffered today. As with all Tories, Walker’s strongly-held political values could always be promptly abandoned in favour of the main priority: advancing the interests of the Conservative party. After three dreadful years as Welsh Secretary in which he laid the foundations of today’s dysfunctional Welsh economy of low-paid, deskilled, insecure workers and race-to-the-bottom whoring for growth-at-all-costs at the behest of Big Business, he retired from the fray in 1990 to spend more time with his many company directorships. He was elevated, if that’s the right word, to the Lords in 1992 as Baron Walker of Worcester. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be seen that Thatcher and Walker, far from being the foes portrayed by the contemporary media, were actually very similar. Both were from the avaricious, shallow English lower-middle-classes, both their parents had been corner shop grocers, both had been educated at state grammar schools rather than privately, both were card-carrying Tories while still teenagers, and both concentrated on amassing money before entering full-time politics – Thatcher by marrying into it and Walker in asset-stripping investment banks. It turns out, surprise, surprise, that Walker’s nudge-nudge, wink-wink querying of Thatcher’s unleashing of unbridled, red meat market forces was just the Machiavellian millionaire covering all eventualities.
DAVID HUNT (1942-)
Thatcher’s last pick as Welsh Secretary in 1990, in the dying days of her reign before she was overthrown in internecine Tory warfare, seems to have been chosen simply because he had accidentally been born in Wales when his English parents lived for a while in Llansanffraid Glynceiriog, near Llangollen, and as a bonus his Wirral West constituency wasn’t far from the Welsh border. For a Tory, such flimsy reasons are quite sufficient to justify being put in total control of Wales – which a Welsh Secretary certainly was in those pre-devolution days when the governance of Wales was a scandalous stain on the fundamental tenets of democracy. Charisma-free Hunt spent three forgettable years as Welsh Secretary, achieving nothing except the further impoverishment and debasement of Wales, until being shifted out in 1993 in one of new PM John Major’s frequent desperate reshuffles. He lost his seat in the 1997 Labour landslide and, it goes without saying, was immediately made a peer, Baron Hunt of Wirral. Not being dead yet, he still sits in the Lords (allowance: £300 per day) whenever he can find the time away from stockpiling more wealth at a major commercial law firm or in one of his non-executive directorships. Given his surname, regular readers will probably expect a spoonerism at this point, but I’m going to resist the temptation – it would be coarse.
JOHN REDWOOD (1951-)
There is no contest for the title of worst Welsh Secretary of all time. It’s a walk-over for John Redwood – irrespective of whatever Alun Cairns might have up his teeny-weeny sleeves. The extreme rightwing Little Englander is still the MP for true-blue Wokingham in Berkshire, and still waging war on reason, rationality, enlightenment and civilisation, so there is no need here to go over the scary fanatic’s CV. He could be around for a while yet, long enough to see the Earth rendered uninhabitable by the man-made climate change he persistently denies is happening. Pitifully pusillanimous John Major’s selection of Redwood for the Wales job in 1993 can now be seen as a trial run, with Wales the tortured guinea pig, for Theresa May’s chaotic Tory party of gross ineptitude, criminal destructiveness and perpetual backsliding to the insatiable demands of the party’s insane far right attack dogs. Redwood was a product of the strata of cripplingly conventional, upwardly-mobile English petit bourgeoisie, long a reliable conveyor belt for rightwingers, who became a particularly delusional Europhobe and Last Days of the Raj fantasist dreaming of abolishing a modern world he neither liked nor understood. Major’s ‘back to basics’ pandering to his ilk was the advance outrider that has remorselessly led the UK to the brink of frightening catastrophe today. Wales was just a bit of collateral damage along the way. Redwood didn’t even attempt to conceal his conqueror’s contempt for Wales; his excruciating mime of the national anthem at the 1993 Welsh Conservative Conference has become infamous, the grotesque video evidence of his staggering combination of arrogance and ignorance. Oh go on then, it’s always worth another look…
His Welsh Secretary stint was so packed with anti-Wales action it became routine. I am spoiled for examples, but there are a couple of real corkers that encapsulate Redwood’s character. His poisonous speech in Cardiff in 1993 vilifying struggling single mothers in St Mellons and claiming they only get pregnant to get a council house, symbolised his cruelty, opportunism, bigotry, sexism, puritanism and habit of blaming the poor for the consequences of a poverty he and his fellow Thatcherite ideologues had created – and ten years later, when he acrimoniously split from his wife of 29 years for a younger “former model” and thereby created his very own broken family, he displayed the sickening and utterly predictable hypocrisy that has long been a Tory calling-card. Then there was his outrageous returning to the London Treasury of £100 million (the equivalent of £500 million today) from the meagre Welsh block grant, at a time when Wales was officially the poorest part of Europe – an indefensible abuse of his office otherwise known as “theft”. When Redwood summarily tossed away the Welsh Secretary job in 1995 in order to mount a failed challenge to Major’s leadership, he did Wales his one and only favour – not only by getting the hell out of our country but also by ensuring Wales became a Tory-free zone after the next general election and that the subsequent devolution referendum was won. What a sweet paradox: because of his loathsomeness we can still cling to the hope that we might one day “live long and prosper”, as they say on Vulcan.
WILLIAM HAGUE (1961-)
Redwood’s sudden resignation and the subsequent leadership election plunged the UK into limbo while the Tories conducted another internal civil war (sound familiar?). David Hunt had to return as an emergency stand-in Welsh Secretary for a couple of weeks until Major had vanquished Redwood and regained some sort of control – making Hunt, technically, the first person to have been Welsh Secretary twice (Labour’s Paul Murphy and Peter Hain would both repeat the trick in the noughties). All I can say is thank heavens Hunt’s parents didn’t christen him Carey! When the dust had settled later in 1995 Major appointed professional Yorkshireman and MP for Richmond (Yorks) William Hague as Welsh Secretary – a by now familiar insult slightly mitigated by there only being five Tory MPs left in Wales, none of whom you’d put in charge of a Barry Island ice cream van. Mercifully, the completely inexperienced Tory Boy’s tenure in his first ministerial job was under two years. In 1997 the Tories were turfed out of government by Blair’s landslide, winning not one single seat in Wales, to do 13 years penance in the political wilderness, meaning Hague was Wales’ last pre-devolution Governor General of thoroughly colonial Wales. Coming after Redwood, Hague could only be an improvement – if only because he was a recognisable human being you might consider letting through your front door. Have I ever related my William Hague anecdote on this blog? I don’t think I have; here’s the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! One sunny summer afternoon on the Pembrokeshire coast back in 1996, I was sitting in a pub garden having a few beers with some friends when William Hague appeared with his Welsh Office aide and the two of them sat down with their pints at a table nearby (go on admit it: I’ve got your attention now). Mr Hague’s bag-carrier was a handsome, lissom young man who, as I muttered bitchily to amuse my companions, “looks like the shop assistant who sold me a lampshade at Debenhams the other day”. As they chatted, enjoying the warm sun, the sea air and their real ales, their knees touched under the table once or twice. Er, that’s it. What do you mean that’s no anecdote? It is an anecdote when you know what happened next: he found himself a willing Welsh wife, married Ffion, learned the words of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, became Conservative leader for four years of ridicule, fronted the failed Tory ‘No’ campaign in the 1997 devolution referendum, lost the 2001 election to another Blair landslide that maintained the Tory wipe-out in Wales, retreated to the backbenches to write dull political biographies and crank up his earnings with directorships and consultancies, trashed what remained of his reputation as David Cameron’s out-of-his-depth Foreign Secretary from 2010 to 2014, retired from the House of Commons in 2015, got the life peerage as Baron Hague of Richmond…oh, nearly forgot, and vehemently denied being gay when it was revealed he shared hotel bedrooms with his handsome, lissom long-term friend and “special adviser” at the Foreign Office, and then volunteered the irrelevant information that Ffion had suffered multiple miscarriages as clinching proof that it was all just “malicious” rumour (presumably we were meant to think “ooh, he can get it up!”). Ffion can’t have been bothered by hubby’s use of her gynaecological issues as an alibi: she’s quite happy making interesting documentaries for S4C, they’re still together and they have recently bought a massive country pile in Powys for £2.5 million. Oh, Wales has been good to him!
CHERYL GILLAN (1952-)
When David Cameron replaced Michael Howard (I’m not going there) as Tory leader in 2005 after a 3rd consecutive annihilation by Labour, he appointed Cheryl Gillan as Shadow Welsh Secretary purely on the basis that she was originally from Cardiff (well, Llandaf anyway) and Daddy farmed near Usk. She adopted a ‘Welsh’ veneer as a diplomatic necessity – she had been the MP for quintessentially English (ie: callous & anal) Chesham & Amersham in fragrant Bucks since 1992. Her opposition to the very existence of a Welsh Assembly was stealthily dropped, she disinterred her residual Welshness, and pursed the extra salary in one of her many handbags. I know a lot of middle-class Tory women from Wales – my family has been full of them for generations – so I can categorically state that the last thing any of them would ever describe themselves as is “Welsh”. Their visceral repulsion at the notion is not something any of them could ever explain, Toryism being incompatible with self-examination and self-awareness. In Gillan’s case, with her archetypal Tory ‘lady’ trajectory – silver spoon, private schooling, Cheltenham Ladies College, marketing work, bag a husband in one of the professions – the reason was probably no more complicated than England = posh, Wales = yuck. To Cameron, preoccupied like all Tory leaders have been for well nigh 60 years with keeping the xenophobic far-right happy, Gillan was a safe pair of mottled hands. So, when the Tories returned to power in coalition with the lemming-like LibDems in 2010 he let her keep the job and Wales had its first ever woman Secretary of State. Like his predecessors he was stymied by the lack of Tory MPs in Wales – the number had risen to only three out of 40. Just as soon as Cameron had got the LibDems where he wanted them (over a barrel, squealing for more limousines), he chucked more appeasements to the Tory far right and sacked Gillan in 2012, replacing her with zealous Brexiteer David Jones (see below). To the unreconstructed misogynists and Cymruphobes of the Tory right Gillan was just too ‘nice’ and, as the first Welsh Secretary to be from a different party to that controlling the Assembly, her sensible tendency to conciliate, communicate, compromise and co-operate, culminating in the resounding 2011 referendum approving law-making powers for Wales, was absolute anathema. They wanted the cleansing fire of conflict and chaos, the better to dish out the firm smack of masculinist war-mongering Brit authority. And, by Jove, haven’t they now got it! Cheryl Gillan is still on the Tory backbenches. Awarded a damehood in 2018 and comforted by an estimated wealth of £1.5 million, she has fallen back on the valuable lessons learnt in her Cheltenham Ladies College girlhood: never speaking unless spoken to, concentrating on singing, gardening and golf, and trying to fill out her expenses claims forms correctly.
DAVID JONES (1952-)
Cameron’s 2012 appointment of David Jones, MP for Clwyd West, made Jones the first Tory Welsh Secretary since Nicholas Edwards 25 years earlier to actually represent a Welsh constituency (in comparison, all eight Labour Welsh Secretaries have been Welsh MPs). Born in London when his British Army father was based there, he was raised in Wrecsam and is a fluent Welsh speaker. He thus provides an important corrective to the sentimental idea – an idea I can be susceptible to – that being able to speak Welsh somehow confers virtue and wisdom. It does not: as this extreme British Nationalist, implacable opponent of any expression of Welsh actualisation and fanatical advocate of a Hard Brexit shows. Like so many Tories he worked in law before his political breakthrough came in 2002 when rabid Rod Richards (remember him?) stood down as a north Wales region Tory AM because of bankruptcy and alcoholism. Jones, the next name on the Tories’ regional top-up list, was the automatic replacement. He was an AM for less than a year, being thoroughly unimpressive in his trademark reptilian manner, until standing down at the 2003 Assembly elections. To someone for whom Britishness effortlessly trumps Welshnesss, the glorified local authority of Wales-shire held no interest. Those narrow, hooded eyes were focused on Westminster, the epicentre of the universe and Motherfucker of Parliaments. He got his foot in the door in 2005 when he gathered just enough votes from the constituency’s large itinerant population of bungalow-dwelling English pensioners, downsizing English colonial settlers and white-flight English racists (plus Colwyn Bay) to squeak home in Clwyd West. He has held the seat ever since – helped by its economically and socially engineered identity as a Costa Geriatrica outstation of Lancashire. As Welsh Secretary, the first to have previously been an AM, he made no bones about being anything other than an agent of the British state, openly hostile to any manifestation of Welsh distinctiveness. Along with the Tory Attorney General, he even went to the expensive lengths of twice dragging Carwyn Jones’ government through the UK Supreme Court in London to try to undermine the overwhelming ‘yes’ result of the 2011 referendum and stop them legislating on minor bye-laws. He failed, but that sort of reverse only makes British Nationalists more malevolent and recent unilateral decisions by May’s government have cleared the way for a far more serious power-grabbing attack on Welsh devolution if/when the Hard Brexit of David Jones’ wet dreams happens. By 2014 even ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron had to admit the widely-loathed Jones had been a mistake and he was removed from office after just 22 months. Following the 2016 EU referendum, the quitting of calamitous Cameron and the dawn of Mayday Mayday, she appointed the flesh-creeping, tunnel-visioned Europhobe as Minister of State for Exiting the European Union. Again he failed, unable to force the rest of the EU to bend to his deluded demands, and May humiliatingly sacked him after just 11 months. Nowadays he has gravitated towards his natural UKIP bedfellows and is on the board of the ‘Leave Means Leave’ pressure group along with the likes of Nigel Farage and a motley crew of billionaires, tax avoiders, crypto fascists and morons hell-bent on a nightmare future for their beloved British people.
STEPHEN CRABB (1973-)
David Cameron’s bottomless capacity for getting things wrong continued with his 2014 appointment as Welsh Secretary of Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, a Scotland-born Britisher who had been MP for the alarmingly anglicised area since 2005. The constituency, a tragic tourism tart and pauperised playground of the petrochemical industry, remains in his clutches to this day, but his stint at the Welsh Office lasted just 20 months. According to him his proudest achievement as Welsh Secretary was the deal he brokered to extend the electrification of the mainline railway to Swansea – yes, that’s right, the same deal his Tory colleagues tore up and binned a couple of years later. Wales was only ever a stepping-stone for the thrusting, over-confident, greasy-pole climber, fond of spouting smug self-valorising homilies about how he pulled himself up by his bootstraps from his upbringing in a single-parent family on a Haverfordwest council estate. It was seen as a promotion when Cameron made him Secretary of State for Work & Pensions in 2016, and he gleefully set about implementing predecessor Iain Duncan Smith’s savage benefit cuts and sadistic fit-to-work tests. Then, soon after he had put down a marker for the future in the post-Cameron Tory leadership contest and new PM May had retained him in her cabinet, one of those reliably regular Tory sex scandals intervened to topple his house of cards. I wasn’t surprised: the self-fetishism implicit in his high maintenance designer stubble was the clue. It turned out that while campaigning for the party leadership on a platform of being a devout Christian and family man who opposed same-sex marriage, he was sending a string of “inappropriate” messages to a woman half his age on WhatsApp. He walked the plank and returned to the backbenches, stating that he was angry with himself, as though he were two people, and that he intended to take time out rebuilding trust with his wife and children. In 2017 further revelations emerged about the family man’s propensity to crudely proposition young women for sex, this time a 19 year-old he had interviewed for a job. He wrote it off as “foolish” and, tail between his legs (metaphorically), he currently festers on the naughty step awaiting forgiveness from his fellow hypocrites in a Tory party that has made hypocrisy an art form over the years, a party without shame, a party that always bestows forgiveness on one of its own. If only the voters of Preseli Pembrokeshire were not so forgiving…
ALUN CAIRNS (1970- )
So, thanks to the Conservative party, what began as a Welsh ambassador in England, then got perverted into Westminster’s messenger-boy in Wales, has evolved since devolution into an openly belligerent foreign agent stalking Wales with malicious intent. Pipsqueak Cairns has been Welsh Secretary for nearly three years now, and his most notable achievement has been to provide clinching proof that the superfluous, nonsensical post should be abolished and British interference in Welsh affairs should cease forthwith. The Swansea-born midget and Brit collaborator has been a paws-on Welsh Secretary, continually interfering, intervening and subverting Wales’ infant democracy. He’s so stupid it’s almost sublime; ‘Prince of Wales Bridge’ indeed! He missed his calling, he should have gone into pantomime as one of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs – Dopey perhaps. Another Tory from that ghastly lower-middle-class cadre of unthinking, pre-modern, boorish Brit exceptionalists, he only got his tiny foot on the political ladder thanks to the existence of the Assembly he opposed, being a south-west Wales regional list AM from 1999 to 2011. He became Vale of Glamorgan MP in 2010 and actually had the gall to pocket both big salaries for a year for reasons of Tory party convenience instead of immediately standing down as an AM. Like many of the vertically-challenged he over-compensates like mad with pugnaciousness, well exemplified by his repeated brazen attempts to force through the proposed M4 relief road across the precious SSSI of the Gwent Levels, a question that is outside his Welsh Secretary remit. He keeps sticking his snout in places barred by his job description, pushing the threadbare ‘Severnside’ concept of closer links to Bristol that is so dear to the hearts of Tory Unionists because it undercuts and dilutes a pan-Wales approach, and triumphantly abolishing Severn Bridge tolls to encourage more traffic onto the M4, increase congestion around Newport and thereby make the road-building ‘solution’ look like the only option – which only confirmed that the suddenly unnecessary tolls had been an unjustified rip-off for decades. Someone really should inform the pea-brained piece of work that southern Wales has had intimate ties with Bristol for centuries – it’s no big deal. Whether or not new First Minister Mark Drakeford, a vocal opponent of the M4 scheme, buckles under Cairns’ puny pressure is a key early test for him. Is Drakeford prepared to spend £2.3 billion at the behest of the road lobby in order to knock 10 minutes off the journey times of English middle-managers when he can’t find, for example, £700 million for the vital reopening of the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway? Is he willing to destroy an irreplaceable wetland environment, ignore the global climate crisis, degrade air quality further and promote car use when the precise opposite is required? Has all Labour’s fine talk about ‘sustainability’ been just duplicitous marketing-speak? The answer to those questions is imminent. I know what I predict; I wonder if Ladbrokes have opened a book on it? By dint of forcing our First Minister to reveal his true self maybe the microscopic, Lilliputian, pocket Napoleon will do Wales some sort of service after all.