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Gwynfor Evans is gone
Gwynfor Evans is as different from today’s British politicians as chalk is from cheese. He was an honest politician for one thing, genuine, a man who made no deals, but who always stuck to his principles. He was a gentle, kindly man, a pacifist, a Christian, a nationalist
Philippe Argouarch pour Necrologie le 22/04/05 23:55

Gwynfor Evans is as different from today’s British politicians as chalk is from cheese. He was an honest politician for one thing, genuine, a man who made no deals, but who always stuck to his principles. He was a gentle, kindly man, a pacifist, a Christian, a nationalist and - like all good nationalists – an internationalist. He argued that you cannot be an internationalist without having a nation behind you which allows you to become involved in international affairs.

He was born in the old port town of Barry in South Wales in 1912. His father, Dan Evans, had established a successful department store (large shop) in the town. English was the language of the home, although both his parents had come from Welsh-speaking West Wales.

He learnt Welsh when he went to Aberystwyth University. From there he went to St John’s College, Oxford. He used to say that he was first a Christian and a pacifist and his nationalism was based on that.

Although he had studied law and was a qualified solicitor, he went back to where his family had come from, to Llangadog where he established a market-gardening business.

But from an early age he became involved in politics and Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru had been established in 1925 when Gwynfor Evans was still a teenager. From the age of 20 he took a leading role in the party.

When war came in 1939 he registered as a pacifist and conscientious objector. This was not strictly necessary, because as a market gardener he was in work which would have meant that he would not have had to go to war. But Gwynfor was nothing if not a man of principle.

After the war he helped many patriotic Bretons active in Brittany’s cultural movement, including Yan Fouere, who were being unjustly pursued for alleged collaboration with the Germans, making his home open to them for many months at a time.

He was elected as Plaid Cymru Councillor on the Camarthenshire County Council, which was Labour controlled. He was treated disgracefully by the controlling Labour Party.

He stood many times for Parliament, for Meirionnydd, a seat eventually won by Dafydd Elis Thomas. He was a leading member of the Paliament for Wales Campaign in the early 1950s. Also in another - unsuccessful - campaign against the drowning of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales to provide water for Liverpool, in the late 1950s. The plan went ahead in spite of total opposition from the whole of Wales.

Then in July 1966 came the great breakthrough. A few months earlier there had been a General Election which had been won by Labour. Lady Megan Lloyd George, the charismatic daughter of the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had held the Carmarthen seat for Labour. Gwynfor had polled a respectable 7,000 votes but he was well behind Megan Lloyd George. But she was very ill and she died soon after the General Election.

In the by-election that followed history was made. Gwynfor was the truly charismatic candidate. In a night that shocked British politics and attracted world attention, Gwynfor Evans became Plaid Cymru’s first Member of Parliament. It changed Plaid Cymru for ever, from being a small party on the periphery – even in Wales – to being a credible political force.

This was followed by exciting by-elections in Rhondda and Caerphilly with Plaid just losing out to Labour in the Welsh industrial heartland. There followed a period of flux. He lost to Labour in 1969. Then won the seat back in 1974, this time with Dafydd Elis Thomas in Meirionnydd and Dafydd Wigley in Caernarfon. There were now three Plaid Cymru MPs.

On more than one occasion he mentioned the plight of Brittany in Parliament and reporters from such papers as The Times were sent scurrying to find out what was happening in Wales’s sister Celtic county.

He lost his seat again in 1979. Carmarthen has always been a volatile seat – part agricultural, part industrial - and it was always difficult fighting it in a General Election where all the publicity centred on the major English parties.

He was always treated disgracefully by the Labour Party, with some notable exceptions, one was his friend the left-wing Labour MP for Ebbw Vale, Michael Foot, who led the party for a brief period after 1979.

During the 1970s the battle for a Welsh language Television channel had raged and although Labour and Conservatives had promised a Welsh channel for Wales, when Margaret Thatcher came into power she immediately went back on her promise.

Then Gwynfor Evans stated that if Wales was not going to have the channel he would fast to death. Such was the arrogance of the politicians of the time was that one minister said – “Gwynfor is going to starve himself to death? I will sponsor him!”

But politicians and senior civil servants in Wales knew that this was no idle threat. Thatcher was forced to reconsider and Wales got it S4C.

He lived his last years with his wife Rhiannon near Lampeter, both in declining health. But he lived to see an elected Assembly for Wales – for that we give thanks.

A few months ago he gave an interview to the daily Welsh paper, the Western Mail, in which he furiously denounced Tony Blair as a “blatant liar” and expressed amazement that he was still in office after going to war in Iraq.

Today Plaid Cymru has real hopes of winning five parliamentary seats. One of them, Adam Price is the MP for his old constituency has been leading a campaign to impeach Tony Blair for lying to Parliament in order to take Britain into war in Iraq.

In terms of Westminster MPs and Assembly Members in Cardiff it is now the strongest party after Labour. It has been a huge achievement. It is all comes back to Gwynfor and his leadership all those years in the political wilderness.

Gwyn Griffiths

Philippe Argouarch

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