Calum Davies is Deputy Chairman of Cardiff Central Conservatives.
For those that do not keep to date with the quagmire of fringe arguments played on the turf of Welsh nationalists, you will have missed the traditional resurrection of the debate on Welsh language place names that seems to arrive each year.
Essentially, there are those out there who are passionate about protecting those places with Welsh language names from having their names changed to a name that is divorced from the linguistic heritage of the location.
For example, Cwm Cneifion in North Wales has become ‘Nameless Cwm’ and Fferm Faerdre Fach in the South is now called ‘Happy Donkey Hill’. But there are less concrete examples such Porth Trecastell and Lamor Llan or Traeth Dynion in Angelsey, which have respectively often become known as ‘Cable Bay’ and ‘The Creek’.
Thousands have signed petitions to prevent this, but how do you legislate against what people call it informally? The ‘Thought Police’ accusations write themselves.
Some, including the Welsh National Party (set up by an ex-Plaid Cymru politician) in Gwynedd, have proposed charging an “astronomical” £10,000 fee (their word) for the privilege of changing the place name as a deterrent.
That’s right! On top of all the fees involved in purchasing and maintaining a home, you should be made to pay thousands to choose the name of your own home to placate nosy nationalists who will likely have zero connection to your property and the area surrounding it.
If you have read these pieces, you will notice that you only see one side of the argument. I am hardly surprised, as to challenge this point of view will lead to the inevitable barrage of pro-independence trolling and accusations of being anti-Welsh language. Not only is the tone usually aggressive but so is the language: accusations of “linguistic cleansing” are deployed as if there was a high degree of predetermined malice behind the name changes.
Well, I write this as a Welsh-speaker who grew up in a house, in a village, near a town – all of which had Welsh names. I have no desire to see them anglicised and their names scrubbed from history. I love my country and my heritage.
But I also love my property rights. What business is it of government what name I give my house? What business is it of a stranger that does not know me and lives scores or, even, hundreds of miles away what I call my farm?
One can trace back property rights on these isles back to Magna Carta. But because busybodies in Bangor have a problem with me calling my hypothetical bungalow in Barry something that isn’t on the approved list, written by a certain elite in this country, I can’t!
It isn’t just the nationalist left that have been hunting down what many people feel is a fundamental part of a Western, liberal democracy. The socialist left – in the form of the Welsh Labour Government – have used the emergency coronavirus powers they have to obliterate the market confidence of private landlords.
Already gaining a reputation for making policy from a perception that the private rented sector is inherently problematic rather than a valuable source of housing for those who cannot afford to buy but do not need to unnecessarily use up resources in social housing, the Welsh Government has extended possession notice periods to six months (three for anti-social behaviour).
A landlord’s right to possession is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights – but in order to reclaim their property, they must now wait several months to reclaim their property. With a court system already running a substantially large backlog before Covid-19, the delay will be intolerable.
Labour’s decision is understandable if you read their reasons, but the method chosen to do this is completely unfair to landlords. I have heard testimony of landlords left sofa-surfing now because of bad tenants refusing to pay rent for months even before the pandemic hit. This decision plays straight into their hands, rather than the vast majority of responsible landlords who have been unfortunate to let out their house to them.
This is not the only unintended consequence: you dent landlord confidence too much, they will leave the market, shrinking supply, lifting rent, pressurising social housing lists, and possibly increasing homelessness. The decision might also incentivise landlords to serve a possession notice in case they want to use it, perversely encouraging the very thing the Welsh Government want to avoid. Respecting property rights is not only an essential element of a free society, but a well-run one too.
So who should stand up against this assault? With the Senedd elections next year, it has been heartening to see the Welsh Conservatives ramp up the rhetoric on challenging the environment the left has created by abusing devolution. I believe if the Party focus their fire on what I have discussed here more support can be won, especially from those who don’t usually turn out at the devolved elections.
They are already on the right track: Darren Millar MS was right to call out Mark Drakeford, Labour’s First Minister, via the Gwydir blog for completely ruling out changing planning law to allow properties to move between business and residential status easily before it has even been tried. Yes, it is short-sighted when thinking about good policymaking, but it also infringes on the ability of free individuals and autonomous local governments to make decisions for themselves.
This is not news to those who have, given the Welsh left’s record over the years, come to the view that these parties prefer being worse than England than being like it. Throughout the pandemic, while the Conservative Government were at pains in restricting the liberty of the population and purposefully lifted them as soon as possible, the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru seemed to revel in keeping the people of Wales in place by maintaining those restrictions for weeks longer.
Conservatives have oft been accused by their own supporters of being too interventionist in people’s lives over the last few years. How better to remedy that, and strengthen our right flank ahead of a low-turnout election by making policy and campaigning for the fundamentally democratic and Conservative principles of freedom, especially when it comes to property?
We Welsh Conservatives often talk about reawakening the Welsh dragon. But remember what dragons are famous for protecting. Their castle.