First item on the agenda could be the split
John Marek’s decision to join the Conservatives must be one of the quirkiest political outings in Welsh politics in recent years, and if I was Nick Bourne I would be more than a little nervous. It will probably prove a one-day news wonder, but John Marek has a knack of widening the fault lines that exist in most organisations, not least political parties.
Something of a maverick and a gift to journalists, the former Labour MP and then AM for Wrexham, later a leader of the left-leaning Forward Wales party, has a way of provoking tiffs, disputes and splits. In 2001 he was elected as Deputy Presiding Officer of the National Assembly against Newport AM Rosemary Butler, the candidate preferred by the Labour leadership. This move, and his frequent criticisms of the Labour-led Wrexham County Borough, led to his deselection as Labour’s candidate for the National Assembly elections in May 2003. Whereupon he stood as an independent and won, though of course he subsequently lost to Labour in 2007. As Deputy Presiding Officer he also famously fell out with the Presiding Officer Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas.
I first came across John Marek in the late 1970s when he was a mathematics lecturer at Aberystwyth University, and an activist in the local Labour Party. At that time he was ardently opposed to the National Assembly, a view prompted by an intense hostility to the Welsh language. Both views were difficult enough for a local Labour Party trying its utmost to stem its declining support in a largely Welsh-speaking and strongly Welsh-identifying constituency. But John went one further by founding an English Language Society. Set up as an alternate rallying point to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, also based in Aberystwyth, its objectives were supposedly to defend the threatened human rights of English speakers. In this John Marek won the support of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Cardiff West MP George Thomas.
Aberystwyth’s gain was Wrexham’s loss when in the run-up to the 1983 general election he was selected as that constituency’s Labour candidate. Of course, he became Wrexham’s MP but he was not exactly a unifying figure in the town. Some year’s later I was sitting next to the Wrexham local authority’s chief executive at a dinner when the subject of the local MP came up. “Do you know who we turned down in that selection contest back in ’83,” he said, head in his hands. “Tony Blair…”
In the 1990s John Marek switched sides on devolution and became as equally ardent in favour of it as he had once been against. So much so that he sponsored the First Reading of a Bill in the House of Commons promoting a Parliament for Wales. This was put together by the Parliament for Wales campaign of which I was chairman at the time. I remember receiving a letter from John about the Campaign’s approach to producing bilingual literature. He said he would put up with stuff being translated, but could we stop printing material back-to-back Welsh and English. He would much prefer, he wrote, that we ran the English version of papers first, followed by the Welsh. He could then simply rip the Welsh bits off and throw them in the bin.