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Summing up the Commons' Armistice Centenary debate for the Labour frontbench

It was a great honour to sum up the House of Commons' Armistice Centenary debate for the Labour frontbench. This is a short clip from the end of my speech, the full speech is below. We will remember them.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
As many have said, it is a privilege to speak in this debate. I feel completely unworthy to speak, in a sense, following the many extraordinary speeches that we have heard this afternoon and this evening from right hon. and hon. Members. By my count, we have had 26 speeches from Back Benchers, and two excellent speeches from the Front-Bench spokesmen. The debate was opened by the Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who was extremely ably answered by my hon. Friend Tom Watson, the shadow Secretary of State, who spoke brilliantly.

There have been so many brilliant speeches that it would be invidious to single one out. What struck me, however, is that we have heard speeches from all four nations of the United Kingdom, and on a variety of aspects of the Armistice and the great war, ranging from the role of women and Ireland—being of Irish heritage, I found that deeply interesting and significant—to the role of the Quakers; I was glad to hear Vicky Ford mention them at the end. It has been an extraordinary, illuminating and, at times, emotional debate. Hon. Members did well to hold it together at times, because there has certainly been a catch in the throat and a tear in the eye across the House from time to time.

We are grateful for the opportunity to commemorate the Armistice that marked the end of the great war, and for the chance to speak of our armed forces communities, and the sacrifices that were made and continue to be made for our safety. As we have heard, the Armistice put an end to over four years of tragic conflict between Germany and the allied forces, and mechanised killing on land, at sea and in the air. It was signed at 5 am on 11 November 1918 in a French railway carriage in Compiègne, and the guns stopped firing six hours later. As we heard earlier today in the service in St Margaret’s, the Prime Minister of the day, the Welshman David Lloyd George, when announcing the terms of the Armistice, expressed relief at the ending of what he called

“the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind.”

It is interesting to note how different people approach history, because I visited that railway carriage in Compiègne many years ago, and of course the same carriage was used by Hitler in 1940 to force the French into signing the surrender that resulted in Vichy France and Germany occupying most of France. However, when I visited it 25 years ago, there was no mention of that anywhere in the entire French presentation—there was reference only to the 1918 signing of the Armistice. We should acknowledge all aspects of history. This afternoon and evening, hon. Members have given an honest appraisal of the great war, the Armistice, its significance and all aspects of it, good and bad.

Bob Stewart (Conservative, Beckenham):
We have not talked about the French much today, but the French suffered incredible casualties. My wife’s family lost 17 members at Verdun. We have a biscuit tin full of Croix de Guerre, Légions d’Honneur and Médailles Militaire, but we do not even know to whom they were given. The French really suffered, as did the Germans.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has had the opportunity to put that on the record.

It is difficult to envisage the scale of the scourge that Lloyd George talked about. Four million men served in the British Army, alongside 3 million soldiers and labourers from what was then the British empire and Commonwealth. Some 1.27 million served from India alone, as well as over 10,000 from Jamaica. There were over 10 million military and 7 million civilian fatalities worldwide. Around 1 million British military personnel were killed, and the fighting stretched from Flanders to Gallipoli, from Pilckem Ridge to Palestine.

On this centenary of Armistice Day, we ponder three central thoughts. First, we honour the memories of those who fought and died. Secondly, we are solemnly grateful that the terrible tragedy came to an end. Thirdly, we are committed to preventing such devastation from happening again. I have been present in this Chamber when the House has been in a different mood—when the drums of war have been sounding. We should remember this moment when, inevitably, such events present themselves to us again. We should remember this kind of debate, as well as the mood the House sometimes gets into when we hear the sound of the drums of war.

These moments of commemoration are important, and I thank all those involved: the Imperial War Museum, the BBC, the Royal British Legion, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission—we have heard so much about the commission this afternoon—and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The fund held an important reception last week, and Dr Murrison, the Prime Minister’s envoy, was present. It really was a testament to the hard work done by him and by my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on the commemorations.

Kevan Jones (Labour, North Durham):
I think my hon. Friend has missed them by mistake, but he also needs to thank the parliamentary authorities, which have done an excellent job. The Library and the archivists have shown the history not only of Members of both Houses who fought and died in the war, but of the Clerks and other staff who served.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I acknowledge the work he has done with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including with me in Wales; we did some work a few years ago on restoring some of the graves in my Cardiff West constituency.

Members will know that the legacy of the first world war resonates in all our communities. Most cities, towns and villages in the UK have a war memorial, and we will all be visiting those war memorials this weekend to lay wreathes and pay tribute to those who left our communities more than 100 years ago and did not return. I will attend the Welsh national wreath-laying ceremony in Cardiff, and a special service of commemoration at Llandaff cathedral in my constituency. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and I will both lay wreathes at the war memorial in Llandaff city on Friday.

Every community has its own first world war story, and as many others have done, I will briefly pay tribute to those from my Cardiff West constituency whose courage has become part of our collective memory. On 7 July 1916, the 16th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment, known as the Cardiff City Battalion, fought at Mametz wood alongside other Welsh units as part of the 38th Division, which was devised by Prime Minister David Lloyd George and included the Welsh Regiment, the South Wales Borderers and the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

The Cardiff City Battalion was exposed to heavy machine-gun fire, and more than 150 men died, with many more injured. Welsh rugby internationals Dick Thomas and John Williams were among the dead. A survivor, William Joshua, recalled:

“On the Somme, the Cardiff City Battalion died.”

It might be of interest to you, Mr Speaker, that Fred Keenor, who subsequently captained Cardiff City football club when they defeated Arsenal in the 1927 FA cup final, was injured at the battle of the Somme, and it very nearly ended his football career.

Anna Soubry (Conservative, Broxtowe):
We have the games of remembrance in Nottingham on Thursday. The German and British women’s army teams will play at lunch time at Notts County, and in the evening the British and German men’s army teams will play at Nottingham Forest. Although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would love to attend, he probably will not be able to, but is it not a great event?

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
It is a great event. I will not be able to attend, but I can do even better than attend: my hon. Friend Nia Griffith, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, will be there on behalf of the Labour party.

Vernon Coaker (Labour, Gedling):
And me.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
My hon. Friend will also be there, so I can supply Anna Soubry with some first-rate people in support.

I had better press on, Mr Speaker, before you call us all back to order. The following year saw the battle of Passchendaele, which carries particular weight in Welsh cultural memory, as my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who is sitting at the back, will know. We commemorated the battle’s centenary last year with a debate in this Chamber. Every village in Wales was affected by the battle, and 20,000 first language Welsh-speaking soldiers alone were killed at Passchendaele.

1917 was the year of Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu, the Eisteddfod of the black chair. Some hon. Members will know that the Eisteddfod is the annual Welsh-language cultural festival, with poetry, dancing and singing. That year, Ellis Humphrey Evans, under the now-famous pseudonym, Hedd Wyn, was judged as the winner of the chair at the Eisteddfod, the highest honour available in Welsh culture, which is awarded to the best poet writing in traditional strict meter. However, when the winner’s pseudonym was called in the traditional ceremony at the Eisteddfod, no one stood up in the audience to reveal themselves as the triumphant poet. It was then announced that the winning bard had been killed in battle six weeks prior. Hedd Wyn had been one of 4,000 men killed on a single morning when the Royal Welch Fusiliers went over the top in the battle of Pilckem Ridge. The poet from Trawsfynydd has become the subject of poems and history lessons in classrooms across Wales, and even of an Oscar-nominated feature film.

That poignant story of Hedd Wyn captured the mourning of a nation. Stories such as these help us to remember the humanity of each individual who lost their life, and we have heard many such stories this evening. Each one was a son, a daughter, a loved one who was missed by someone at home. As we have seen today, they are still missed by their descendants in this House and across the country.

In my constituency, in 1917, the Women’s Land Army was formed; 20,000 women across the UK enlisted to work in places such as Green Farm in the Ely area of my constituency, which is now a council housing estate. As a farm, it was run predominantly by female farmhands during the war. One of the workers, Agnes Greatorex, left domestic service to work on the farm. She said:

“Every morning, we would get up at five o’clock and milk a hundred cows. We would then take the milk to Glan Ely Hospital.”

That is where the soldiers were kept. I am proud, as I am sure we all are, of the efforts of Agnes and so many women across the country; we have heard about those in today’s debate. In rightly commemorating the enfranchisement of some women in 1918, let us not forget that working-class women such as Agnes, or my grandmother, Gwenllian Evans, did not get the vote until nearly a decade later.

Albert Owen (Labour, Ynys Môn):
My hon. Friend is talking about the effort of women during the great war. It is worth recognising that the Women’s Institute was founded during this period; as the Speaker knows, we held the centenary event in my constituency. These women were the stars of the home front as well, and they are worth mentioning.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage):
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer to the founding of the Women’s Institute. May I also pay tribute to him for rightly drawing attention, as a former merchant seaman, to the sacrifice of the merchant navy? It is of course because of these sacrifices that the centenary of Armistice Day, and Remembrance Sunday each year, are an essential part of our cultural life. We must remember those who fought to keep us safe. We must recommit to ensuring that we never allow such division and devastation to happen again.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will close, as others have done, with poetry. I turn to the words of Hedd Wyn’s poem “Rhyfel”, which means war in Welsh. I will read part of it in Welsh first and then give the English translation. It reads:

“Mae’r hen delynau genid gynt,
Yng nghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw.

It translates as follows:

“The harps to which we sang, are hung
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain.”

Mr Speaker, we will remember them.

Cardiff West MP celebrates communities’ role in WWI Centenary

Cardiff West MP and Shadow Arts & Heritage recently attended a House of Commons event hosted by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to celebrate the contribution made by local communities across the UK to mark the First World War Centenary.

Since 2010, National Lottery funding has enabled more than 2,200 projects to explore and share thousands of diverse stories of the First World War. From stories of Pals battalions, soldiers from Commonwealth nations and conscientious objectors through to women’s work, food shortages and the impact of the war on children, the stories have been varied and illustrate the First World War beyond the frontlines.   

After meeting a range of community groups and hearing the stories they have uncovered, Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, said:

“It’s been inspirational to see how communities across the UK have been responding to the First World War Centenary and I'm pleased to see the National Lottery are helping these projects with their grants programme." said Kevin.

"As a Welsh MP and the Shadow Minister for Arts & Heritage I was particularly pleased to see community projects such as those by Head4Arts in South Wales which aims to tell the stories behind the First World War through art projects such as their 'The Last Post / Yr Utgorn Olaf ' play.

Ros Kerslake, HLF’s CEO, said: “The First World War was a truly global conflict, stretching out across oceans and continents. But its impact at home was huge. Communities, families and society were forever changed by this war."

"National Lottery funding has empowered people to discover and share the thousands of stories of the First World War that matter to them. And the response from communities has been an inspiration.”

In 2012, HLF launched a community grants programme called First World War: then and now, offering grants are available between £3,000 to £10,000. Over the Centenary, HLF awarded more than £14million to community projects.

In addition, HLF awarded larger grants to First World War projects. Projects include Imperial War Museum’s First World War Galleries; HMS Caroline and the home of First World War soldier and poet Hedd Wyn. Total HLF funding in the First World War Centenary comes to almost £100million.

For more information on HLF’s funding for First World War Centenary projects visit: or follow #OneCentenary100Stories on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Local MP release charity record to raise funds for homeless charities

Do You See Me? Is the latest single by the world's only parliamentary rock band, MP4, and was written by Cardiff West's Kevin Brennan MP to raise awareness and funds to help the homeless in Cardiff and across the UK.

The band, made up of Labour’s Kevin Brennan MP, the SNP’s Pete Wishart MP, former Labour MP Ian Cawsey, and Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight, hope the record will shine a light on Britain’s homeless crisis.

The EP, entitled ‘MP4 EP5’ features 5 original tracks, including the single Do You See Me?  a moving plea to passers-by written from the point of view of a rough sleeper.

The project was the brainchild of Musicians Against Homelessness who help to raise awareness of the issue and support Crisis.  Kevin Brennan MP Cardiff West: 

“When Musicians Against Homelessness approached MP4 to put on a gig in the House of Commons we knew we had to say yes. Not only did we agree to their request, but also we have also released a record to highlight the cause.

“Homelessness is a complex issue requiring more political action. But we also know, as a cross-party group of MPs, that to get results we need to keep public awareness high.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “We’re very excited MP4 has chosen to release a single for Musicians Against Homelessness which has done so much to support Crisis.

“It’s fantastic to see politicians from across the political spectrum come together to highlight the cause of Crisis’s work – supporting homeless people and campaigning to end homelessness for good.

“The work MAH has done since the project began has been truly inspirational, raising vital funds that have helped us hugely. We’re incredibly grateful for MP4’s support, as well as the volunteers, musicians and bands, who have dedicated their time to the cause.

“We know we can end homelessness in our country. If we continually shine a light on this issue and stand together, we can end it for good – because everyone deserves to have a place to call home.”

MAH patron Alan McGee said: “Britain rocked against the menace of racism in the 70s, now British bands are rocking against a modern scandal – homelessness. We won’t stop until it is eradicated.”

Guardian: How to be heard - the art of public speaking

Over the years, comedy scriptwriter Heidi Ellert-McDermott must have put thousands of words into mouths more famous than hers. But even she didn’t find it easy to stand up and make a speech at her own wedding.

“Even though I felt like I’d written a good one, I was still surprised on the day that I was nervous,” she recalls. “I suddenly found myself thinking, ‘Whoa, it’s my turn’ and the nerves overwhelmed me. It’s only now that I understand a few techniques people should use – and one of them is not alcohol.”

The Labour MP and former education minister Kevin Brennan doesn’t have the traditional background some might expect for a former president of the Oxford Union. The son of a steelworker and a school dinner lady, both of whom left school before 16, he was the first child from his school to get into Oxbridge. But as Brennan puts it, “Being from south Wales I was used to the idea that you should be able to orate, to speak, to use language to persuade people. And one thing I did feel going into that environment as a young man was that most of the people who went to university weren’t geniuses, but a lot of them had been imbued with a great degree of self-confidence, not always justified, by their educational backgrounds.”

He resolved, he says “never to let that group of people lord it over others because of that confidence”. What the union gave him was the chance to learn from the cream of guest speakers. Brennan still remembers the former Tory MP Matthew Parris giving a “brilliant” speech about being gay, without ever specifically mentioning that he was gay (this was after all the early 80s), and the formative experience of debating alongside Neil Kinnock: “I learned from him how to use a little bit of humour to make your point – Neil was very good at that – and something about the rhythms of speech. He was of that old-time, chapel-preacher-from-the-valleys tradition, brilliant at speaking without notes.”

Brennan taught for a while after graduating and introduced a debating club to the comprehensive he worked in. “What I tried to do was to say, ‘Yes, it’s important to be able to present your views on world peace or whatever, but actually what really matters is if someone challenges your views, can you defend them?’ Because that means you understand them.” It is this ability to confront and dismantle counter-arguments, rather than simply clinging to the line, that arguably distinguishes political sheep from goats.

You can read the column in full

Blog: A radical choice. I’m backing Mark Drakeford for Welsh Labour leader

Largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, the Labour government has been getting on with governing since 1999. I’m talking, of course, about Wales. And Welsh Labour has now started the race to find a new leader who will replace Carwyn Jones. There is a strong field including Health Secretary Vaughan Gething and former MEP and Lords member Eluned Morgan, but this is why I’m for Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Finance Minister and former Advisor to Rhodri Morgan.

We live in turbulent times. The ripples from the great crash of a decade ago still disturb the stability of our politics. Many people buffeted by the waves say it’s hard to see where we’re going. It’s a time when inspirational leadership is vital and yet so absent, from Donald Trump to Theresa May. In a small country of Wales, huge historic events like Brexit could swamp our politics, which is why we need great leadership now of all times.

What should we be looking for in a Labour leader for Wales at this time? We need someone  whose instincts are in line with the culturally socialist values of the people of Wales. Someone who can generate ideas for policies that will build the sort of society based on those instincts and explain those policies clearly. Someone who has the intellect, energy and skill to put those ideas into practice. We need a pragmatic socialist. We need someone who wants to do something rather than be something.

In many years of working closely with Mark I’ve seen these qualities. Both of us worked for the late great Rhodri Morgan. When I succeeded Rhodri in parliament and he became First Minister, it was Mark who came up with many of the ideas to help Rhodri pursue his ‘socialism of a Welsh stripe’, which saved Welsh devolution after a rocky start. Policies such as free prescriptions and bus passes opened up clear red water between Welsh Labour and New Labour.

When Mark succeeded Rhodri in the Assembly, he was soon brought into the Welsh government. He shone in all his roles as a minister, most recently representing us with great skill at the top table to get the best possible Brexit deal for Wales out of a hopeless Tory government.

Despite his wealth of experience, Mark is actually a radical choice for Welsh Labour leader because his administration will not be content to drift along. It will be brimming with ideas and initiatives. He has the imagination to make the most of what is possible for the Welsh Labour government even with an miserly Tory government holding the purse strings at UK level.

Mark nominated Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader but it would be wrong to see him as anyone’s representative. Mark is his own person and for him it is politics and policies that matter – not personalities. He and I share a constituency office. I’ve seen at close hand his energy, hard work and commitment. But perspiration without inspiration is just sweat, just as inspiration without perspiration is hot air.

Mark’s combination of hard work and idealism will open up a new aspiration for Wales going forward. Under his leadership, Welsh Labour can show that pragmatic, everyday, democratic socialism is a real alternative to the failed orthodoxy of austerity under the Tories, and make the rest of the UK take note.

I am backing Mark – I hope Welsh Labour members will too.

The biggest annual referendum of teenagers in the UK

Kevin Brennan is backing the Youth Parliament’s ‘Make Your Mark’ campaign which is the UK’s largest survey of young people’s views.

The annual ballot, which has taken place since 2011, contains 10 policies voted for by Members of Youth Parliament including ending period poverty, mental health in schools, tackling homelessness and adapting the curriculum.

The campaign will see Members of Youth Parliament and volunteers across the country, invite young people in schools and youth groups to take this opportunity to have their say and to inform and influence the Government and decision makers in their communities.

This year’s campaign, which is supported by the British Youth Council, is expected to reach hundreds of thousands of young people from across the UK. Last year, a total of 954,766 young people from every corner of the country took part.

Kira Lewis, a member of the Procedures Group, which coordinates the UK Youth Parliament said: “For the eighth time in history, UK Youth Parliament will give young people across the country the chance to declare which issues are a priority for them.

Following the campaign, priority issues will be brought to the attention of Government Ministers including Tracey Crouch MP, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society, who is due to attend the UK Youth Parliament’s House of Commons Sitting and will reply on behalf of the Government.

The Commons debate, which will take place on 9th November 2018, will be chaired by Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, who spoke at the UK Youth Parliament’s Annual Conference in Nottingham last month. After the debates, Members of Youth Parliament will walk through the division lobbies to vote on what should become their priority campaigns for 2019. In previous years, mental health, tackling racism and religious discrimination and a lower voting age have been prioritised.

Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “The Make Your Mark ballot is an excellent opportunity for millions of young people across the UK to celebrate the democratic process and make their voices heard.

“Last year, almost a million young people voted for the crucial motions to be debated by Members of Youth Parliament, and this year looks like it will be no different. I look forward to welcoming the Members of the Youth Parliament and presiding over some truly inspiring debates.”

Young people can take part in the consultation by visiting:

Wear it pink for cancer for Breast Cancer Now

Local MP, Kevin Brennan, is wearing pink to promote Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink day which is one of the biggest fundraising events in the UK.

The event is taking place on October 19 during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when thousands of amazing people will be wearing pink in their communities, schools or work places for the UK's largest breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Now.

If you would like to join thousands of other Breast Cancer Now supporters across the UK by wearing pink and raising money to make life-saving research happen.

To signup and receive your free fundraising pack., you can visit the link here.