The image of Cardiff

March 15, 2002 ,

WHAT kind of image do MPs from outside Wales have of Cardiff? Those that have visited the Millennium Stadium for the FA Cup Final or the rugby realize that it is not a grey city of smokestacks, heavy industry, and dark satanic mills.

But even the ones who have been to Cardiff are surprised when I tell them that the largest manufacturer concern in Cardiff West employs less than 100 people.

The largest industrial employer used to be the Ely Paper Mill. Since it shut down after over 100 years of production, the site has been cleared and is now ready for redevelopment.

It is part of Ely, an area of some of the highest unemployment in Wales, where jobs are badly needed. But please, please, not another edge of town shopping centre. There is European money available for the area of the Paper mill to attract some businesses in new cleaner technologies, and train local people to be able to fill the jobs created.

There may have to be a few shops to make a scheme like this work, but please, not another Culverhouse Cross. We wouldn't tolerate the level of pollution caused by massive out-of-town shopping centres from a new factory, why should we tolerate it from the retail trade?

I am a member of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee. Our usual witnesses are top civil servants like Tony Blair's Cabinet Secretary, Whitchurch born, Sir Richard Wilson.
If the Sir Humphrey character from Yes Prime Minister was based on a real individual, then Sir Richard must have been the model. His careful civil service answers contain no trace of a ‘Kairdiff' accent.

But last week the singer-songwriter Billy Bragg appeared before us to discuss his pamphlet on the House of Lords. Ah, I thought, at last someone from the same generation and working class background as me, who was a teenager at the time of the Queen's last big jubilee, when punk rock was all the rage.

I was soon put in my place for wearing a suit: ‘You should come and see my audience, Kevin, they are about the same age and they do not look like you mate, no respect!'
Actually, I suspect a lot of them wear suits in their day jobs. But it did get me thinking about the image politicians project to young people.

I wear a suit because I don't want people to look at what I'm wearing, but to listen to what I'm saying I once attended a selection meeting where a lady told me that she hadn't voted for me because my shoes weren't polished properly!

But does Bragg have a point? Should politicians try and follow fashion? I think not.
Look what happened to William Hague when he wore his famous baseball cap; and it wasn't just Michael Foot who got in to trouble about what he wore in the presence of the Queen.

When Mrs. Thatcher was elected Britain's first woman Prime Minister, she wrote to the Queen to suggest that they didn't wear the same dress at events they both attended. Mrs. Thatcher received the perfect put-down from Buckingham Palace: ‘ The Queen never notices what anyone else is wearing', was the royal reply.

I think I'll stick to the suit.