May 17, 2002 ,

YOU find the Welsh in the strangest of places. When I went with my family for a short break to Amsterdam during half term we visited Anne Frank's house.

There, in the bedroom which was her prison during the Nazi occupation, was a faded picture of the Hollywood matinee idol Ray Milland, clipped by Anne from a film star magazine and pinned to her wall. The boy from Neath who once worked as a shop assistant in Howells in Cardiff had been the means for her to escape the surroundings which confined her body but not her imagination.

The Welsh diaspora (or maybe it should be Dai-aspora) has exercised, and still exercises, a big influence over politics too. The American Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men, a third of whom were of Welsh descent, including Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

In the House of Commons too there is a significant Welsh diaspora. Dari Taylor, the Labour MP for Stockton South, is a Welsh speaker who was born Daria Jones in Ynyshir in the Rhondda.
Gwyn Prosser, who sits for Dover, is a Swansea man, and Bridgend's own Gareth Thomas, now representing Harrow West, is often to be found at Deere Park supporting London Welsh.

Bruce George, the influential Chair of the Defence Select Committee, was born in Mountain Ash.

It's not just Labour MPs that have a Welsh background. Cheryl Gillan, the Conservative Member for Chesham and Amersham, was born in Cardiff. Indeedsome of the big beasts of the Thatcher regime were Welsh, including her political assassins Geoffrey Howe (Port Talbot) and Michael Heseltine (Swansea). Kenneth Baker, her Education Secretary, was born in Newport and it is said of Michael Howard by Rhodri Morgan that, like the Loughor estuary in his native Llanelli, he was an ‘inch deep and a mile wide at the mouth'.

Neither are the Liberals exempt. Simon Hughes, the Bermondsey MP and Home Affairs Spokesman, went to the Cathedral School in my own constituency before continuing his private education in Brecon. Alan Beith, Liberal MP for Berwick, is not Welsh, but has somehow acquired the ability to speak very good Welsh.

There is not room to list all the Welsh in Parliament, but I should mention Ann Keen, MP for Brentford, who was born Ann Lloyd in Buckley in Clwyd and is Gordon Brown's assistant in the Commons. Her sister, Sylvia Heal, is Deputy Speaker of the house.

I chatted with Sylvia this week at a reception for some wonderful young musicians from Caerphilly in the Speaker's House. There on the wall was another Welsh reference.

It was the shield of one of my Cardiff West predecessors, George Thomas who, of course, was Speaker under Mrs. Thatcher. On his shield was a motto in Welsh, ‘Bid ben, bid bont'; meaning ‘he who would be a leader let him be a bridge'.

‘Does that mean you have to let people walk all over you?' observed Sylvia, showing that however far they travel the Welsh never lose their sense of humour.