Friday, March 27, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part LXXXIII: John Dixon

(John Dixon)
John Dixon (Borthlas):

Currently National Chair of Plaid Cymru, a post held since 2002, as well as in 1992/3. Have previously been National Treasurer, Vice Chair, Director of Organisation. I have fought a number of elections over the years and served as a councillor between 1976 and 1991. I fought Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the parliamentary election in 2005 and the Assembly election of 2007, when we were within 250 votes of taking the seat. We are planning to do better next time.*

What made you decide to start blogging?

My blog is unashamedly part of my campaigning tool kit as a candidate. It doesn't reach a massive audience - which blog does, other than the really big ones such as Iain Dale? But it does provide a platform for expressing views, and making a contribution to political debate. I'd also add that "Failure is the mother of all success". After a very close-fought Assembly election in 2007, where the first three candidates in this constituency all came within 1% of each other, it would be very strange not to be looking for any avenues which might help in some way to address the deficit. I also use the blog to speak to party members on some issues as well.

What is your best blogging experience?

Debating issues through the comments section. A lot of blog posts get read, but provoke no (discernible!) reaction; but occasionally one provokes a reasonable debate. Looking across the political blogosphere in general, it seem that it's often the most 'gossipy' posts which attract the most reaction, whilst there can be less debate around more serious issues. It's always nice to get some feedback in terms of real debate.

And your worst?

The opposite - provoking reactions from Nonnies who are simply abusive, and not interested in serious discussion.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

I think this one. I picked up on a story from one newspaper, did a little research on the local implications, and that in turn turned into a story in the Western Mail. It demonstrated the sort of symbiotic rather than competitive relationship which can exist between different media.

Favourite blogs?

I admit that I mostly read Welsh-focussed blogs; that after all is the main arena for my own political activity. Within my own party, I'd name Adam Price's blog. Adam shows an ability to float original and provocative ideas at times in a well-argued fashion. From political opponents, I always read Peter Black (Lib Dem) and Glyn Davies (Tory). For the Labour Party, I'd have to choose the various blogs produced at different times by Adam Higgitt - his latest offering being welshpoliticalhistory. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but it's a well-argued blog, and he's always up for a decent debate. Then the Welsh media blogs - Betsan Powys and Vaughan Roderick in particular. But also Tomos Livingstone; and a welcome return this week by David Cornock.

What inspired you to go into politics?

I started to take a serious interest in politics in the 1960's – as a result of what I would call the big issues of the time. The war in Vietnam , apartheid in South Africa , the campaign against nuclear armaments, the growing awareness of environmental issues. It sounds to some like a long route from there to being a Welsh nationalist; but actually it isn't. I'd describe it simply as 'acting at a human level' to respond to that sort of issue – a sort of 'Think Global, Act Local' approach to politics before that particular phrase became popular.

You sometimes talk on your blog about co-operation between Labour and Plaid. Where do you think co-operation between our two parties works best?

The nature of Welsh politics was changed fundamentally by the establishment of the National Assembly, and particularly by the fact that there is an element of proportional representation. The effect is that single party government is not impossible, but likely to be rare. In many ways, Plaid and Labour (well, traditional Labour, anyway) share some core values, and both claim to be heirs to elements of the Welsh radical tradition, although there are also some very serious areas of disagreement.

One result of that appeal to a common tradition is that we are competing for the same vote in many parts of Wales – and competing pretty ferociously at times. Add to that the way in which Labour's traditional hegemony in Wales was undermined by the new voting system (although paradoxically, it was Labour who introduced it!), and the result is a situation where partnership working is essential, but not necessarily welcomed by all.

To return, eventually, to the question, I think the partnership can work best on issues where the core values of the two parties are most in tune, and where both parties are able and willing to stick to those core values. As simplistic examples, co-operation on the Health Service has worked very well; both parties in the Assembly have been willing to invest in the service, both believe in treatment being free at the point of need, and both have rejected the use of PFI. On all those questions, there is a clear line also between the governing parties and the official opposition. On education, on the other hand, there has been much more difficulty, with Plaid committed to free tuition and the eradication of student debt and Labour following the Blairite agenda of increased tuition fees.

To a tourist visiting Carmarthen , is there anywhere in the area you would recommend?

Are all tourists interested in the same sort of attraction? Depends on whether the tourist wants beaches, castles or whatever. My own favourite would be the National Botanic Garden at Llanarthne, which suffers only one disadvantage that I can see – it's in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency rather than this one…

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Plenty of places - how long have you got? If I had to try and narrow it down, it would probably come down to a choice between one of nature's marvels, such as the Grand Canyon, or one of man's, such as the Great Wall of China.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

Part of me says, yes, almost all of them; and another says no, not with so many unvisited places still to see. I'll plump for no.

Who do you regard as the best Plaid Cymru leader, and, if possible, the best British Prime Minister?

The best Plaid leader if I have to choose only those who've actually held the formal position of leader would have to be a toss-up between Gwynfor Evans, who led the party through a long period in the wilderness but always kept the faith, and Dafydd Wigley who was at the helm at the time of our biggest breakthrough. But if I can extend the definition to include all those who've been in a leadership role, it would have to be Phil Williams, a man of outstanding ability, often years ahead of his time in his thinking, and the one who inspired me more than any other in the party (sorry Dafydd and Gwynfor!).

The best British Prime Minister is harder. Clement Attlee had a defining role in re-inventing Britain after the Second World War and introducing many progressive changes; but David Lloyd George took a similar role after the First World War, and in many ways, his policies were even more of a break with the past. He was more flawed as an individual perhaps – and in many ways, more of a disappointment to a nationalist in that he did not deliver on the constitutional position of Wales , but of the two, I think Lloyd George was the greater.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Back to Dr Phil, I'm afraid.

Favourite Bond movie?

Probably the spoof version of Casino Royale.

Favourite Doctor Who?

William Hartnell was the only one who actually looked as though he might be 900 years old, and the original always colours the perception of what follows, but I do think that David Tennant has been an outstanding Dr Who.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

Mint, definitely, as long as we're talking ice-cream.

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Fleetwood Mac – but with the line-up from the 1960's around the time of Albatross, Man of the World etc.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford , Cambridge , or Barsby, Leics..?

On the basis that I'd never heard of it before getting these questions, it would have to be Barsby. Don't know how long I'd stay though, so might want to be sure of visiting other places in the same general area to fill the weekend…

Favourite national newspaper?

A trick question: is 'national' referring to Wales or the UK ? If the former (which is the natural way for me to interpret the question), then the choice is very limited… If the latter, then the 'Independent'.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Outside political activity, I spend more time in the garden than anywhere else; there's something deeply satisfying about home grown fruit and vegetables.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books
(Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

I read a lot of Marx when I was in school many years ago - pretty turgid stuff. It helped me to establish that I'm not a Marxist, but 'The Poverty of Philosophy' was definitely a major influence then and since. The concept that theory is useless without action meant that I could never become a purely armchair politician, however attractive that might have looked. I used to read a lot of science fiction – Arthur C Clarke's 'The City and the Stars' is one of the few books of fiction that I've ever re-read. And then back to influences on political philosophy, perhaps Tawney's 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism'. But there are so many more that I could have chosen…

Songs is a much harder question to answer – I don't really listen to a lot of music. 'Crossroads' by Don Mclean is one which long haunted me in my youth ('All roads lead to where we stand'), and 'Yesterday' by the Beatles brings back some very personal memories. I'll add a hymn for good measure – 'These things shall be'. The idea that we can be guided by "flame of freedom in their hearts, and light of science in their eyes" has always struck me as being an aspiration worth working towards.

*Brief bio taken from John Dixon's blog at his suggestion

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