Brynle Williams: Farmer who became a fuel protest leader and popular Welsh Assembly member
Thursday 07 April 2011
The farmer Brynle Williams shot to public prominence in 2000 when he was among those who led protests at the gates of the Stanlow oil refinery at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. The week-long blockades in which road hauliers and others demonstrated against escalating petrol prices that were ruining their businesses brought the country to a standstill and challenged the economic policies of the Labour government of the day. He was proud that the demonstrations, though raucous, had not turned violent, and he advocated such direct action as a means of making a political point. "The aim of our protests," he said, "was to bring to Tony Blair's attention that all was not well in the countryside."
He admitted privately that before 2000 he had never seen himself as a politician or even as someone who would ever stride upon a public stage, but as a Member of the National Assembly in Cardiff he was often in the news on account of his forthright opinions. He had been thrust into the limelight, he thought, because he cared passionately about issues that impacted upon his livelihood as a farmer and cattle breeder and because, unlike some politicians, he was prepared to speak up and take action on behalf of the farming industry.
The protest at Stanlow was not the first in which Brynle Williams had been involved. He had also taken part in demonstrations against the importation of beef from Ireland in 1997, when 40 tons of meat were thrown into the sea at Holyhead. But it was the fury of the televised scenes in Ellesmere Port and the masterly way in which he acted as spokesman for his fellow protesters which made his name as a farmers' leader. It seemed inevitable that he would be persuaded to stand for public office.
Born at Cilcain near Mold in Flintshire in 1949, he had begun working on the land at the age of 15 and, after studying at the Welsh College of Horticulture in Northop, spent the rest of his life at Cefn Melyn, the farm where he and his wife Mary raised sheep and cattle. He made his name as a beef producer and as a breeder and judge of Welsh ponies and cobs. The delight of his life was in the showing of these beautiful creatures, both at home and abroad, and he was often to be seen winning rosettes in the ring at the Royal Welsh Show or, natty in a bowler hat, judging the entries of others.
First elected to the National Assembly in 2003, he won a regional seat for the Conservatives again in 2007 and was hoping to return to political life when the Fourth Assembly, rejuvenated for having been given law-making powers by the people of Wales, is convened after the elections on 5 May. He chaired the North Wales Regional Committee during the First Assembly of 1999-2003 and also sat on the Sustainability, Local Government, Rural Development and Standards of Conduct Committees.
His transparent honesty made him many friends in political circles. His ruddy complexion, large frame and earthy manner were in contrast with the sleeker, sharper-suited politicos now to be seen in Cardiff Bay. Although he had made his name with his outspoken responses to journalists' questions during the fuel protests, he was, as it turned out, no rabble-rouser and there was nothing of the rantipole about him. His Welsh was rich in idiom redolent of the Clwydian hills and he listed the language as one of the causes in which he had a special interest as an Assembly Member. It was his amiable nature that always came to the fore when he got to his feet.
His speeches in the chamber were not much given to rhetoric or point-scoring but had a certain bluntness in their homely turn of phrase that many found refreshing, even charming. Some of his fellow AMs have said they will miss his larger-than-life presence in the Senedd, as the Assembly is generally known, especially his singing and whistling in the corridors and his infectious sense of humour in debates.
Brynle Williams was, by common assent, an honest man speaking up for the rural communities of Wales of which he was such a splendid representative and in whose way of life he believed passionately. As Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs from 2007 to 2011, he had an excellent working relationship with Elin Jones, the more politically experienced Plaid Cymru Minister, each holding the other in high regard. We have it on the good authority of Betsan Powys, the BBC Wales political editor, that he was the only AM who would dare wink at female journalists in the press gallery.
Among the many posts he held in the agricultural community was the chair of the Flintshire branch of the Farmers' Union of Wales, to which he devoted a great deal of his time and energies. He also served as a member of the Council of the Royal Welsh Show and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society.
The affection in which he was held by Welsh Conservatives and political opponents alike was borne out by the many tributes paid by such prominent figures as Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly in its most recent incarnation, Carwyn Jones the Labour First Minister, Nick Bourne the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, and Ieuan Wyn Jones the Plaid Cymru Deputy First Minister, who called him "a thoroughly honourable and decent man".
Brynle Williams, farmer, fuel protester and Conservative Member of the National Assembly of Wales; born Cilcain, Flintshire 9 January 1949; married (one son, one daughter); died Wrexham 1 April 2011.
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