Welsh war of words with the English turns nasty

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Among the fruit stands and butchers of the bustling indoor market in Cardiff, a small stall was doing a steady trade in Welsh souvenirs - postcards,T-shirts and fridge magnets in the shape of sheep.

Among the fruit stands and butchers of the bustling indoor market in Cardiff, a small stall was doing a steady trade in Welsh souvenirs - postcards,T-shirts and fridge magnets in the shape of sheep.

Among the most eye-catching were two shirts, each with a rugby theme and slogan. One read: "I support two teams - Wales and whoever is playing England". The other was much ruder. Both, apparently, are good sellers.

Having a go at the English is nothing new in Wales - particularly where rugby is involved. In 1977, prior to their encounter with England at Cardiff Arms Park, the Welsh skipper, Phil Bennett, prepared his team by saying: "Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They have taken our coal, our water, our steel. We have been exploited, raped and punished by the English." It worked - Wales won 14-9.

But evidence suggests the prevalence of anti-English feeling in Wales may be growing and taking on a much darker edge, far removed from the two-way banter always associated with the Principality.

Naz Malik, chairman of Swansea Bay Race Equality Council, said this week that for the first time he had received complaints from a number of English people about racism. One complaint came from a married couple, William and Violet Sheppard, aged 78 and 75, detailing 17 years of harassment and abuse.

"You would not believe what we have had to endure," said Mr Sheppard, originally from Kent and now living in Cwmllynfell, near Neath. "Broken windows, slashed tyres, rumours about me. They even tried to burn us out of our house. Our house is up for sale, but no one wants to come here. We have tried everything."

Other complaints have come from local authority employees. Mr Malik intends to take the matter up with South Wales police. "The English who are on the wrong end of this banter and abuse do not like it at all and feel very uncomfortable with the situation," he said.

"I have been telephoned by three officers working for Welsh councils who have complained of discrimination.

"This is the first time we have received such complaints from the English. We need to be mindful that this problem is not increasing. We need to be concerned. There needs to be more research into the matter."

Mr Malik received the letters after the issue of anti-English discrimination was raised by controversy at BBC Wales. It is alleged that two female employees, one English, the other of Asian ethnicity, complained ofracist attitudes. And earlier this year, an award-winning broadcaster, Ian Skidmore, claimed that he was forced out of his job at BBC Wales because of his Englishness.

While the Commission for Racial Equality in Wales said yesterday that it had received two complaints from staff at the BBC, the corporation said there had only been one complaint - and that it had been dealt with satisfactorily last year. Mr Skidmore's claim was also denied.

A spokeswoman for the corporation said: "The BBC is committed to diversity and we are proud of the range of voices that can be heard on Radio Wales."

Judging the extent of anti-English discrimination is difficult. Most people agree that it is there to a degree - especially in rural areas of mid and north Wales - but others claim that the Welsh have long suffered at the hands, mouths and pens of the English.

While few feel as strongly as the Meibion Glyndwyr cottage burners who destroyed English-owned holiday homes in the late Seventies and Eighties, any self-respecting Welsh person can reel off a list of offences committed by the English. These range from the politically motivated hanging of the Merthyr rioter Dic Penderyn in 1831 to holding the 1980 Miss Wales contest in Bristol.

David Adamson, senior sociology lecturer at the University of Glamorgan and author of Class, Ideology and the Nation, said: "There are long historical reasons for these feelings. Many people feel it came to a head in the Nineties when John Redwood was Secretary of State [for Wales]. One of the phrases that is often used is reactive nationalism."

The Welsh broadcaster and writer Mario Basini said: "There is a fair degree of arrogance among the English in as far as English people move to Wales and act as though it is an extension of their country. It's not - there are different attitudes, culture and a language. My concern is that if we are bothering the race equality people with this, we will take the importance away from real discrimination based on religion and colour."

However, the Welsh establishment seems niggled by the allegation of discrimination - possibly because of the timing. After decades of under-representation and cultural stagnation, Wales is emerging revived and, through the National Assembly, with a degree of political empowerment. Cardiff's new Millennium Stadium is just one symbol of this transformation. In this new position, Mr Basini believes it is time for Wales to reconsider its relationship with England.

The First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, who earlier this week told Jeremy Vine on the BBC's Newsnight programme that the Welsh were no longer bothered by the opinions of "Hampstead dinner parties", said there was a new sense of confidence thanks to the Assembly.

"I am quite surprised by this flurry of stories relating to discrimination against the English," he said. "I hope I have not added to it, but if people sneer at Wales they will find people react quite strongly to it."

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