Why Ffion is marrying badly

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The Independent Online
When Ffion, daughter of "Jenkins the Arts", walks up the aisle this week to marry William Hague, the eyes of the Welsh "Crachach" will be on her.

Mr Hague may be leader of the Conservative Party, a potential prime minister and a former Welsh secretary, but as far as the Crachach - the powerful but unelected elite which dominates the arts, media, culture, and professions in Wales - it is not a good enough pedigree to get him membership of their exclusive circle.

But marriage to Ffion will help. Miss Jenkins's father Emyr, who will give her away, is boss of the Welsh Arts Council, and la creme de la creme of the Welsh establishment.

While this Welsh-speaking caste, said to be still salivating over the arrival of a Welsh Assembly, watch the wedding in the crypt of the House of Commons, with a Welsh Methodist minister officiating, others will view such a gathering with disdain. The Crachach members are not without their critics, many of whom claim they are promoting Welsh-language culture at the expense of the Principality's equally important English-language tradition.

Wales's leading filmmaker, the award-winning Karl Francis, says Wales now has an Indian-style caste system with English-only speakers in the role of the untouchables, while the Welsh language dominates despite being spoken by a minority.

"It's like working in Hollywood and being told all your films have to be made in Apache," he said. "The Welsh-speaking mafia exclude English- speaking Welsh people: they don't want us in Wales. The Welsh-speaking mafia regards the culture heritage as being its own property."

The Crachach is not to be confused with the Taffia. While the Taffia grab power, the Crachach assumes it. For the past 20 years Conservative appointees to quangos - the so-called "white settlers" with second homes in the Usk valley - thought they ran Wales, but in reality it was the Crachach who occupied the top jobs in these agencies and councils, and who were the real power brokers.

"Don't mention my name, Arts Council grant pending and all that, but the Crachach as we know it has really been built up over the last 30 to 40 years when the establishment of Wales has gravitated to Cardiff. It's a ruling elite, a lot of whom are related. When it comes to networking they make the Masons look like inadequates," said a Welsh poet.

The Crachach are almost all based in Cardiff, some with ancestral homes (it sounds better than second homes) in more rural parts of Wales. Welsh- speaking is obligatory, as are "Welsh medium schools" for their children. Aberystwyth and Jesus College, Oxford, are the preferred universities, and attending Welsh National Opera opening nights is de rigueur. Being seen at Welsh rugby internationals in debenture seats or enjoying corporate hospitality is a must too.

The National Eisteddfod - not to be confused with lesser local events - is one of the social occasions of the year. Support of the Arts Council is essential, and Welsh-language letterheads and Christmas cards are a must. If they watch television, the Crachach will only look at S4C, or the news on HTV or BBC Wales. By watching S4C they are able to keep in touch with family and friends who have almost always either made the programmes or appear on them.

The word Crachach dates back to the origins of the Welsh language but its meaning has changed over the years.

"It used to mean scabby and was a term of contempt. Around the 12th century it meant contemptibility and dwarfish, but more recently it came to mean gentry, upstarts, snobs. At one time it meant anyone who was better off than you - if someone had an inside toilet and you didn't, they were crachach. Now it means a ruling elite. But don't use my name, I've got to work with this lot," said one academic.

According to observers of the Crachach, the Jenkins family are in the upper echelons of the caste. "Welsh-speaking Emyr from North Wales, goes to Aberystwyth, then to the BBC, then the Eisteddfod, then to the Arts Council in Cardiff, married a Welsh educationalist, children at Welsh medium school, then off to university, it's all blue-blooded Crachach stuff," said one media executive.

Cardiff MP Rhodri Morgan agrees that Ffion is a classic member of the caste. "As far as the Crachach are concerned, she's marrying a commoner. By going to Jesus and Aberystwyth she has the Crachach equivalent of a double first," he said.

For some, the Crachach represents a welcome home-grown alternative to domination by the English. For many others, including Karl Francis, it symbolises repression of Wales's English-language culture.

"The tragedy is that it means that we will have no English-language culture and it is being killed off by Welsh speakers who feel threatened."

For ever after: Section 2, page 7