As a Welshman St David’s Day has been an occasion to be marked all my life. But for the last quarter century I’ve celebrated my home country’s national day as a resident of England. This morning began with a walk through Victoria Tower gardens, bathed in sunshine, with daffodils already open among the trees.
The Liberal Democrats had a lunchtime reception in the Jubilee Room off Westminster Hall. While Lord Thomas of Gresford played the harp the rest of us ate Caerphilly cheese washed down with wine from a little further afield. The tunes reminded me of numerous eisteddfodae while at school and the weekly Welsh language assemblies. The three Williamses were present – Roger for Brecon and Radnor as well as Mark for Ceredigion. Mark and I have done reverse journeys. He is English but represents the constituency that includes his alma mata Aberystwyth. I crossed the border in the opposite direction and am proud to represent my university and adopted home city of Bristol.
I am by no means the first Welshman to represent Bristol in Parliament. The city has had strong trading and cultural links with Wales since medieval times. Several MPs from the medieval era through to modern times have had Welsh origins. In the 1920s Bristol South was represented by Sir William Beddoe Rees. But he was better known for being the celebrated architect of many Welsh chapels than for his contribution to Bristol politics!
The links between Bristol and Wales in the 21st century are stronger than ever. Every day thousands of people criss-cross the border by rail or over the Severn bridges to work in Cardiff or Bristol or the office parks on the M4/M5 interchange. I talk often about the economic powerhouse of the Bristol City Region, with the highest GDP outside London. But the Severnside economy is also growing in importance. Last year I was pleased to speak at the launch in Westminster of a partnership between Bristol and Cardiff to campaign for things that benefit both cities. (see my Facebook profile picture!) The first tangible result was the lobbying of the Department of Transport to electrify the rail main line from Paddington to Bristol…along which I am travelling while typing this blog.
The links between Bristol and Cardiff will surely strengthen. For instance, while I lamented the BBC’s decision to transfer the production of ‘Casualty’ from Bristol to Cardiff, there is now a growing concentration of broadcast media and film making straddling the Severn. For fans of revamped period drama ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, you will notice that while it is produced by BBC Cymru Wales many of the outside scenes are shot in my Bristol West constituency. There is a great opportunity for the Bristol and Cardiff city regions to become world centres for factual and drama production.
So tonight, whether you are in Wales or part of the Welsh diaspora all over the world, toast the homeland and celebrate the huge contribution made by the smallest nation of the British family.