Byline: Mario Basini
JUST about anything can and does happen in Merthyr Tydfil. In the town's long history it has contained some of the best and the worst aspects of humanity. It has produced great artists, writers and historians and more than its fair share of thieves, cutthroats and pimps. As the greatest ironmaking centre in the world for much of the 19th Century, it became a bastion of free-enterprise capitalism. It also produced insurrections, which came close to destroying that capitalism and triggering general revolution.
The Merthyr Rising of 1831 produced Wales's first working class martyr, Dic Penderyn. And it was the first time the red flag was used as a symbol of that working class.
Great intellects in the town have sustained both the Welsh and the English language cultures of Wales.
But little in Merthyr's rich past could have produced the headlines that have dominated our newspapers this week. An administrative blunder over the introduction of a highly desirable code of conduct for local authority members has led to the disqualification of all 33 of the councillors.
The town's put-upon inhabitants are now without a local authority.
It is easy to treat all this as farce. That was the reaction of the woman interviewed on the town's streets who merely shrugged her shoulders and said, "It's the Merthyr Council. What else do you expect?" But the situation contains a greater potential for tragedy than it does for comedy. The suggestion that it could take a fresh election costing pounds 30,000 to put the matter right would not have put much of a smile on the faces of the ratepayers.
Those of us who were born and brought up in the town have been used to treating our councillors as the butts of jokes, which mask our exasperation at their shortcomings. They have been many: the provision of local authority housing, for example. All the clearance of the town's huge stock of substandard housing seems to have produced are sprawling housing estates plagued by persistent social problems or flats which became slums in a fraction of the time it took the 19th Century homes they …