Owain Glyndŵr’s rush into hiding after the war of independence sparked an agonising search for a successor. A melancholic people waited, stirring for half a millennium in search of a great figure – a statesman – to salvage the nation. Then, three came along at once.

Of those Greats during the twentieth century David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan were the stars, Jim Griffiths the understudy. After all, at the height of their powers Lloyd George was the Man Who Won the War and Bevan the father of the NHS. Their vision of Wales was different, formed by class, language, and geography, but both shook Britain to the core.

Griffiths may have been an architectural assistant to Bevan’s post-war policies but never held a top Cabinet brief. He was a powerful orator though not on par with the wild charisma of the Wizard and ferocity of Nye.

Yet it was not in Griffiths’ character to ache for affirmation. The other two were intoxicated by media acclaim and the trappings of political power.

But the ideological followers of Griffiths, Lord Morris of Aberavon chief among them, were long aghast that the first Secretary of State for Wales was barely a footnote in public life.

Meanwhile, a Merlin-like Lloyd George pontificates on a slab of marble opposite the Palace of Westminster. Nye is enshrined across Wales: in statue, name, thought.

A single bust of Griffiths was made in the 1960s by artist Robert Thomas but was long hidden away in Carmarthenshire. Finally, at a ceremony in the Senedd today, it will be brought to the heart of democracy for wider public view by the First Minister and Llywydd.

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Statues matter if nothing more than as a reflection of the nation we once were. And although as a teenager I would have preferred one of Griffiths in Llanelli now it is obvious that its home should be in the parliament of Wales.

Bevan and Griffiths were co-authors of the health service but out of all of Wales’ substantial figures – mainly liberals, socialists and nationalists – it is Griffiths that held the pen on devolution, a steady hand who realised long before others quipped it was a process, not an event.

It is a stain on Welsh Labour to have been so sycophantic over Bevan's celebrity at the expense of the more understated Griffiths.

 

Long before the current First Minister was scribbling ‘clear red water’ on a piece of paper, Griffiths had to convince colleagues that the establishment of the Welsh Office – Bevan among them – would elevate Wales beyond the imprint of a principality, help communities out of poverty, and give its people common purpose.

It was a terrible time, over years and years, that Griffiths had to argue for a Welsh voice at the Cabinet table. As this and Griffiths’ experience as deputy party leader, president of the Fed and Minister for the Colonies shows, he was a skilled (and patient) negotiator.

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A conciliatory and pragmatic man, liked by all and loathed by few, it was the approach that unlocked the devolution question in the 1950s. After the 1964 election, Harold Wilson asked for this now elder statesman respected by his people to become the first Welsh secretary.  

The Welsh Office was the first concrete step to self-government, a prelude to Griffiths’ dream for a national assembly he had become convinced was necessary to advance Wales both economically and politically.

He was obsessed with the mantra of guarding the ‘inheritance’ his generation had been gifted by socialists, liberals, and trade unionists – all Welshmen and women.

 

If he were here now, Griffiths would scoff at the UK Government in Wales as a shameful betrayal of this principle.

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Jim Griffiths has more in common with Mark Drakeford and Adam Price. It is they who carry his spirit on to better the people of Wales – leaders who understand the story, language and agony of the nation.

The shared cause of self-determination they promote tugs at the heartstrings as much as Lloyd George and Bevan’s reforms did last century.

And it is to Jim we owe thanks for that, and today’s self-governing parliament where his bust now sits.

It was for centuries only a pipe dream for those who longed for a return of Glyndŵr. He never came. But fortunately for Wales, Jim Griffiths did. 

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