The Assembly election campaign has begun on a sad note. Within hours of the dissolution of the Third Assembly at midnight last night, comes news that its most colourful member, Brynle Williams, has died.
It’s often observed that many politicians don’t have much of what Denis Healy called a hinterland, a life beyond politics and more experience to offer than time as a political researcher or local councillor.
Brynle Williams had plenty of hinterland. A farmer from Cilcain in Flintshire, he was a true countryman and a proud Welshman; he was the first Conservative AM to regularly speak in Welsh in the Senedd. He became involved in politics through two protests, first against the importation of beef through Holyhead and then famously as a leading figure in the 2000 fuel protests, organising the picket at the Stanlow oil refinery in Cheshire.
It wasn’t always appreciated that he was actually moderating influence, not a hothead but someone who could see the bigger political picture and knew when it was time to stop a protest as well as when to start one. The fuel protests briefly gave the Conservatives their first lead in the polls of the Blair era and so it was not surprising that Brynle was picked as the Tory candidate in Clwyd West in the 2003 Assembly election.
He didn’t win that seat but more surprisingly had been placed second on the north Wales regional list, ousting his fellow Holyhead protester, Peter Rogers. Brynle was duly returned and so began his eight years as an AM. He mostly stuck to what he knew about, usually speaking on farming matters, often as his party’s agriculture spokesman. He was a popular figure with his fellow AMs, straight-talking, honest and without malice.
He had one early disappointment, when his party couldn’t spare him from the Assembly to travel to Australia to judge Welsh cobs at an agricultural show. Certainly when he was made chief judge of the cobs at the Royal Welsh Show, Brynle left no-one in any doubt that this was the highlight of his year and not anything that had happened in politics.
Ill health meant his colourful presence was sometimes missing during his second term in the Assembly. His absence was always noted with regret and today’s tributes from other politicians are undoubtedly sincere. I particularly enjoyed Kirsty Willams tale about she and her husband bumping into Brynle and his wife on Saint Valentine’s Day.
Brynle Williams was 62.