Keeping the focus on Wales
Wales goes to the polls in May to choose a Welsh Assembly. We asked Evening Post columnist and public affairs specialist Lawrence Bailey to sketch out the state of the parties, their policies and how they might fare.
Today he puts the Welsh CONSERVATIVES under the spotlight.
The Conservatives are the unexpected success story of the Assembly. They’ve made slow but continual progress over the years through cleverly focused campaigning. This approach paid off at the last election when they became the official opposition, pushing Plaid Cymru into third spot.
Andrew RT Davies will doubtlessly be hoping that electors regard his party as doing an effective job in scrutinising how the money gets spent and holding the Labour ministers at Cardiff Bay to account.
Unfortunately for him, internal divisions over Europe, cabinet resignations at Westminster and a possible end of steel-making in Wales could hinder Conservative efforts in getting their distinctly Welsh message across to voters.
“Welsh Conservatives have a clear plan to secure real change and we’re ready to turn Wales from red to blue.”
Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative leader
Welshness in the key for Conservative campaign
Welsh Conservatives defy political gravity. Their party in Westminster has recently implemented the most sweeping range of austerity measures seen in a generation. Yet here in Wales where the impact on public services is keenly felt, the party still retains around 22% support – equal to Plaid Cymru.
Just a few weeks ago, the tories were tipped to remain as official opposition in the Senedd. That projection has since been downplayed a little but could later prove accurate if polling methodology turns out be as erratic as in the past.
Conservatives seeking credibility in Wales have previously struggled with an unwelcome legacy, namely a succession of English incomers holding the office of Welsh Secretary. The most notorious of these was John Redwood who once famously mimed the national anthem.
The mechanics of devolution has seen substantial changes since the man nick-named “the Vulcan” held sway. It not only provided Conservatives with political opportunities to live long and prosper but also added five seats to their original 1999 total.
Andrew RT Davies, who assumed party leadership in 2011, has been keen to foster a distinctive brand of Welsh Conservatism. His robust demeanour has occasionally put him at odds with the Welsh Office and Downing Street but seldom to anyone’s particular detriment.
Of the troublesome quartet of dissenting tory AMs he sent to Siberia for opposing him over taxation policy, two have since gone on to become members of Parliament.
The Conservative manifesto has a goodly spread of policy highlights with a predictable emphasis on health, including proposals that guarantee more investment each and every year.
There’s also positive stuff on business and education, although scrapping tuition fee support altogether may not go down with middle income families.
Campaigning on the doorstep tends to follow the national model, that is, everything is bad and it’s all Labour’s fault.
It’s a workable enough way of making people think twice about voting Labour. It’s less effective in getting them to vote Conservative instead.
Tactics are refined accordingly, especially in targeted seats, where engagement with voters involves small brushstrokes rather than the big picture.
As the general election result in Gower demonstrated, it’s an effective way of enticing shy tories into the polling booths.
They will need a few such tricks up their sleeves next month. Figures published in the 2016 Welsh Election Study, overseen by Prof Roger Scully of Cardiff University, shows Welsh Conservatives suffering a net loss of seats.
It’s estimated that four of the eight regional seats they presently hold could go to UKIP.
The Conservatives quite enjoy being the official opposition in the Senedd. They’re not bad at it either. Whether a UKIP presence will help or hinder that particular role remains to be seen. As it is, there are other factors.
As former tory PM Harold Macmillan is purported to have once admitted, “events” can blow governments off course. At the moment, Conservatives are experiencing more than their fair share.
This may be the fifth time that Welsh electors will go to the polls to decide who runs things in Cardiff Bay, but it is still Westminster that grabs the electorate’s attention.