Conservatives need to ‘appeal to Welsh national sentiment’ to win in Wales, academic study finds
The Welsh Conservatives can’t win in Wales unless they begin to “appeal to Welsh national sentiment” an academic study has argued.
The study published in Parliamentary Affairs found that the Conservatives appealed primarily to those with a strong British identity at the 2021 Senedd election, but these voters did not make up a large enough share of the population to win the election.
The study said that the “Conservatives do very poorly among strong Welsh/weak British identifiers and far better among strong British/weak Welsh voters”.
“The Conservatives in Wales cannot currently win the support of voters who consider themselves primarily or exclusively Welsh,” it said.
As a result “national identity attachments act as a ceiling that drastically limits the gains that the opposition parties can expect to make at devolved elections”.
The study was carried out by Jac M Larner, Richard Wyn Jones, Daniel Wincott and Ed Gareth Poole of Cardiff University, and Paula Surridge of the University of Bristol.
The study said that the Conservatives had found itself appealing mainly to strong British identifiers partly by its “withering criticism” of any deviation by the Welsh Government from the UK Government’s Covid-19 response.
This perception had been strengthened by the Welsh Conservatives’ support for the UK government’s efforts to bypass the Welsh Government with the ‘levelling up’ fund.
“Wrapping themselves both metaphorically and literally in the Union Jack flag while presenting themselves as the only party that genuinely cares about the Union; claiming throughout the pandemic that everything was being better managed in England: the current crop of Welsh Conservatives have abandoned both the symbolism and the substance of the party’s previous efforts to appear more wholeheartedly Welsh,” the paper says.
“There’s clearly an audience for this. The problem for the Welsh Conservatives is that, given the demographics that underpin voting behaviour in Wales, that audience is unlikely ever to be large enough to allow the party to come anywhere close to being able to govern alone.
“Moreover, by cheering on the UK Government efforts to undermine devolution, the party also ensures that it is unacceptable as a coalition partner.
“The question for the party is, therefore, does it continue in the same vein, hoping that some combination of attrition and demographic change will serve to fundamentally alter its electoral prospect? Or can it yet conceive of another approach?”
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