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‘I’m not a slave to Westminster’: Tory MS talks to Nation.Cymru

11 Sep 2023 12 minute read
James Evans MS outside the Senedd,

Emily Price

On the first day back after the Senedd summer recess, Welsh Conservative MS, James Evans invited Nation.Cymru to a no holds barred one-to-one sit down interview.

We quizzed Mr Evans on a number of topics including whether he thinks Wales should get its fair share of HS2 funding, what he thinks of the Welsh Conservatives messaging in Wales and his future political ambitions. Here’s what he had to say…

According to recent polling support for your party in Wales has dropped to below 20%. What do you think the Welsh Conservatives need to do over the next two years in the run up to 2026 to change this?

I think the adversarial type of politics of blaming all the time doesn’t go well with the electorate. I tend to get asked by people all the time, ‘why can’t you all just work together, why don’t you stop arguing, why don’t you come up with an alternative vision’ and that’s something I think we need to work on.

We need to come up with a plan for how we will address issues with the health service, how we would improve educational outcomes, how we would improve the economy. When the Welsh Government come forward with their program for government we need to be able come forward after working with different think tanks, policy groups and industry experts to put forward an alternative view.

We are a party that is in power in Westminster and there is fallout to that and there is that knock on effect that people do look at the national issues. There needs to be that bit of clear blue water I think. Give Mark Drakeford his dues, he has done that with Welsh Labour, he’s made it individual and away from UK Labour.

I think the demographic of Wales is very different to the south of England or the north of England or Cornwall. We need to have policies in place that suit Wales because that’s the benefit of a devolved government – you can make policy for your electorate.

In 2021, after the Tories won a record number of seats, Andrew RT Davies said he was “excited about crafting that team into a formidable force” – do you think he’s been able to deliver on that?

I think Andrew has been very good. In the past, younger backbenchers tend to be sidelined and everything would be given to the more experienced members. Andrew was very clear that he wanted his new team to have a position. My own position as shadow mental health minister has given me the opportunity to question the First Minister about policy development and it’s given me the opportunity to grow. Andrew has brought all that experience together to say to the team, ‘go out there, forge your own way, have a go’.

Do you think all the culture war stuff that we see from the leader of the Welsh Conservatives on social media is appealing to Welsh voters?

Andrew controls his own Twitter, I can’t control what’s on his Twitter. I’ve got my own Twitter account and my own style. Sometimes, some of the stuff he puts out could be worded slightly differently, but Andrew has his way and he’s raising issues that I think people really care about. I don’t really want to get into the Tweets because it’s subject to an investigation and I don’t want to say anything that could jeopardise the findings of the Standards Commissioner on that.

Are you happy with the Welsh Conservatives messaging in Wales?

I’m happy with our messaging overall, I think we need to provide an alternative vision. Like with the 20mph limit, elements of the health service and how we address problems like the waiting lists. The shadow education minister will be coming out with some policies around education. I think collaboration on some issues is very important and we should join together and put the politics to one side to do this.

Polling suggests the Tories mainly appeal is to older voters. Is that a good thing?

I think we need a mix of electorate. There is a demographic that our party appeals to. We have a great opportunity in 2026 to provide a policy platform that encourages young people and helps them. House building is virtually non-existent in Wales and young people simply can’t afford a house now. We need good, high paid, skilled jobs within the Welsh economy to keep people here. We need to make educational institutions attractive. That’s what’s good about Horizon that its given opportunities to young people and encouraged them. We need to be able to say to young people that we can do these things, we’re keen to help working families and younger people, let’s create a party platform to do that. There’s a big gap in the political parties where they don’t appeal enough to younger people and there’s a big gap for the Welsh Conservatives to step in there.

Do you think more powers should be devolved to Wales?

It’s a conversation to be had in the future. If we were elected in 2026 we would look to ensure the powers we have here in Wales are being used properly and making the best of what we’ve got. Until the people of Wales can be assured that the powers we have can deliver fantastic public survives – I don’t think the argument is there at the moment to push more devolution to the Senedd. I don’t think the answer to the problems we face in the health service and education is devolving more matters to Wales, we need to get the bread and butter issues right then flow out from there. I don’t see how Welsh Labour’s fixation on more powers is going to fix the health service.  My constituents don’t say to me, ‘let’s devolve justice’ they ask, ‘how can I get my operation?’ or ‘how can I make sure my kids have a good education?’ That’s what’s important to my constituents – not devolution of justice or the Crown Estate.

Do you think St David’s Day should be made a bank holiday on Wales?

Yes. In other parts of the UK national holidays are given as bank holidays so I don’t see why we should be any different. It just makes sense to me. Colleagues in Westminster may have differing views for reasons I do not know, but it’s supported broadly by every party in the Senedd. If the Senedd asks for these things, I can’t see why Westminster wouldn’t want to give us that. I know there are elements to the cost to businesses but we could look at other bank holidays potentially and see which one we could swap for St David’s Day. Our national day is very important, it’s part of our culture and heritage.

Do you think Brexit was a success for Wales?

I think the people of Wales voted to leave the EU and you have to respect demographic mandates. As a politician sometimes you might not like the things that people do. I wasn’t happy that Labour got a majority at the last Senedd elections but that’s democracy and that’s what happened with Brexit. The people of Wales spoke and the Government in Westminster enacted that.

If things had been dealt with quicker and more easily rather than the circus there was in Westminster with leaving with no deal and going back and forth… I don’t think that helped business, I don’t think it helped heal wounds. I think personal ambitions in Westminster overtook the national interest. It would have been better to go out quicker, addressed problems, and we could have got to where we are now perhaps with the Windsor framework two or three years ago and not had this level of uncertainty. I have to give Rishi Sunak his dues, since he became Prime Minister there has been a change of attitude towards the UK within the EU.

Do you think people in Wales were misled over Brexit?

No. You could say that about every election, did the people of Wales think they were going to get 32 more politicians at the last election – that was hidden at the bottom of Welsh Labour’s manifesto. Did people think they would get 20mph speed limits? Did they think the health service was going to decline? People still voted Welsh Labour, were they misled? I don’t think so.

Are the Welsh Conservatives calling for Wales to be given their fair share of HS2 funding from the UK Government?

Yes and rightly so. These conversations are still ongoing between the Welsh Conservatives and the UK Government. Looking at Wales as a whole, HS2 doesn’t benefit all of Wales. We would like those Barnett consequentials given to Wales like they have been given to Scotland. That’s the fair way of doing it. I don’t think the line coming out of Westminster that HS2 will benefit Wales is washing with the Welsh public, it doesn’t wash with me, it doesn’t wash with my colleagues.

I’m not a slave to Westminster, I’m not a slave to my Westminster colleagues and if I think something is right for Wales I’m going to fight tooth and nail to make sure it comes here. Perhaps you should ask the Secretary of State for Wales this question because when I ask, it’s a blank ‘no’ at the moment.

How important is the Welsh language to you?

It’s very important, I’m learning Welsh, I’ve spoken Welsh in the chamber, it’s a part of our culture. I think the Welsh Conservatives haven’t been seen as the party for the Welsh language and we need to be seen to encourage and promote it more. We can’t forget we’re a bilingual nation, we need to give as many people as the possible the opportunity to learn the language to be part of the Welsh collective family. We need to support the Welsh Government in getting to one million Welsh speakers because it’s a great part of our heritage.

You opposed the Bannau Brycheiniog name change though didn’t you? Why was that?

I did. It’s been known as Bannau Brycheiniog since day dot, it’s always been bilingual. The issue I have is that my constituency is bilingual and just dropping one side of it didn’t feel right. It’s a nationally recognised brand and the sheer cost of changing everything will be massive. I don’t think there was enough consultation on it – I wasn’t consulted on it. I think if you’re going to change hearts and minds on things like this you need to take communities with you especially when there’s businesses with branding such as ‘Brecon Beacons Holiday Club’ it’s important those businesses are consulted. It was all done by the back door and sprung in a press release and I didn’t agree with that.

If the Welsh Conservatives were in power, what would they do to protect the Welsh language?

I think we need to see more schools in Wales becoming bilingual. I want to see more adult learners being given the opportunity to learn Welsh. I’m very lucky that the Senedd runs a scheme where Senedd members can learn Welsh and I’d like to see if something like that could be rolled out to other bodies. More young people need the chance to immerse themselves in the language and then the number of Welsh speakers will grow because if children speak Welsh, parents tend to try to learn it at home in order to help their children.

I think some of the things the Welsh Government has done on this have been good and positive – I don’t see the point in saying everything the Welsh Government does is bad. I think Jeremy Miles is doing a good job for the language and there’s no greater champion of the Welsh language than him. I don’t see the point in criticising when there’s no need to criticise – but that’s me.

Are you politically ambitious. Does that mean you would want to be an MP or do you have leadership ambitions here in Wales?

I have no ambition to be an MP. I think Welsh politicians who go to Westminster are going backwards. If you really want to have an impact for your constituents – the Senedd is where you need to be.

So does that mean you do have ambition for the Welsh Conservative leadership?

I think you have to be ambitious to go into politics and care about what you believe. My view has always been that if you do a good job then perhaps you can go to the next level. My ambition in the Senedd is to represent my constituents and help improve the lives of people in Wales. It would be a great honour if one day I could become a committee chair because that means you have respect of colleagues right across the Senedd. But I think you need to do your time first and learn the systems to get that respect. Andrew RT Davies has got the respect of his colleagues in abundance. Some Labour members don’t say it publicly but when you talk to them privately they all respect Andrew, he’s a good parliamentarian, he can work collectively with others, he’s been there a long time and understands how it works.

Are you saying that Labour ministers don’t publicly show support for Andrew RT Davies but behind closed doors they’re very supportive and respectful of him?

Everyone one is respectful of everyone behind closed doors. I know that certain ministers really get on with Andrew and I think he does a really good job representing the people of Wales. I think that ministers really respect how Andrew goes about his business. He asks very good questions in the Senedd and some ministers might not like it but good scrutiny is when ministers don’t like what their being asked.

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6 months ago

His strings are showing.

Doctor Trousers
6 months ago

aye but you’re still a tory

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

Not really radical James or in the David Melding, Johnathan Morgan, Glyn Davies or Johnathan Evans tradition…..but that wing of the pro Welsh thinking Tory, One Nation ( 🇬🇧🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿) tendancy got the boot around Brexit time 🥲…

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago

‘I am not a slave to Westminster’. What a huge poke in the eye to all those who voted him into Y Senedd who want him to be just that. He has a lot of explaining to do.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
6 months ago

Good to see some different viewpoints on Nation Cymru, rather than the usual ones (Plaid and occasionally Labour)…..far from a Tory myself, and not keen on James to be honest, but good to read his viewpoint!
The stage is here for them, so lets see other politicians use it to place articles here!
Da iawn James!

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