Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

A trickle of blue water won’t be enough to solve the Welsh Conservatives’ identity problem

20 May 2022 5 minute read
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies gives the thumbs up. Picture by Andrew RT Davies / Twitter

Ifan Morgan Jones

The ‘clear red water’ speech delivered by former First Minister Rhodri Morgan in 2002 has become so famous within Welsh politics that to invoke it has almost become something of a cliche.

That speech, co-written by incumbent leader Mark Drakeford, has however been the bedrock of Welsh Labour’s electoral success in Wales over the last 20 years.

After the shock first election in 1999 which saw Plaid Cymru win 17 seats, it allowed Labour to distinguish itself from a Labour government in Westminster by adopting its own distinct Welsh brand.

This morning at the Welsh Conservative conference the leader Andrew RT Davies attempted to conjure a little bit of ‘clear blue water’ between his Senedd group and the party centrally.

Andrew RT Davies clearly conceded that the party has an identity problem, although he would do so only grudgingly. He pointed a finger in the direction of the “usual suspects among the cultural, academic and political elites in Cardiff” who “say the Welsh Conservatives are anti-Welsh”.

But it has been the public at elections, not easily scapegoated political experts, that have delivered this verdict.

After gaining ground at the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives saw middling results at last year’s Senedd elections and then went backwards at this month’s local elections, losing almost half their seats and their only council.

As quantitative research by Cardiff University has shown, the Welsh Conservatives overwhelmingly get the votes of those who consider themselves British, but the more Welsh people feel the less likely they are to vote for them.

There just aren’t enough British-only identifiers to put them over the top. The research concluded that they needed to better “appeal to Welsh national sentiment” in order to win.

Defining

However, if Andrew RT Davies’ intention was to begin to create this ‘clear blue water’ then he could only manage to produce a trickle of it.

Offering his party’s support for Wales to get its fair share of rail infrastructure spending, and a St David’s Day bank holiday, was rather thin gruel.

It’s worth noting that he wasn’t even offering to deliver these things – despite his party being in power at Westminster – just a change of the Senedd group’s official policy.

The only other change was rhetorical and metaphorical – saying they needed to “pull on a red jersey” and have a “unique voice”.

It will take more than that to shake the general perception that the Conservatives have become a party bent on winning control over Wales, not in Wales.

That is a perception the Welsh Conservatives only have themselves to blame for creating. Throughout the pandemic, the Welsh Conservatives argued against anything that the Welsh Government did differently from the UK Government – despite polls showing over and over that the public was overwhelmingly siding with the Welsh Government.

The pandemic was a defining moment in Welsh politics where the public interest was at a level never seen before, and might never be again. It might take decades for the Welsh Conservative to undo the perceptions formed during that period.

On Covid, they could have easily conceded that Wales was demographically a different country and perhaps needed to take extra care as a result, rather than taking the approach that ‘England is always right’.

Patriotism

It may seem inevitable that as unionists, the Welsh Conservatives would be a devosceptic party – but it doesn’t have to be.

In the US the roles are reversed, with the left being the party of centralising government and the right arguing from a libertarian perspective that power to be kept as much as possible at the level of the individual states. The Republicans manage to do so without conceding an inch of patriotism to the Democrats.

In the US the Republicans regularly slam the ‘beltway elites’, In Wales the right find themselves defending a Westminster widely perceived as rotten and attacking a government and parliament that most in Wales will inevitably feel is on their side, because they alone elected it.

It’s worth the Conservatives remembering that Brexit was a kick at the establishment at Westminster as well as the EU. And there is no good reason why the Conservatives couldn’t become the, or at least a, pro-devolution party.

But instead of reframing the debate around what works electorally for them, they have largely allowed the left, and those arguing for more Welsh autonomy, to own devolution and its successes, and as a result Welshness as a political identity in and of itself.

It’s going to take more than support for a bank holiday and a grudging recognition that Wales has been hard done by on HS2 to undo that perception.

As it stands, a trickle of blue water between themselves and Westminster won’t be enough to solve the Welsh Conservatives’ identity problems, and the electoral problems that flow from that.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
John
John
6 months ago

The longer he is kept there the better it is for Wales.
He is like a fractured nuclear reactor leaking toxic waste into the body politic of Welsh Conservatism.
The more poison he utters the more ridiculous he sounds.

Cynan
Cynan
6 months ago

Can we use other pictures than this suit wearing thumb?

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago

The issue with forming a coherent Welsh Toryism is that it is inherently contradictory. Conservativism, broadly speaking, could be a serious voting option for various demographics across our nation but not a single Welsh-only or Welsh arm of any political party can make that appeal, given that they are shifting slightly further leftwards, and also remain unionist. If there were a NI Alliance Party-style arm of the Tory party, one that was ambivalent on the Union, that could see serious long-term support in places like the Vales of Glamorgan and Clwyd, but would largely isolate their mainly English voting base.… Read more »

Iago Humphrys
Iago Humphrys
6 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Agree hugely. But you got me to visualise RT pushing that rock up Yr Wyddfa?………in a leotard………help! Gwlad need a major investment to enable a rival to this site for example. They have some real talent, but need to get onto You Tube etc.

Last edited 6 months ago by Iago Humphrys
CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago
Reply to  Iago Humphrys

Some of Gwlad’s current principles really do appeal to me. Would love to see them present themselves as a real alternative to Plaid, willing to work with them (even if Plaid refuse, Gwlad must keep the primary issue as prime – indy). If they don’t show willing, it further legitimises the status quo – still playing the British political game. So too with the more populist Propel guys and Llais Gwynedd too.

Marc
Marc
6 months ago

“Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies gives the thumbs up”
The Welsh electorate gives the Conservatives a bid thumbs down!!

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Marc

Well said! But I think that photo of Andrew RT Davies with his thumbs up has been photoshopped by Tory Head Office to remove his knife & fork having being caught eating Brexit lol.

Last edited 6 months ago by Y Cymro
George
George
6 months ago

Does anyone know what the Welsh Tories actually stand for? It seems to be a party where half of it is saying “we must copy England always” and half of it saying “the extreme right-wing of the USA Republican Party is the way to go” but if that’s the only thought in their heads then they have nothing to offer. If RT Davies wants to make a genuine attempt at making the argument that Conservative politics is best for Wales then fair play to him, but I bet it lasts all of 5 minutes before it’s time to defend Tories… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  George

The Tories don’t stand for anything. You need a backbone to stay upright.

Doctor Trousers
6 months ago

You can put an ocean of clear blue water between British tories and Welsh tories, the problem is, they’ll still be tories.

Cynan
Cynan
6 months ago

But at least they’ll be wet

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
6 months ago
Reply to  Cynan

Or even better they’ll drown.

Iago Humphrys
Iago Humphrys
6 months ago

Welsh conservatives do need a new party, pax Gwlad. Cymru needs a real national conservative party. This will drive us to a brighter future. RT resign!

Arwyn
Arwyn
6 months ago

Just read that he would rather the HS2 consequential funding be given directly to network rail rather than the Welsh Government. He really is an appalling little tinpot anti-democrat isn’t he. The Welsh Government have a clear democratic mandate … unlike the Tories in Wales.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

Andrew RT Davies is not a leader but a reactionist. If it’s sunny outside he will say it’s raining and blame devolution stating English rain is better.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

That so-called trickle of clear Tory blue water needed mentioned by Andrew RT Davies today is in fact the colour yellow, and they’re been taking the proverbial out of Wales for decades.

The Welsh Conservatives will never have legitamacy to rule Wales. They are an Anti-Welsh party whether he likes it or not And no amount of sprinkling glitter on a Tory turd will hide the fact that it’s still a turd.

Quornby
Quornby
6 months ago

The “Welsh” tories have no identity problem…..they are England’s lickspittals……. Next question.

Richard
Richard
6 months ago

ARTD performs a useful role in Wales ) as a natural and perpetual opposition leader ) and certainly performs well with a very limited 🤚 hand allowed by their back room out of sight party controllers. He is seen by many Tory’s on the ground as ‘ too welsh ‘ but good on the doorstep in light blue areas. He lacks however a robust Wales party structure – supported by the likes of regional Chair Glyn Davies – which many on the David Davies wing fear will eventually go native. The clear blue water 💦 is something which will offer… Read more »

John Thorne
John Thorne
6 months ago

Please stop using photos of this specimen.

Last edited 6 months ago by John Thorne
Richard
Richard
6 months ago
Reply to  John Thorne

Perhaps a sketch ✍️ like on
USA crime dramas ?

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.