British nationalism is holding back the Tories in Wales
Ifan Morgan Jones
The turning point for the Welsh Conservatives came in 2011, when electoral common sense was replaced by an irrational British nationalism.
It began when Party leader Nick Bourne, who had taken the Conservatives from a paltry nine to 14 seats, and from third party to main opposition, lost his seat in the Welsh Assembly.
He was a victim of his own success, having lost his place on the mid-Wales list after to the party picking up yet another seat, Montgomeryshire, from the Lib Dems.
Nick Bourne had charted a new course for the party, emphasising its Welsh credentials in order to win the votes of right of centre but nevertheless patriotic Welshmen and women.
There was even some talk of the Welsh Conservatives cutting loose altogether and forming an independent party. Although that was a step slightly too far for Nick Bourne.
He also championed a more moderate form of conservatism that had some commentators asking how much political difference there was between his party and those further to the left.
His replacement, Andrew RT Davies, has unfortunately undone much of Nick Bourne’s good work. The party went backwards for the first time at last year’s Welsh General Election, losing three seats.
And then, this month, the party squandered a huge poll lead over Labour and ended up losing Cardiff North, Gower and the Vale of Clwyd.
The problem for the Welsh Conservatives is that their leader, Andrew RT Davies, has led them as if resentful that such a role or body should exist at all.
His decision to go on holiday during the General Election, and leave AM Darren Millar and UK Government Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns to take over in the TV debates, suggests that he doesn’t believe the role of Welsh Conservative leader is one to be taken seriously.
‘An add-on to England’
Welsh Labour has shown the Conservatives how to re-brand as a distinctly Welsh offering for maximum electoral advantage, and it is strange that the Tories have shunned this approach.
The contrast between the Conservative campaign in Wales and Scotland was apparent. In Scotland, Ruth Davidson set forth a completely distinct message, and was (perhaps ironically) keen to emphasise Scottish Labour’s autonomy from the UK party.
The Welsh Conservatives lacked any such bespoke message, something that clearly rankled even with those within the Welsh Conservative party.
Gareth Baines, the Clwyd South campaign manager in this year’s General Election, wrote the following on the Conservative Home website:
“Then we started to see Labour’s literature – or more importantly, I should stress – Welsh Labour’s literature. All of their national literature had an unrelenting focus on Wales itself, and what Welsh Labour had to offer Wales.
“I sat in the kitchen one evening, after a full day of door knocking, and laid down side by side our national literature and Welsh Labour’s. Ours barely mentioned Wales – we don’t have a Welsh Theresa May Party, and I’m reliably informed Theresa May isn’t Welsh. We’d been outplayed; we barely had mention of Wales at all.
“Instead, we had Brexit and Theresa May. The national campaign had effectively treated Wales as an add-on to England. The Scottish Conservatives had a clear message for Scotland – whereas we didn’t have one for Wales.”
One could simply argue that the Welsh Conservatives are incompetent. But I think the malaise goes deeper than that.
There is a deep-rooted ideological opposition to recognising that Wales is a different country that needs a separate sales pitch.
A party that will treat Wales as an add-on during an election campaign does so because they fundamentally believe that Wales is just an add-on to England.
All this when Wales contained some of the top target seats, such as Bridgend and Wrexham, that were essential if the party was going to increase their majority.
A leader that recognised Wales’ distinctiveness could have pressurised the UK party to give them free reign to craft their own message.
But Davies comes from the British nationalist, right-wing of the party. He has drifted away from the political center ground in Wales like an untethered weather balloon.
When he has fallen out with the UK party, it has been over his right-wing beliefs – his support for Brexit and eagerness to accept UKIP AM Mark Reckless into the Conservative fold – not because he wanted to chart a unique, more moderate, more electable course for the party in Wales.
Yes, he did strike a chord with his views on Brexit. He was one of the few leaders in tune with the public mood.
But he came at the question from a completely different perspective to the average Leave-voting Welshman.
Wales voted to leave because the country was fed up with the current establishment and wanted to give it a bloody nose. Any change was better than staying in the rut it had found itself.
Davies supported Brexit because he was a die-hard British nationalist. As a farmer and politician, he must have been one of the few people in Wales fully clued-up as to the devastating effect Brexit would have on Wales’ agricultural sector, but he argued for it anyway.
Andrew RT Davies has now said that the party needs a ‘designated leader’ in Wales following the General Election failure. This could be seen as a step in the right direction.
But the fact is that he is the leader – the role is his. If he can’t muster the authority to take the lead during an election campaign, as Carwyn Jones does, and tell the UK party that he knows better than they do what needs doing in Wales, he should step down.
Changing his job description won’t do anything to bolster his political authority, or the internal attitude towards Welsh nationhood within the party.
Things are unlikely to improve for Andrew RT Davies anytime soon. His full-throated support for Brexit won’t age well as the ramifications hit the Welsh economy with all the force of a four-ton tractor.
Darren Millar – who did a good job filling in in one of the debates – would be a good replacement.
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The history of the Tories in Wales goes back to England from whence it came as English based with Monmouthshire connection . From these early days with more and more wealthy Tories coming to Wales to retire in houses far out of reach of locals in price but cheap compared with England areas which a few years ago who never have been considered Tory became Tory this included Ynys Mon Anglesey . Keith Lander Best (born 10 June 1949) is a former Conservative Party politician in the United Kingdom. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Anglesey from 1979 (when… Read more »
I would vote Welsh Conservative in a flash, but they are way too tied up in unionism and British nationalism for me. I would love for them to rebrand as a distinctively Welsh party and have either Suzy Davies or Darren Millar as their leader. The only way of removing Labour from power in Wales is to bridge the gap between Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. The only way for this to happen would be for Leanne Wood to step down and for Plaid to move to the centre and for the Conservatives to realise that London is not the… Read more »
Many who vote conservative in Wales do match up with the stereotypes of people who are aligned with everything to do with the English establishment, unionism, imperialism etc, but many more also reflect a longstanding tradition stretching back to the old cattle drovers and traders and I don’t think these are well catered for in Welsh politics. This is not a way of thinking that has to embrace a unionist perspective, indeed unionism has nothing instinctively to do with this inherent way of thinking. The old Welsh word for the drovers and traders, sums up what a Welsh alternative to… Read more »
I find your doom mongering regarding Brexit to be a bit too partial considering Wales voted to leave the EU. How do you know why, exactly, Welsh people voted Leave? You are merely guessing. Nation.Cymru has unashamedly nailed its colours to the mast of the “progressive, liberal left”. You should read up on Cultural Marxism, Agenda 21, Jean Monnet, David Rockefeller and George Soros. Do you want a future with all national identities and cultures obliterated? Do you want a world run by unaccountable technocrats and controlled by billionaires, with little or no democracy? Well keep pushing your “progressive” agenda… Read more »
This is a genuine question as I am relatively new to political discourse and still trying to find my feet. I always thought of myself as a leftie but I would certainly not want what you have mentioned there to come to pass… could you briefly explain how a progressive, liberal left agenda encourages this?
Let me give you an example: Plaid Cymru openly supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, with Plaid employees actually travelling to the US to help her win votes. This is the woman who is in large part responsible for the disastrous “Arab Spring” and the war in Ukraine. The woman about whom there are many questions. The woman who is married to the alleged rapist Bill Clinton. The woman who destroyed her insecure hard drives and mobile phones to erase evidence of her compromising national security. The woman who, through the Clinton Foundation, was involved in murky dealings in Haiti,… Read more »
I follow Plaid Cymru closely, all online statements, and not once saw the party or Leanne support Hillary. I’d be very surprised, but would see her as more of a Bernie Sanders person.
Following the election she was one of the only leaders who acknowledged that some Trump supporters had a genuine grievance on jobs and wages.
It is correct that Plaid isn’t like Trump, Farage or Putin!
Well you didn’t follow closely enough as two staff members went to work for Hillary and Leanne commended their efforts on their Facebook pages.
‘cultural marxism’ – lol we are truly blessed when alt right crackpots pay us a visit http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism. Only surprised you didn’t drop anything in about a ‘world jewish conspiracy’.
I’m taking it as an optimistic sign of “real news outlet” authenticity! 😉
Rather than calling me a crackpot why don’t you counter the argument? And I’m certainly not alt-right.
When I Google those things I mostly find websites about conspiracy theories. Am I missing something?
Interesting piece Ifan. You’re right to point out that the Welsh Conservatives are completely wed to a British perspective, which ultimately was their undoing in the recent election here in Wales. They need to address this problem immediately, but with the “20 stone of prime Welsh beef” in charge, it’s not likely to happen soon I would venture. Another option would be to set up a completely new Welsh centre-right party, in time for the Senedd elections in 2020, which could well be held under a STV system since the Senedd has now the right to set up its own… Read more »
Yes please! I’d be on board with that and so would many people I know who feel politically confused and homeless at the moment.