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Opinion

Could a Labour landslide trigger a Tory revival in Wales?

06 Apr 2024 8 minute read
Andrew RT Davies

Martin Shipton

This may seem paradoxical, but the Conservative Party’s chance of making a recovery in Wales is almost certainly dependent on getting hammered at the general election later this year.

Having an idiot as leader of the party’s Senedd group doesn’t help, of course, but the likelihood is that whoever was in charge wouldn’t be able to stem the negativity that began with Partygate. Losing the election in – probably – October could be the first step on the road to recovery.

Andrew RT Davies – the aforementioned idiot – has devoted most of his energy recently to attacking the Welsh Government’s 20mph default speed limit.

The badly worded petition that demands the reversal of the policy has attracted a record number of signatories, but polling evidence suggests that the discontent hasn’t translated into a surge of support for the Tories.

The same goes for RT’s other hobby horses like the increase in the number of Senedd Members, the proposed introduction of a tourism tax and – an issue close to his wallet – changes to farming subsidies. (I mention in passing the sheer cheek of Brexiteers like RT who persuaded farmers to vote Leave and give up the advantages of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy for an uncertain and, as it turns out, inferior post-Brexit deal).

At a briefing session with other journalists in the Cardiff office of David TC Davies the other day, I offered the Secretary of State for Wales some gratuitous strategic advice: “Change your Senedd leader!”. Wisely, he ducked out of responding and crossed the room to replenish his cup with more tea.

Austerity

There’s a plausible case for a Tory revival after a Labour election victory. Voters’ expectations of the new UK government will be high, but Keir Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves seem keener on reassuring City financiers that neo-liberal policies – aka austerity – won’t be abandoned than with providing ordinary people with a better economic future.

Yet there’s no certainty that a likely scenario of this kind will take the Conservatives in a more sensible – or what not that long ago would have been seen as a more mainstream – direction. Most of the party’s depleted membership is on the hard right, and leadership contenders will try to appease the grassroots with ever more outlandish policies.

Equally, the idea of Nigel Farage somehow engineering a reverse takeover of the Tories by Reform UK – the party he literally owns – cannot be ruled out. Such is the state of British politics in this post-Brexit nirvana.

During the briefing session in David TC Davies’ office, TC insisted he had no inside knowledge about when the general election would take place.

Optimists within the party – notional though they may be – are hoping that the seeds of an economic revival may be apparent later in the year. Not too late, though, as elderly Tory canvassers recall without pleasure the difficulty of delivering leaflets and knocking on doors while wearing mittens to fend off frostbite.

The prospect of the Conservatives snatching victory from the jaws of defeat sounds implausible to me, although it’s unrealistic to expect any Cabinet minister to admit his government is heading for a serious drubbing.

Possibilities

For a moment, it’s worth considering the positive possibilities that might arise for the Conservative Party in Wales after the coming general election loss (which is so far beyond reasonable doubt that it’s not even worth referring to in the conditional tense).

With Labour in power in Westminster, the Welsh Labour government will no longer be able to blame the UK Tories for its many shortcomings and delivery failures. While ministers in Cardiff may continue to complain about the inadequacy of the block grant from the Treasury, their beef will be with a Labour Chancellor rather than a Conservative one.

Indeed, they may choose not to be so vocal anyway, given the new First Minister’s already manifest desire to cosy up to Keir Starmer and be his man in Wales.

The Tory Senedd group has already missed a trick by failing to condemn in sufficiently forthright terms the way in which Vaughan Gething secured victory in the Welsh Labour leadership election thanks to a £200k donation from a convicted criminal.

But it’s not too late for a new group leader to retrieve the situation in the run-up to the next Senedd election in 2026.

Practical policies

Instead of banging on about RT’s all-too-familiar hobby horses, it’s time for the party to devise a set of practical policies that could appeal to a wider section of the electorate than will vote for it at the general election.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that 17 years ago the Welsh Conservatives very nearly found themselves in government with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. A policy programme had already been agreed and what was known at the time as the rainbow coalition only failed to come into being because there was a tied vote at a Lib Dem meeting that was meant to ratify the deal.

In 2007 the UK Labour government was less popular than it had been, with fallout from the disastrous invasion of Iraq still very much in voters’ minds.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Plaid leader at the time, could very easily have become First Minister. Instead, after the Lib Dem stumble, he settled for being Rhodri Morgan’s number two in a Labour-Plaid administration.

Andrew RT Davies has shown no inclination to work seriously with Plaid Cymru in opposing the Welsh Labour government. He prefers to remain in an apparently time-locked bubble, fighting past battles over and over again and opportunistically trying to turn every issue into a culture war.

He may be the official leader of the opposition at the Senedd, but the idea that he could run an alternative government is taken seriously by no one. It’s a joke.

But if the Welsh Conservatives decided to take my advice and put RT out to pasture in one of his many fields, there could be a new dynamic. While Welsh Labour would no longer be able to use a UK Tory government as an alibi for its own inadequacies, neither would the Welsh Tories be tainted by bad decisions made in real time by its own counterparts in Westminster.

David TC Davies understands the possibilities. Speaking to journalists during the briefing session in his office, TC said: “I wouldn’t be against working with Plaid Cymru. There are issues where we have some shared concerns – on agricultural matters. I wouldn’t imagine we’d fall out over the Welsh language – some might imagine we would, but I don’t think we would.

Clearly the main sticking point is going to be that Plaid Cymru is going to be pushing for independence for Wales, and we’re going to be pushing for Wales to stay firmly within the Union. [This didn’t impede the Labour-Plaid coalition formed in 2007.]

“I detect within Plaid Cymru that there are two different strands, or used to be a few years back: ‘We’re the true socialists – we’re more left wing than Labour.’ But there are also Plaid Cymru voters in parts of Welsh-speaking west Wales and north Wales whose general values are probably quite conservative with a small c. I’m not sure how they square the circle, but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t work with them on certain issues.

“I don’t think the Conservative Party in the Senedd should rule out any kind of coalition, if we can remove Labour and agree on different issues. I wouldn’t have any personal issue with that at all.

“It would be nice to think we could win an overall majority at the next Senedd election, but it would be quite ambitious. The possibility is we might fall short of that ambition and therefore I think we need to be open-minded about working with other people on things. There is no reason in principle why we shouldn’t work with other political parties to take control of the Senedd, if the opportunity arose.”

In April 2024, with an unpopular Tory government still in power at Westminster, such a scenario may appear fanciful. But when in December 2019 Labour suffered its worst general election defeat in 84 years, no one gave it a hope in hell of being on the verge of a landslide victory less than four and a half years later.

Things can change and unlikely scenarios can become plausible.


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Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
1 month ago

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

David Pearn
David Pearn
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

Are you sure Dai 😉👍.

cablestreet
cablestreet
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
1 month ago
Reply to  cablestreet

There’s no Limits!

Simmo
Simmo
1 month ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

“There’s no Limits!” … Genius!

adrian savill
adrian savill
1 month ago

Brilliant article- say it as it is!

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

An interesting and provocative article with some very well presented thoughts based on good observation and long experience. Hard to find a negative but perhaps seeing ARRD as an “ idiot “ is drawn from seeing the man close up rather than how he comes over to those of us far from the metro world of Cardiff Bay. His “ skill “ is drawn from the land and the complicated farming mafia in rural Wales with its mixed up relationships and mutual loathing that vanishes when outside threats appear. Additionally a good TV presence and his “ ability “ to… Read more »

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard

No Richard.
The man is an idiot. A boorish oaf who can only get elected on the Regional list.

cablestreet
cablestreet
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard

“Simple” being the operative word here although I could suggest several more.

Simmo
Simmo
1 month ago

Interesting article MArtin. Indeed, who knows how the dynamic of a LAbour Govt in Westminster will play out with a Labour Govt. in the Bay in these times. There was such an overlap in the first 10 or so yrs of the assembly (give or take the coalitions we had in Cardiff?!), but in a different political climate for sure. With regard to replacing ARTD as Conservatives head – in a perverse way, part of me wonders whether having a figure like him steering the ship does a favour to the governance in Wales in general ?! Might sound counter… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago

For those that are conservative (small c), voting for Gwlad would be best as they want independence for Cymru.

cablestreet
cablestreet
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Why do I keep thinking Enoch Powell when I see mention of Gwlad?

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  cablestreet

Because he learned Welsh. Or, “Gwlad, Gwlad pleidiol wyf i’m Gwlad”.

Nige
Nige
1 month ago

Time for Plaid.

Geraint
Geraint
1 month ago

The Iain Duncan Smith of the Tories in Wales. Pity R.T. Davies is not a ‘quiet man’ like IDS.

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Every government needs a capable opposition. But we saw Boris eviscerate the front benches and totally cowed the back benches to the brexit ideal, it alowed totally incompetent people to rise to the top of the scum floating on the pond that was once the Torty party, and that echoed across the UK. The Tory party sold its soul when BJ took power. This has cascaded down and it shows in the Welsh Cons. But the singular destruction visited on the UK by this party, they should never get a vote again in any region of the UK unless they… Read more »

Paul ap Gareth
Paul ap Gareth
1 month ago

I think the 2026 Senedd election could be very difficult for Labour and offers the Conservatives a great opportunity. Voters will almost certainly vote for a change in Government at Westminster this year. That may translate as a general feeling that it is time to change the Welsh government at the next Senedd election. Coupled with Gethin’s election appearing shady, and his lack of popularity, some unpopular policies, and poor performance (ultimately due to Westminster funding levels). Coupled with Starmer’s promises not to rock the boat means problems emanating from Westminster will still be a problem after the government changes.… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

The ruling regime in Wales is full of complacency and arrogance. Sadly far too much of the electorate is indifferent or overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and it will take a few seismic shocks to motivate people to reject that complacency/arrogance and also reject the huge risks associated with the Tories who are mostly wedded to a narrow London centric Unionism and harbour a disdain for any radical change. That landscape should motivate Plaid to get off its pot, get out and communicate with the electorate in plain terms setting out its vision, its key policy pillars and the… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

The prospects for Cymru are best served by being an independent country free from the shackles of westminster and the only party with that aim is Plaid Cymru (PC) but there is no way I could support PC if they said they would form a coalition with the tories!

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

The only way the Conservatives will ever form a government in the Senedd is if they completely break ties with the toxic extreme party in London. Most people in Cymru do not believe the current Welsh Conservatives are interested in Cymru at all, they are just stooges to that UK party.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

If the Conservatives were to revert back to the way they were under Nick Bourne and David Melding – centre-right, pro-Wales, pro-further devolution then I would be okay with a Plaid, Tory, Lib Dem rainbow coalition. It would give voters a democratic alternative to Welsh Labour’s hegemony. Unfortunately though Boris purged all the moderates when he his took over making them look more like UKIP than anything else. They would abolish devolution if they could get away with it, obsessed with Brexit, obsessed with immigration, and being dragged further to the right by Reform UK. RT Davies has no freedom… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Rob
Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

THEREFORE WE NEED TO CAMPAIGN HARD TO GET PLAID CYMRU ELECTED AT THE NEXT SENEDD ELECTIONS.

IF WE FAIL, THEN WE WILL LOSE CYMRU – OUR COUNTRY.
SO, FAILURE IS NO NOT AN OPTION. STAY POSITIVE.


Lord Custard
Lord Custard
1 month ago

No it will trigger the end of the Tories in Wales for good!

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