Ex-Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne issues coded reprimand to Andrew RT Davies
The Welsh Conservatives need to set out a positive agenda for the future, saying what they believe in, not just what they are against.
These are not my words, but those of Lord Nick Bourne, Andrew RT Davies’ predecessor as leader of the Welsh Tory Senedd (then Assembly) group.
In a social media post the other day, Lord Bourne went on to list what he considers to be the major challenges facing us: age, mass migration, climate change, cost of living and productivity. His comments can be seen as a wallop over the knuckles for RT. He was right to do so.
There will be those who insist that it doesn’t matter what the Welsh Tories say. They’re never likely to be in government and can safely be ignored. I disagree. Without effective opposition, democracy and governance suffer.
At the Senedd, it can be reasonably argued that because of the Cooperation Agreement between the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru, the Tories are the only true opposition.
Yet under the leadership of Andrew RT Davies they are failing woefully to offer any vision of a viable alternative.
Instead Mr Davies jumps on a succession of hobby horses that he imagines are crowd pleasers. He bangs on constantly about plans to increase the number of Senedd Members, the potential introduction of a tourism tax, falsely suggests that the Welsh Government pays £1,600 per month to “illegal migrants” and most recently rails without respite against what he falsely describes as the Welsh Government’s “blanket” 20mph speed limit in Wales.
When he condemns Labour’s handling of the health service in Wales, he is unable to offer any positive alternative.
This is pathetic politics of very low calibre.
Recently he has been stamping his foot like Rumpelstiltskin over criticisms made of his 20mph interventions by Nation.Cymru, arguing that we should have public funding withdrawn for daring to challenge him – and thus demonstrating how he would behave in government towards any organisation that did the same as we have done.
The problem is that he appears to be too enraged to realise how bad that appears from someone whose idea of a “go to” journalist is Dan Wootton of GB News..
He’s been trying to stop members of his group from talking to Nation.Cymru, ignoring the fact that the Welsh Tory who undoubtedly holds a higher status than him in the party hierarchy – Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies – was recently happy to give an exclusive interview to us about the Tata steel crisis. Will RT suggest to TC that he breaks off contact with Nation.Cymru? I doubt it. He can probably guess what answer he’d get if he did.
Is there any immediate prospect of RT vacating the group leadership and allowing a fresh generation to take over and do the job more effectively? It seems not. This may seem odd. He has few close supporters in his own group – the most loyal being Aberconwy’s Janet Finch-Saunders – and he seems most comfortable with some of those who work for him, currently the Vale of Glamorgan councillor George Carroll, widely thought to be responsible for his output on X, formerly Twitter.
The reason RT seems safe for the moment is that his form of buffoonery goes down well with the party faithful. As we know, the demographic profile of party members veers towards pensioner-plus, and among that group of reactionary Tories, RT’s constant carping about socialists and nationalists is what they’re happy with. They’re generally antagonistic towards devolution – as they always have been – so they aren’t fussed about Wales-specific policies, and are content with RT adopting a nodding-dog approach to whatever comes down the line from Westminster.
Because of the support he has from grassroots members, MSs who might be inclined to depose him are reluctant to do so because they would be regarded as traitors – just like the Tory MPs who stood up against Johnson.
There are many times when I’ve thought, “What do the Welsh Conservatives stand for?” The realistic answer is, “Whatever David Cameron/ Theresa May/ Boris Johnson/ Liz Truss/ Rishi Sunak or whoever leads the party at present wants them to stand for.”
That simply isn’t good enough. Whether the old buffers who form the bulk of the Welsh Tory membership like it or not, devolution is here to stay. They should look at polling evidence which shows that the existence of the Senedd is supported by a large majority of voters. Equally there are statistics that show extremely low support for the Conservatives among the younger age groups.
Welsh politics is approaching a crossroads. Next year it is far more likely than not that the Tories will be out of office at a UK level and will have lost most, if not all, of their Welsh seats at Westminster. Current arrangements – bad as they are – will be redundant.
Lazy politics of the kind that sucked up whatever was sent down from London has been bad enough when we’ve had a Tory UK Government. Accepting orders and policy positions from the London HQ of a party that’s been unceremoniously kicked out of office after 14 years would surely be a step too far.
RT certainly won’t accept advice from me, but others in the party may share my view that being in opposition at Westminster as well as Cardiff Bay will offer them an opportunity to change direction. They should stop flirting with the likes of Abolish the Assembly Party and the Reform Party, ditch GB News, embrace devolution and start making a positive contribution to devolved policy debate.
It’s fair to say that there are already Tory MSs who have shown a more positive approach of the kind needed. Peter Fox, who represents Monmouth, tried his best to get a Bill passed that would have integrated economic, health, social, education and environmental considerations to create a more sustainable and coherent approach to food. Unfortunately it didn’t get the backing from the Welsh Government that he’d hoped for, even if they applauded its aims. But that shouldn’t prevent further attempts in the future.
What the Welsh Conservatives should be doing is devising a set of policy proposals that are aimed at improving life in Wales rather than doing the opposite of whatever Labour may be doing in government, purely for the sake of it.
Such an approach would have the potential to raise the level of political debate in Wales, which has been sadly debased by the adolescent behaviour of the leader of the opposition.
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.