Paul Davies’ pivot towards cutting the Senedd is recognition that a deal with Plaid Cymru is impossible

Paul Davies. © Russell Hart/Alamy Live News.

Ifan Morgan Jones

Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies will give a speech at the party’s conference later today which is extremely interesting because of what it says about their hopes at next year’s Senedd elections.

Paul Davies will promise four specific moves in order to, in his words, “end the assembly gravy train” if they win power:

  • Halve the number of Welsh ministers to seven
  • Freeze civil servant recruitment
  • Not increase the budget of the body which runs the assembly
  • Stop any increase in the number of Assembly Members from 60 to 90

This is a very interesting change of tack by Paul Davies because it is essentially admitting that they see zero hope of any agreement with Plaid Cymru after next year’s election.

As the polls currently stand after next May’s election Labour will be on 21 seats, the Conservative on 20, Plaid Cymru on 18 and the Lib Dems on just the one.

This is probably a Conservative high-water mark but leaves the party short of 10 seats to form a majority government.

So Paul Davies’ only real chance of becoming FM would be to do some kind of deal with Plaid Cymru. The Welsh Conservatives have said in the past that they’d be willing to do a deal with PC.

The choice of Paul Davies, a Remain-supporting Welsh-speakers from the west of Wales, as leader, also seemed like a move designed to open up that possibility.

However, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price has been quick to quash any suggestion that there’s a possibility of any such deal: “I said clearly in the leadership campaign, I don’t want and would never ask for people’s support for a coalition with the Conservatives. How could I with my life history, you know?”

The parties have also drifted apart since the days of the mooted 2007 coalition under Ieuan Wyn Jones and Nick Bourne. Plaid Cymru have gone further left and pro-EU, the Tories further right and pro-Brexit. The Tories are also in power at Westminster, an institution it is now Plaid’s policy to gain independence from.

Paul Davies’ speech today is a turning point as for the first time it seems to recognise the impossibility of a deal and discard it.

 

Pivot

Why? Well, as part of any deal Plaid Cymru would have wanted an expansion of the Senedd’s size and power – that is their raison d’etre. By making the promise to put the brakes on more powers and trim the institution back the central announcement of the conference, Paul Davies has kiboshed that.

He is also promising specifically to cut the number of ministers to seven. But with fewer ministers, what would they promise their coalition partners? Again, it’s not a policy mooted by a party expecting to be in coalition government in just over 12 months.

So it seems there has now been a pivot in Conservative thinking from being in government to simply trying to be the largest party in the Senedd.

They are currently neck and neck with Labour in the polls so one way of doing that is to absorb the entire Brexit Party, UKIP and Abolish the Assembly vote – around 6% of the vote according to the St. David’s Day BBC/ICM poll.

Proportional representation means that winning some of this vote probably wouldn’t lead to a big increase in seats for the Conservative party, as any seats won in the constituencies would likely be lost on the regional list.

So they would still be a fair way short of the 30 seats needed for a majority, and without Labour or Plaid Cymru willing to prop them up couldn’t form a government.

But what it would allow them to do is to brand any government that does form – probably a Labour/Plaid coalition or looser arrangement – a sad ‘losers’ coalition’.

And winning the election could then be used as a stepping stone to an outright majority at the next set of elections in 2026.

Preservation

An alternative theory or hot take for you: Paul Davies is very pro-devolution and therefore in order to burst the Abolish the Assembly bubble is promising cuts to the institution that sound significant but are in fact mostly cosmetic.

For instance, cutting the number of ministers will do almost nothing to reduce to cost of the institution – it will save perhaps a few thousand pounds. It would just mean that fewer ministers have larger departments to run.

And an expansion in the number of AMs realistically didn’t look to be one the cards in the near future anyway as politicians fret that it would be grist to the populist mill.

You could, therefore, argue that Paul Davies loves devolution so much that he’s willing to sacrifice any hope of government in order to preserve the Senedd, by becoming a safe repository for anti-devolution votes!

If so it’s a largely thankless task as he is likely to now be clobbered from all sides – by supporters and enemies of devolution who see him as giving in to populism and the Senedd’s enemies who will think he is not going far enough in curbing the institution’s growth.

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j humphrysJohn EllisErnie The SmallholderRobWalter Hunt Recent comment authors
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Paul
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Paul

Why does the author of this piece think that 20 seats for the Conservatives next year would probably be “a Conservative high-water mark” without mentioning the respective figures for PC (or Labour) with regards to wether their figures of 18 or 21 would be a floor or a selling?

Leigh Richards
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Leigh Richards

Plaid is a left of centre party that exists to secure independence for wales while the welsh conservatives are a right of centre party committed to preserving the union –
who in their right minds would think a deal could ever be done between these parties who are diametrically opposed to one another?

And in today’s statement paul davies seems to indicate the welsh conservatives are returning to their anti wales and devolution bashing stance of the 90s

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I think the context is the possibility, assuming the findings of the recent poll are accurate and voter sentiment has remained largely the same by May next year (and of course we can be sure of neither), that the Senedd elections will produce a result in which three parties have close to the same numbers of elected members. Which would necessitate some sort of coalition. But, as you suggest, it’s virtually impossible to envisage a Plaid/Tory coalition, which leaves another Labour/Plaid deal as the only likely feasible way forward. If Plaid acquiesced to that, they’d lay themselves open to the… Read more »

Redmond Mocke
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Redmond Mocke

Plaid Cymru need to reassess their political ambition by getting out and talking to the vast majority of Welsh people who feel marginalised by PC. Most Welsh people love the Welsh language even though they can’t speak it but are unwilling to vote PC because they feel PC is only for Welsh speakers. Also, an admission that they were wrong to climb into bed with the LibDems against the majority of Welsh people who voted out. A four state solution to the UK is the only viable solution to self governance. Full devolution to all home unions with Westminster being… Read more »

Redmond Mocke
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Redmond Mocke

P. S. The vast majority of people in the UK have kith and kin in various countries making up the UK. And, most in business have shared interests in the other of the four proposed home States.

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Yesterday’s papers.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I can go along with much of the case which you’re presenting. + Plaid Cymru first emerged from y Fro Gymraeg, and it’s only intermittently and temporarily ever taken any root beyond y Fro. And I think a lot of Welsh monoglot English speakers in parts of Wales distant from y Fro do indeed have a sense, however wrongly, that Plaid in its heart of hearts isn’t really interested in them and can’t speak for them. One of the reasons why I think Neil McEvoy’s attracted interest and a following is that he represents a version of distinctively Welsh national… Read more »

A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg
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A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg

All past victories and failures tallied, from Aneirin of Catraeth to Aneirin of Glynebwy.

We win when our poets praise warriors. And we lose when our poets praise long past deeds.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I think the speculative alternative analyses offered here are shrewd and apposite. No knowing for sure what Paul Davies’s actual intenrions are, but my hunch come closer to Mr Morgan Jones’s second suggestion, ‘that Paul Davies loves devolution so much that he’s willing to sacrifice any hope of government in order to preserve the Senedd’ – though I wouldn’t put it quite as positively as that; I’d say he loves it because it gives him a significant political role which might otherwise not be available to him! The Conservatives opposed devolution to the very end; but on the other hand,… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Is it time to start calling the Tories out on their quasi-fascist stance, then?
For me, at least, the “Conservative” party is of the past.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

T wouldn’t think of Paul Davies as a ‘quasi-fascist’. I think it’s just political calculation.

Obviously all politicians seek power because without it you can’t achieve much; but Conservatives peculiarly see governing as their natural role and right, and Wales has always been an uphill struggle for them. For the reasons I’ve already set out on this thread I don’t think Paul Davies wants to abolish the Senedd; but to boost the chances of the Tories obtaining power, he’ll be quite happy to coax the voters who do!

j humphrys
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j humphrys

He calculates, He might calculate to get votes from the BNP nazis that regularly dog this site. Truth is Tories have moved the post way over to jackboot land, and we should hammer them!

John Ellis
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John Ellis

A vote’s a vote, from wherever and whomever it comes. I agree entirely with your estimation of the general drift of Torydom in recent years – a former Conservative MP with whom I exchanged e-mails late last year (he was one of those who stood down in December) told me that he no longer recognized the party that he’d joined in his younger days, and he didn’t think his two Tory predecessors would have recognized it either. But things are what they are. On the whole, the Conservatives are a ruthless tribe. While Labour quarrels, the Tories – if it… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Forgot about that, diolch! Craig Copetas says Trump/Johnsonism is the
“homogenised” version. I hope Libs, PC, Lab and all are ready, just in case.

Mathew Rees
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Mathew Rees

If I still lived in Wales, he’d get my vote.

Common sense without closing the whole shebang down. Surely it’s worth a throw of the dice?

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

“Plaid Cymru would have wanted an expansion of the Senedd’s size and power – that is their raison d’etre.” I really hope its not true, but fear it is. Like Paul Davies, I am from Pembrokeshire and favour Remain. As practical Pembrokeshire people, he does not like what he sees in the existing London-down arrangement with so little power, and neither do I. Paul Davies wants to freeze, slim down as he clearly thinks its heading nowhere. I can see why. The real question is where we go from here. Many Welsh Tories see value in a Welsh Parliament having… Read more »

Andy Williams
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The Welsh Assembly is not perfect, you can thank the Labour Party for that, for not giving us the same power as Holyrood. But, if the Senedd is ever abolished, then Wales as a political entity is finished. We only exist on the sporting field. What a situation, that would be, Ireland re-uniting, Scotland an independent nation, the North of England, gaining more power, through the Northern Powerhouse, while Wales gives up her Senedd, for direct rule from a Tory Westminster. Sheer madness, but the way. Wales is slowly turning blue, it could happen.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

All this speculation and attempted mind-reading seems based on the premise that there’ll be almost a three-way split in the number of seats won by the three main parties, with Welsh Labour still ahead but needing a leg-up from Plaid. Bear in mind, though, the unknown variable of how many seats, if any, will be won by the two new pro-independence parties. But IMJ is right in predicting that there will be no partnership between Davies and Smith to form a coalition government. This is not merely because Plaid is too ‘Welsh’ for the Tories’ liking, or too pro-devolution. Since… Read more »

Huw J Davies
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Huw J Davies

I looked on the gov.wales site and as far as I can make out there are officially ‘only’ 9 actual ministers with 5 deputy ministers. So just getting rid of the deputies would change it to The First minister and 8 ministers with portfolio. All ministers have their minions who do much of the ministers work for them. Modifying the Deputy Minister titles to Chief Ministerial Assistant would instantly reduce the number of ministers to nearly what Paul Davies wants without effecting any de facto change. I’m sure Paul Davies knows this so I’m guessing he is trying to appeal… Read more »

Walter Hunt
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Walter Hunt

Deja vu all over again? A Conservative Party re-positioning itself out of fear of being outflanked? This speech and the announcement by David Melding that he will not be contesting the 2021 Senedd election indicates that the Nick Bourne era is well and truly over. Could Paul Davies unwittingly become to abolition of the Senedd what David Cameron was to Brexit? Could this change in stance trigger evolution of opinion towards two polar opposites: Senedd as the parliament of a sovereign Wales or abolition ? If so, those currently supportive of devolution will have some serious thinking to do.

Rob
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Rob

I think it would be foolish for Plaid to rule out a deal with the Tories. We in Wales have had uninterrupted Labour rule since the late 90s. If they are returned to government again next year that will make it almost 30 years. Surely you must agree that this is not healthy for democracy & in the long run play into the hands of the abolitionists. If there are things that both Plaid & the Tories have common ground then maybe it could just work. In an age of ever increasing polarisation – Trump, Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn etc it… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

The Tories are quite a dangerous party for Wales, its economic independence and wellbeing as they still believe in the centralised British UK state. They are a ruthless tribe that would sell its own principles for power and therefore cannot be trusted: (what it did to Churchill’s son… power grab, thought control). I would like to see a egalitarian capitalist Wales where the population own shares in Welsh and overseas industries and prosper but feel the Tories would never want this because it would lead to a more self confident Wales. So lets build a real free Wales, a liberal… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Yes, make Gladstonism Great Again! And Plaid must also use much more common sense.
Funny thing, this week in Finland, the Basic Finns had to demolish their Youth section, because its leader had pronounced himself a Fascist, seeing nothing wrong with the label. So we can see, all over Europe these right wingers are balancing on a razors edge. Creepy people now attracted to the Tories? Investigate.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I agree entirely with you that unbroken governance by the same party tends to stultify politics. Nor am I by any means in principle opposed to coalitions, because they just reflect the hard political realities which can sometimes emerge from an election – even under ‘first past the post’, as was the case in the Westminster election of 2010. Sometimes there’s no alternative to some political factions seeking to hammer out a mutually acceptable set of compromises in order to form a viable government in which they both share power. And proportional electoral systems routinely produce results which make such… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Wisely put.