Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives
Of late, there’s been plenty of talk about what 2021 might hold, the prospect of coalitions, the failings of Welsh Labour and of course the ongoing investigations into the conduct of the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
And while I appreciate this isn’t necessarily the platform you’d expect me to crop up on (don’t lunge for that delete button – hear me out!) with it being St David’s Day, I think there’s one issue we can all agree on – it’s time we saw vast improvement in our country’s fortunes.
In our democracy. In our country. In our very own Wales.
Since we gained our very own Assembly in 1999, there have been various governments at the other end of the M4 – numerous Labour, Conservative and of course a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.
Some people, particularly those politicians sporting red in Cardiff Bay, are very quick to point the finger of blame for Wales’ ills at the door of Westminster. A notion which has strangely intensified since 2010 but I’ve yet to work out why! I jest of course!
But let’s be clear – such a stance is a cop-out for any politician or political party worth its salt, particularly when you’ve been running the show for nearly twenty years.
Be it the ‘Tory Toffs’ or ‘Labour Luvvies’ in power at Westminster, it was argued, and believed, that devolution would provide us with the opportunity to choose another path, to tailor an agenda which best suited Wales’ needs.
Since 1999, our democratic institution has had responsibility over a number of key economic levers with which we could have forged our own more prosperous future, and of course we’ve had control over a vast array of vital public services, from our NHS to our schools.
Now for some in Wales that might not be enough, while others might argue we should have even fewer powers. However, I prefer to focus on what we’re delivering with what we’ve got now and sadly the facts make for pretty grim reading.
And however uncomfortable those facts might be, it’s clear we’re going backwards in nearly every facet of public life under Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour.
In 1997, Welsh and Scottish workers had identical pay-packets – £301 per week. Twenty years later, a Welsh pay-packet now contains £49 a week less than its Scottish counterpart.
And despite the First Minister’s very noble aim at the start of his tenure of making education in Wales a ‘priority’, our schools are now at the very bottom of the UK league table – and that’s on his watch.
Whilst acknowledging the pressures on the NHS which are evident on the various health systems right across the United Kingdom, only one country has ever cut a health budget. And that’s in Wales where 1 in 7 of us are currently on a waiting list – double that of our nearest neighbours.
And even with these stark statistics, since 1997 there’s been one constant in the corridors of power in Wales – and that’s the Labour Party. They can try and deflect as much as they like but the blame for this record of failure lies firmly at their door.
Yes, you’d expect me to say that as a Conservative politician, but first and foremost I’m a proud Welshman. I want to see our country and democracy flourish, one which delivers better outcomes for her people.
However, sadly, over the last twenty years, the Labour Party has failed to do that despite some of its noble aims.
That isn’t the fault of the Assembly, but the fault of government.
A Welsh Government which is tired after nearly twenty years in power and has run out of ideas. Whisper it quietly, but I am sure there are even one or two Labour AMs who believe they need some time to renew and refresh their offer on the opposition benches.
And that’s where we come in. As an opposition party we’ve got to take our portion of the blame for the lack of change in our democracy. We’ve not managed to break that stranglehold and it is incumbent on us to show the people of Wales there is an alternative.
Wales is a hotbed of talent – from some of the brightest and best brains to the greatest and grandest goods. But the true potential of our country is not being unleashed and the country’s leaders have to take responsibility.
That’s why I want to change Wales. It’s time to change Wales for the better, providing a fresh new alternative to the stale Labour offering that’s been dished out to our people and communities for far too long.
After twenty years of near-on one-party rule it is clear whatever we have been doing in Wales is not working. The stats don’t lie. Outcomes haven’t improved. Wage packets haven’t increased. Labour’s failed solutions and grim record is there for all to see.
But it’s also clear it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way forever. Albert Einstein is broadly credited (rightly or wrongly?) with exclaiming “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
And in 2021 – the next time our people will get the chance to go to the Assembly ballot box – we have the opportunity to change course.
I’m willing to work with those across Wales who share the desire to improve our country for the better. We need to remove the roadblock to improving Wales’ fortunes – and that’s been proved to be Welsh Labour.
I believe we can deliver an exciting programme for government which puts the people of Wales first – rids ourselves from Welsh Labour and puts the aspiration of our people and communities at the heart of every decision we take.
And on St David’s Day, I don’t think there’s a better vow to make than one which puts our country’s future first – and step by step together we can remove the Labour dogma which has smothered our potential since the onset of devolution.
I appreciate this offer won’t be for everyone. That’s the beauty of politics. But for our democracy to fully mature and to fully function, we need to deliver change here in Wales.
Welsh Labour doesn’t mean Wales. And Wales doesn’t have to mean Welsh Labour.