Over the weekend former Cardiff Bay Conservative intern, Theo Davies- Lewis wrote for that taxpayer-supported entity Nation Cymru about the Welsh Conservatives. Davies- Lewis used the article to muse on the state of the Welsh Conservative party.
To start with, the UK government has not covered itself in glory in handling the Coronavirus pandemic, with numerous missteps and communication foibles. Another failing is allowing constituent parts of the United Kingdom to be seen as treated differently during the crisis. For instance, the rejection of the Welsh Government requests to bring forward support schemes seemingly without offering an extension to the furlough scheme fosters a narrative that undermines the Union.
Now Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives have acted as the anti- devolution and anti- Welsh brigade for several months. We should not confuse ambition for reform with hostility to devolution. The ‘Devolution Revolution’ that Paul Davies MS advocates fundamentally seeks to reform service delivery. As for accusations of being anti- Welsh is pointing out a fiscal deficit substantive proof?
Davies- Lewis suggests that the Welsh Conservatives should form their own identity, to some this would be eminently sensible. Yet who would ultimately be the leader of this entity? Would it be the Secretary of State for Wales or the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament?
The idea that the Welsh Conservatives should have a distinct identity poses several issues not confined to just conundrums over leadership. The electoral breakthrough from the General Election last year came on the back of the Westminster campaign with an unambiguously clear objective -namely to get Brexit done. Would the part have been as effective in December if it was a movement driven by Welsh issues?
One could suspect that this idealised form of the Welsh Conservative party with David Melding MS at its core would not have had such an impact with the electorate. The party had several elections with Melding at the core, three National Assembly elections in fact where he helped to write the manifesto and did those elections yield electoral breakthrough?
Melding is a well-read, thoughtful politician, yet his approach towards devolution appears to be out of step with the party membership. Polling from earlier this year suggests that 54-56% of Conservative voters would vote to abolish the Welsh Parliament in a yes/ no referendum. Such polling indicates that a softer approach to devolution may not be electorally prudent.
What Davies- Lewis may not appreciate that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party historically has a degree of autonomy that the Welsh Conservatives have not had. Aspirations may exist in some quarters for the Welsh Conservatives to obtain greater independence, yet this seems an unnecessary distraction and ignores that the parties fortunes are dependent upon Westminster performance.
Returning to Melding, those who have read his musings on Last of the Unionists will note that he has long been against leaving the European Union and advocates federalism as the future for the United Kingdom. Those of who are unionists, see federalism as incompatible with the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. However, well-intentioned the suggestion of federalism is, it has limitations and would fail to bind the United Kingdom together.
For the Internal Market Bill, an observation it seems that those opposed to the bill often are those in support of the break up of the United Kingdom or are fully-fledged supporters of devolution.
Where were there objections when the European Union held those powers? The lack of objection previously shows that the real issue is a fear of a more assertive United Kingdom.
Now, for the notion that the Welsh Conservatives are opposed to taking independent decisions within the UK, Davies- Lewis needs to appreciate that conservatives would welcome localised decision making. The reservations, Welsh Conservatives have about devolution is that power is that it is creating a viable framework to break up the United Kingdom.
Naturally there are merits to the assessment that Wales needs a strong opposition. The Devolution Revolution outlined by Davies and the Welsh Conservatives is the means for such opposition, rhetoric must now be backed up with detail.