A Fresh Agenda

A Fresh Agenda

Christopher Harries

Opposition in politics can be a difficult act, with fortunes often dependent on factors beyond the control of the politicians, advisors and strategists.

That famous quote on the fortunes of a government “Events, dear boy, events” attributed to the former Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan could also apply to the determiner on the success of an opposition. 

When thinking about the Welsh Conservative Party, it is fair to say that Macmillan’s quote has historically been applicable. In the run-up to the last election for the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Conservative Party campaign was blown off course by uncertainty over the fate of the Steelworks in Port Talbot and an insurgent party in the form of UKIP.

With the next election for the Welsh Parliament looming history could be repeating itself?

Events like the coronavirus pandemic have buffeted the electoral fortunes of the Welsh Conservatives. Polling earlier in the year had support for the Welsh Conservatives at a record high, with the party projected to win twenty-six seats in the Welsh Parliament.

Recent polling, however, has seen the Welsh Conservatives polling figures that would see gains albeit not to level that would see Labour supplanted as the leading party in the Senedd. While the party could haemorrhage support to the anti-devolution Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party

It appears that the Coronavirus pandemic has asserted devolution in the mind of the Welsh electorate, reinforcing responsibility and opposition. At the same time, the Welsh Conservatives fortunes have been hampered by events in Westminster and the rise in support for the insurgent party hostile to devolution.

The previous impact of external events and insurgent parties upon the electoral fortunes of the Welsh Conservatives poses the question of how the Conservative group should proceed.

Instead of the conventional Welsh Conservative approach to opposition in Cardiff Bay, the party should take a different approach. The Devolution Revolution outlined in the last few months could be a foundation to build on. 

Paul Davies MS could use the coming weeks and months to outline a new approach for governance in Wales post-pandemic. The reconciliation of the devosceptic Conservative support base with political reality is essential for the success of the campaign. 

Reconciliation requires more than just words, in an article for Conservative Home Davies MS stated:

“And yes, I have been listening to the concerns of those who want to reverse the devolution settlement. I hear you, and I understand.”

Despite this statement, the article failed to convey an appreciation that devoscepticism is more than just dissatisfaction with perpetual Labour governance. Fundamentally the concept of devolution is in itself the problem, as such a set up is incompatible with the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. 

Earlier in the article, Davies MS asserted that “devolution has not been a disaster. But it does need a complete overhaul.” 

If a complete overhaul is necessary, are we not to infer then that this manifestation of devolution has indeed been a disaster?

So to reconciliation, the group under Paul Davies MS have talked about features of Cardiff Bay like the commission budget, saying no to further devolution of powers and measures like a civil service reform. 

Davies MS must be prepared to go further in the course of the Devolution Revolution. A localism agenda to enhance decision making at the local authority level, creating metro mayors for the parts of Wales too often overlooked by the devolved parliament like North, Mid and West Wales.

Davies MS should be mindful of the famous quote ‘Like Saturn, the revolution eats its children‘ by Jacques Mallet du PanWith an insurgent anti devolution party on the flank, it could be that the new status quo is overwhelmed by the forces unleashed by the Devolution Revolution.

Short of abolition, divesting the Welsh Parliament of competencies should be the ambition of the Devolution Revolution. To localise certain powers and where appropriate restore competencies to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. 

This approach fits with the principle of localism and ends the nation-building that has been the primary focus of the last twenty years.

Such an approach also reflects the reality that the public is not yet at the point of abolition. 

While the public may not be at the point of abolition, it is clear there is apathy to the institution, you only have to look at the turnout for the devolved elections. So effort must be made to engage with those apathetic of the devolved institution.

The Welsh Conservatives should take the opportunity to redefine the accepted rules of opposition and ignore the guidance of the devophile chattering class. This approach would allow the Welsh Conservatives to set a localism agenda, focused on helping build a foundation for recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Welsh Conservatives should take the opportunity to redefine the accepted rules of opposition in Cardiff Bay and with it the devolution settlement. 

In Response

In Response

Christopher Harries

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.



Christopher Harries

The people of Wales have in the last few days been unwittingly subject to a miraculous act. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has inadvertently performed the political equivalent of the miracle in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel, Jesus cured a Celidonius of blindness while Drakeford may have gifted the Welsh public sight.

Since the onset of Devolution, Labour has dominated politics in Cardiff Bay. That dominance has been impervious to failings or scandal.

In the absence of media scrutiny and public interest, events that would cause substantive damage to the public trust if they were to happen in Westminster can pass without impact on the public perception of the Welsh Labour Government.

Imagine the furore if in Westminster a Minister had sought to pressure the civil servants at their command to obtain private information on opposition figures. Or if the Prime Minister were to act unlawfully in the way he made arrangements for an inquiry connected to the suicide of a colleague? These are just some of the scandals that have passed here in Wales without the Government facing real scrutiny or judgement.

To focus on scandal is not to ignore failings, like the management of the Welsh Health Service which has seen five of seven health boards in Wales taken into special measures. Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board remains in special measures more than five years after being into placed into such measures by the then Health Minister, one Mark Drakeford.

Let us not forget that Labour has governed Wales in one form or another for over twenty years. Yet how often has the Welsh Government been held to account for failings that harm the people of Wales?

Devolution has created a situation where politicians in Cardiff Bay have been able to evade being accountable for their failings. The public often apportions blame to Westminster rather than to those responsible in Cardiff Bay. This situation is exacerbated by a client media that seems to be averse to subjecting Ministers in Cardiff Bay to the sort of scrutiny afforded to those in Westminster.

The First Minister may have inadvertently given the Welsh public the miraculous restoration of sight that has largely been missing for twenty years. The debacle of restrictions applied to the sale of non- essential goods in retailers allowed to remain open has given the Welsh Government greater scrutiny or wider media attention since the onset of devolution.

With the next election for the Welsh Parliament looming closer, this miracle should be welcomed by all. Increased interest in the politics of Cardiff Bay may help to address the apathy that has become increasingly apparent with each election.

With the devolved Government finally seen to be responsible for measures that adversely impact on the lives of individuals, this could be the decisive moment of political awakening and with it change.

In the wake of scrutiny and public anger, the opportunity is there for the Welsh Conservatives to demonstrate that they are a government in waiting. Offering enhanced scrutiny as well as a substantive agenda for change that delivers for the people of Wales.

Let us hope that the restoration of sight to the people of Wales is not fleeting but permanent like that restored to Celidonius.

For the Union

For the Union

Christopher Harries

The apocryphal story of King Canute and the tide, tells of the monarch who demonstrates the limitations of his powers compared to that of the almighty. This story often misrepresented with Canute actions seen as futile, with the king presented as believing that it was in his authority to control nature.

The misrepresented usage could be an example to describe the state of modern-day unionism. To some unionists, there seems to be a sense of futility. To them, the days of the United Kingdom are drawing to a close and so it is futile to resist. Polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft of English based supporters of the Conservative Party suggests they would be willing to accept the break up of the United Kingdom.

Douglas Ross MP leader of the Scottish Conservative Party was right to call this out in his speech to the virtual Conservative Party Conference. For too long, unionism in England has been in retreat to the detriment of the United Kingdom. As Ross stated it is time for the Conservative party to rediscover unionism. Symbolic gestures and rhetoric will not suffice.

In Wales, Paul Davies MS the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament has stated his desire to respect devolution. Davies aspires to delineate the competencies of the Welsh Government so that the Welsh Government is not assuming competencies that are exercised by Westminster.

Ross in Scotland and Davies in Wales, are just some examples of a much-needed change in ethos. Coupled with announcements from Boris Johnson that the UK government will try to take forward the much needed M4 relief road as well as the fixed link between Northern Ireland and Scotland. It appears that Conservative politicians are coming to realise that a change of emphasis must occur if the Union is to survive.

It is right for Westminster to step up to deliver for the people of the United Kingdom. For instance, the devolved Welsh government stood for election on a manifesto that included a pledge to build the M4 relief road. The Welsh government has failed to deliver on this manifesto pledge to the detriment of the people of Wales, so it is right for Westminster to look to deliver the project.

As part of a more assertive approach to the Union, the Westminster government must address the replacement for the EU Structural and Investment (ESI) funding, to do so would allow Westminster to be seen to deliver for people across the United Kingdom. The Union must be about more than just finance however an alternative to ESI funding would help dispel some of the myths that Westminster has scant regard for the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.

An assertive form of unionism can help safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom. One that acknowledges the unique nature of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom while actively delivering for its people.

No More Politicians Without The People’s Say

No More Politicians Without The People’s Say

Rachel Banner


Last week, Italians voted to reduce the size of their Parliament by a third, a move which Movimento 5 Stelle claims will save the country €1 billion over 10 years. In contrast, amidst the economic precariousness wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Labour-Plaid axis in Cardiff Bay continues to gripe about ‘needing’ more Senedd Members  at the estimated cost of £12 million per year. Wales, for a country of 3 million people, has 60 MSs and 40 MPs.

Ever since the Richard Commission published its report in 2004, the demand for more politicians has been a regular refrain. It’s understandable: a whopping 17.7% pay hike, chauffeur-driven cars, the opportunity to get multiple family members on the payroll, £8 -12,000 extra for Committee chairs – why would such perks not prove a siren voice to thrusting devocrats?

Over these twenty devolution years, there has been one, albeit brief, moment when Bay politicians stopped calling for more AMs. On the contrary, they positively didn’t want them! This miraculous hiatus occurred around the time of the 2011 referendum. Indeed, First Minister Carwyn Jones affirmed that Wales wouldn’t need more than 60 AMs in the event of a Yes vote. 

In March 2010, the then Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones went further. Not only would there be no need to increase the number of AMs if new powers were gained as a result of a referendum, but there might even be “cost efficiencies”. She would also, she declared, “rather no public money be spent on funding two campaign groups than if public money was used to peddle lies”.Fast forward to 2016 and  Ms Jones, now Presiding Officer, stunned us all with her Damascene conversion: “There are no more hours in the day, you can’t be in two places, or in two committees, at the same time…we need more members.”

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to proponents of a larger Senedd that their demands for more Members presuppose one-way traffic on the powers question. If, as the Welsh Government claims, devolution is being rolled back by the Internal Market Bill, we actually need fewer Members of the Senedd, not more.

The truth is that until the separatists get their way – or until grievance narratives no longer serve Welsh Labour well – even a thousand new Senedd Members will not be enough to quench the incessant demands for more powers, capacity and cash.

Here’s a challenge to the Cardiff Bay establishment: put your argument for more Senedd politicians to the people in a referendum. Don’t, this time, resort to cosy consensus, slipping it discreetly into your respective manifestos and interpreting that as a mandate to increase numbers. That is not consent.

A National Union

A National Union

Henry Hill

What are the benefits of being a United Kingdom? This is the question that unionists are urgently trying to answer as pressure mounts for a second independence referendum in Scotland. The orthodox strategy, honed over the two decades since the advent of devolution in 1998, increasingly boils down to ‘cash’. The Union allows for the ‘pooling and sharing’ of resources across Britain – and thanks to the vagaries of the Barnett Formula, usually to the disproportionate benefit of Scots!

We saw the apex (or nadir) of this approach during the 2014 referendum, when proposals for a dramatic transfer of fresh powers to the Scottish Parliament, combined with keeping all the cash currently distributed via the Union, was sold to voters as ‘the best of both worlds’. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to recognise what a self-defeating strategy this is, implying as it does that the only good thing about being part of the UK is the money. It boggles the mind to see many of the sages behind this approach now telling us that we need a case for the Union that doesn’t rest on cash alone!

After all, what else is it supposed to rest on? The unfortunate result of two decades of ‘devolve and forget’ is that across vast areas of policy the Union doesn’t actually do very much. With territorial devocrats drawing bright red lines around whole areas of policy, especially education and health, it’s difficult to argue that being part of the UK actually delivers better outcomes on a huge range of issues which really matter to voters (beyond, of course, paying for them).

Likewise, the emotional foundations of the Union have been worn away. Decades of sustained campaigning by nationalists (and I include the small-n Labour variety in that) has seen the strength of the British identity dwindle year-by-year. As a result, emotive appeals to our shared nationhood – a potent weapon in the separatist arsenal – may fire up our base but, it is alleged, alienate swing voters.

Put all that together and the almost inescapable conclusion is that the case for the Union must rest on… the cash. Which, as pretty much everyone agrees, is not enough. Pass Go, try again.

Unionism’s traditional hierarchy, who have staked their reputations on devolution, will find this a hard pill to swallow. The temptation to fight the next referendum on the promise of yet more powers (perhaps packaged as ‘federalism’) will be very strong – and if it is fought soon, they will
have the tactical exigencies of an imminent campaign on their side.

But we need to wake up to the longer-term reality: if the case for Britain isn’t going to rest on cash alone, we must start the long-overdue work of building up those other pillars. That means actively trying to win the affections of the people for the Union – and that in turns means having the Union actually do things which ordinary voters notice and care about.

If we don’t, then eventually our shared identity, the essential cement of our state, will be completely worn away. And once there’s no such thing as a ‘British taxpayer’, there will not even be any cash.

Power Grab?

Power Grab?

Christopher Harries

According to the devocrats the UK Internal Markets Bill is a power grab and assault on devolution by Westminster. Welsh Government Minister for European Transition Jeremy Miles told the BBC, that Westminster having such powers would “sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations.

If the devolved institution has never had such powers, how exactly is this a power grab?

And if such powers being held anywhere but the devolved institution truly posed a threat to the devolution settlement, you must question why the devocrats did not rail against the European Union holding such powers.

Where was the outrage about a power grab when tax powers were devolved despite the question for the 2011 Welsh Devolution referendum clearly stating that the Assembly cannot make laws on tax whatever the result of this vote. Strangely the devocrats did not object to this power transference facilitated by the Westminster Government without any instruction from the people of Wales.

Nor did devocrats object when Westminster imposed abortion on Northern Ireland.  In fact, Plaid Cymru and the SNP representatives in Westminster had no qualms about voting to impose abortion on Northern Ireland – yes the vote occurred when the Northern Ireland Assembly was deadlocked but surely this was a violation of devolution?

Once devolved governance via the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored the legislature voted to reject the changes to abortion law. This put the decision voted for in Westminster against the clear will of the devolved institution. Did Plaid Cymru or SNP representatives in Westminster lament the role they played in this assault on devolution in Northern Ireland?

Ignore the faux cries of the devocrats this is a tantrum as Westminster has not meekly bowed to the devolved institutions.

Stop Taxpayers’ Funding Nation Cymru

Stop Taxpayers’ Funding Nation Cymru

Christopher Harries

We have previously raised concerns about the website Nation Cymru receiving public funding, given the partisan nature of the page.

Concerns over such an entity receiving public funding have previously been justified based on the token articles by figures from across the political spectrum.

Yet a visit to Nation Cymru today added substance to the concerns previously raised. At the top of the page was an advert for the Plaid Cymru politician Llyr Gruffydd MS.

Now one should applaud the team at Nation Cymru for seeking to raise revenue via advertising to stop being on the public teat yet surely such advertising undermines the argument that the page is non-partisan?

Based on the presence of the page running advertising on behalf of a political figure and party it does not seem right for that organisation to be in receipt of funding from the Welsh Government and various third sector entities.

To this end, we call on the Welsh Government and the Book Council for Wales to cease all further funding for Nation Cymru.

NB. Yes the advert by Llyr Gruffydd MS is likely paid for out of his assembly funding.

The Narrative

The Narrative

Christopher Harries

On social media, Welsh Nationalists have become adept at building a narrative for the independence cause. This narrative is paradoxically one of a diminished, impoverished Wales as a result of the English yoke whilst simultaneously on the cusp of national greatness.

Too often the Welsh Nationalists seem averse to subjecting Cardiff Bay to the criticism afforded to Westminster. The narrative is often more important than objective scrutiny. Every perceived injustice a potent for the need for independence.

The latest outrage for the Welsh Nationalist cause was a photograph of a pacer train at Cardiff Central Station, with the message that Welsh taxpayers were paying for HS2 while being left to use cattle cars. Yet the person responsible for the post failed to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of this situation- namely that responsibility for the train franchise is devolved.

Be under no illusion that criticism of the social media post is somehow tacit support for HS2. This gargantuan white elephant project should have been scrapped, with the restoration of the Grand Central Line being a viable alternative.

Train services in Wales are operated by a subsidiary of the Welsh Government Transport for Wales which is responsible for issuance and upkeep of the franchise for rail services. In short, the ultimate responsibility for the state of the rolling stock is with the Welsh government.

Now to be fair to the operators of the franchise (Transport for Wales) they have taken steps to replace the antiquated rolling stock inherited from the previous franchise operators. Despite the commitment to replace the rolling stock, Class 143 Pacer trains such as those photographed and dispersed over social media will continue to be a sight at Welsh train stations for the next few years.

Maybe the advocate on social media did not understand the involvement of the devolved government, or maybe this was small detail was deliberately withheld as it was not in keeping with the narrative…

The NHS and The Union

The NHS and The Union

Charlie Evans

The National Health Service goes right to the heart of who we are as a people. Founded in 1946 first in England and Wales, Scotland 1947 and Northern Ireland 1948, it is an institution rooted in the nation of the United Kingdom and the constituent nations themselves, no more so than when the country came together to applaud its workers on a weekly basis earlier this year.

Free at the point of use, but collectively funded through general taxation, many on the Left laud the NHS as some form of socialist achievement, solely the work of the post-War Labour Government. The reality was its formation was the work of Britons across the political spectrum and across Britain. Indeed it was Dr Somerville Hastings of the Socialist Medical Association who got the Labour Party to commit to a state health service in the 1930s, but it was the work of Liberal economist William Beveridge and Tory Health Minister Henry Willink that brought this reality even closer. Half of Scotland was already covered by state provision and it was under the Atlee administration where Tredegar-born Aneurin Bevan made this decades-old idea a living reality.

Many lament the four systems approach to the Health Service and see it as a failure of devolution, yet the four systems approach has been at the heart of the NHS through its history, accountability shared initially by the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

See the source image
Aneurin Bevan. Source: Daily Express

Many also lament what almost seems like the near religiosity, public worship of the Health Service- in fact I am sure I would have uttered the words “the closest thing to a state religion” in the past. However it is the one thing that does seem to unite the country- the initial community-spirit of those early coronavirus months did seem to invoke in us a sense of community and a healing of the old Brexit wounds, which now seems to have dissipated. But the NHS speaks to the success of the Union.

‘The NHS speaks to the success of the Union’

Pieces on the Prydain Review have sought to set out the framework to make the romantic argument for the Union as opposed to the boring mundane economic arguments of old. The NHS is the first of these romantic cases to be made. To the separatists, the Union is a mere expression of English imperialism and dominance, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland being the final colonies of England in need of liberation, not a liberation from foreign actors but rather a liberation of the self, to see the flourishing of Welsh identity to replace any sense of British identity. Save for the current failures of the health service, the story of the NHS shatters the myth of Britain being a failed project.  The NHS is a long-standing institution breathed and formed by the collaborative work of Britons across the Isles and is sustained everyday by public servants from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly.

If this does not demonstrate the success of Britain, then what does?