Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds The Conservative Party is seen as the establishment, the most successful party in terms of English politics, at least. Looking to Wales however, we get a very, very different picture of historical weakness, which just isn’t something which hacks back to the Second World War, or the First World War, or the Boer War, or even the Crimean War. This is a very, very long standing weakness. Well, it’s about the Crimean War, yes. Conservative weakness in Wales is of much longer historical standing, than say, in Scotland. Amazing statistic– the last general election where the conservatives had higher votes in Wales and England, was in 1859. Ever since then, they’ve always done worse in Wales.
Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds And that hasn’t been something that’s picked up in recent years. It wasn’t specifically the fault of Margaret Thatcher, or John Redwood, or anyone. This is a very longstanding thing which seems to be linked to a perception amongst much of the Welsh population, that the conservatives were a fundamentally English party. They weren’t truly Welsh. So historically, they have very much underperformed, And leading up to, I suppose the 1997 general election, when they suffered complete electoral wipe out in Wales. Yeah, and then of course, what you then get, is this very, very paradoxical situation of arguably, devolution, saving The Welsh Conservatives, or at least putting them back on the agenda.
Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds They opposed– fought against it– Yeah, they fought against it tooth and nail. –tooth and nail, also against any kind of proportionality in the electoral system. And yet, a semi-proportional system in the devolved election gives them a lifeline, brings them back into our politics. Then you get this really quite interesting process of– well, we’ve sometimes called it ‘Welshing up’. Which is a terrible phrase. But in a sense, trying to be seen as a more Welsh party, trying to challenge this traditional view of the Conservative Party in Wales, as not somehow being an authentically Welsh manifestation. Yeah. I think they were pretty unsuccessful in the first assembly election, fighting under a fairly traditional, still pretty devo skeptic, manifesto.
Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds Then they had a change of leadership a few months later. And Nick Bourne, I think, is one of the most fascinating people in modern Welsh politics, who was leader from 2000 to 2011, and gradually, slowly, brought the party in a direction, I think he came to realize was necessary, of adopting more positive attitude, not only to devolution, but to Welshness, trying to develop a more authentically Welsh identity for the party. And there’s was no spectacular break with the past, but a gradual movement of the party. And he was gradually able to bring this party with him. Absolutely. I think anybody interested in political ideas, somebody like David Melding who lead the intellectual movement.
Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds Sometimes leading a bit too far off, his colleagues, maybe, in terms of his own comfort. But the way that he in particular, has articulated a different narrative of an authentic, Welsh, conservative tradition. Which is more positive about devolution, is unionist, but not assimilationist, if you like. He’s unionist but recognizing Wales within the union. That’s been a really interesting trend and development over the last few years. And there’s been clear electoral payoffs for that. The conservatives have improved their standing every assembly election since the first one.
Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds And they’ve improved their standing at every general election since 1997, including last year, 2015, doing surprisingly well, making several gains, picking up seats– Gower for instance, which they hadn’t won, ever– seats that no one really expected them to win. But that’s right. But also continuing tension within the party. So as you said, Nick Bourne, and the success of Andrew R.T. Davies, they’ve been articulating this more positive Welsh image. But in terms of the MPs elected last year, there’s clearly a group of hardcore devolution skeptics among them.
Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds And you see these tensions within the Conservative Party in terms of how, for example, in the forthcoming election, they’re clearly going to be talking about tax cuts, using the partial devolution of income tax to suggest tax cuts. But that’s something which clearly creates all kinds of internal issues with some of the devo skeptic MPs, saying, no, there should be a referendum before we do that, which in a sense, would negate that as a strategy. So you’ve got these tensions within the Conservative Party, despite the fact that they’ve done rather well over the last few years, relatively speaking. Yes. I suppose we’ve see those tensions within the Labour Party very much in the last decade and a half.
Skip to 5 minutes and 6 seconds And we’re seeing them a bit more obviously now in the Conservative Party. Is there any prospect of a conservative-led government in Wales after May? That looks unlikely. We would need to see a major collapse in Labour support, conservatives picking up pretty much every constituency seat that you could plausibly, on an extraordinarily good day, imagine them winning. And then probably them also getting some, maybe confidence, and supply, or some support, from however many AMs were elected. And that would seem the only vaguely plausible route into government. It seems pretty much impossible to imagine Labour working with the Conservatives in government. And indeed, Plaid Cymru as well. And that’s an interesting change, of course.
Skip to 5 minutes and 57 seconds Back in 2007 I think lots of people who don’t follow Welsh politics, particularly closely, won’t realize that in 2007, we had this extraordinary situation where Plaid Cymru, essentially could choose to be in power as a junior partner with Labour, in a coalition, or leading the so-called Rainbow Coalition with the conservatives and liberal democrats on board. Any prospect of a Rainbow appears to have disappeared, at least for this May. Yeah. I think the Rainbow was a product of particular historical circumstances. And three Rainbow parties have been the opposition to a Labour government for four years. They thought that Labour government had been under-delivering. There are also interpersonal dynamics between their leaders.
Skip to 6 minutes and 44 seconds I think you now have leaders who would find it more difficult to work together. And Nick Bourne was quite an emollient figure. Andrew R.T. Davies is more convertive. And from Plaid Cymru’s point of view, Leanne Wood was one of Plaid’s internal opponents to the idea of a Rainbow Coalition. So it seems pretty unlikely that she would be willing to lead her party to any sort of arrangement with the Tories. What about Andrew R.T. Davies in terms of what do we know about his standing and his popularity? His level of familiarity, in fact. Andrew R.T. Davies is not that widely known amongst much of the Welsh public.
Skip to 7 minutes and 19 seconds Amongst conservative politicians, who are most well known in Wales, David Cameron would clearly stand head and shoulders above any others. But I think probably Stephen Crabb for Secretary of State for Wales, is also probably more well known than Andrew R.T. Davies. Andrew is quite an interesting figure. He’s somebody. Who by his own emission. got interested and came into politics relatively late in life. That’s still sometimes maybe a bit obvious. He’s not perhaps the most obviously polished public speaker. He doesn’t look like somebody who’s been doing this since they were a teenager. And I could say, because I’m from a farming background, he does look like a farmer in the Senedd.
Skip to 7 minutes and 54 seconds Which is not an insult, but it’s– But I think it possibly helps him come over quite well with many rural voters, that he doesn’t look like the ultra-polished career politician who’s been doing this for five years. But interestingly, he’s not standing for a constituency in this election. He is standing simply on the list, and possibly missing an opportunity there. Well, and the conservatives do have in the South Wales Central region, one or two possible winnable seats, including Vale of Glamorgan, where he is based. If conservatives actually did extraordinarily well on constituency seats, it might even conceivably be possible that his list seat could be vulnerable. Which is what happened, which is why, of course he’s leader in the first place.
Skip to 8 minutes and 37 seconds Because Nick Bourne lost his seats. Because the conservatives did too well in the constituency section. In Mid and West Wales. In Mid and West Wales. In 2011, yeah. Since 2011. So they think and work in very strange ways. I think it’s pretty unlikely. He’s top of the conservative list in South Wales Central. It’s pretty unlikely that conservatives would do so well on the constituencies, but still pretty badly on the lists, that he wouldn’t get in through that means. But I suppose it’s just about imaginable. Watch this space. Yeah. Watch this space.
The Welsh Conservatives
Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully of Cardiff University discuss the Welsh Conservatives’ leadership, history and future.
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