by Ioan Phillips
Monday, 25
January 2021

Not dead yet: Conservatism in Wales is alive and kicking

The narrative of decline and infighting is not based in reality
by Ioan Phillips
Conservatism is common currency in Wales. Credit: Getty

The obituaries are once again being written for Welsh Toryism following the resignation of Senedd group leader, Paul Davies. Even before Davies’ resignation, Theo Davies-Lewis had already warned in these pages that the future of Welsh Conservatism looks bleak — a prognosis centred around Tory decline and infighting.

This is a judgement we’ve heard before. Little more than 12 months ago, BBC Wales declared the Welsh Conservatives’ 2019 general election campaign was “in disarray” after the resignation of the then-Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns. A month later, the party gained six seats on a record 36% of the vote, driving Labour from its North Walian strongholds.

This narrative is undoubtedly attractive to those of a nationalist bent — but does it represent political reality?

First is the claim that Welsh Conservative views are embarrassingly out of sync with those of Wales’ voters. But the devosceptic tonal shift hardly runs counter to the sentiments of nearly two-fifths of the population, who either do not want any more powers devolved to the Senedd or who support its abolition altogether.

It is also worth noting that in a party where policy is made from the top down, no member of the Welsh Conservatives’ Senedd group has called for a rollback of the existing devolution settlement. Conflating the more extreme pronouncements of ordinary candidates and grassroots activists with the leadership’s stance is misleading.

Then there is the old chestnut of Wales’ visceral apathy to Conservatives — complete with an obligatory reference to the 1980s. This neat repackaging of history conveniently forgets the Tory electoral high water mark of 1983 — overseen by a certain Margaret Thatcher. Even the South Wales Valleys — long mythologised as impervious citadels of socialism — have started to slowly come round to Conservative candidates in recent elections, with UKIP and latterly the Brexit Party acting as gateways.

Far from being alien to Wales, small c conservatism is common currency among voters across the Left-Right divide. In 2017, the British Election Study (BES) found Welsh voters more supportive of the monarchy, capital punishment, and tighter welfare measures than their counterparts from other UK nations. On this basis, it is not outlandish to contend that it is the Left-liberal establishment that is more out of touch with the people of Wales.

Ultimately, lamenting the evolution of a Toryism that is more pugnacious on devolution and the union only makes sense if you believe there are correct (and therefore, incorrect) expressions of political Welshness — something that remains a highly contested concept. Expressing shock and outrage that the Conservative and Unionist Party seeks to represent voters who feel British and Welsh or predominantly British only feels confected. For all the nationalist froth, the Tories’ strategy will — if polling is correct — pay dividends come May.

So the next time you hear a politician or commentator suggesting that conservatism as an alien imposition on the Welsh body politic that will soon be consigned to history, don’t take their word for it. The wider indicators suggest otherwise.

Join the discussion

  • I live in Wales and believe that the only reason, on a LOCAL basis, to vote Conservative is as a negative-Labour gesture. At the moment the Assembly is looking stupid, whichever side you are on, so the Conservatives might benefit for a while. Also the move from Labour to Conservative in the last election has to be seen as Brexit vote and cannot be extrapolated into the future.

    I have said before and will keep on saying that the Welsh Conservatives are not actually doing anything. The way forward is to attract high paying jobs to Wales but I don’t see anything at all coming from the WCs (looks bad doesn’t it!!).

    I watch First Minister’s Question Time every week and the Conservative input is negligible. The one question which was interesting was about the loss of the British Volt factory and Drakeford just looked bored and said, ‘There’ll be other opportunities.” But nobody pressed the point. Total apathy!! The best in opposition are Plaid Cymru but they only have one policy – independence.

    I said in a post last week that I had many ideas for industry in Wales. These ideas could be silly but they are only ideas. The WCs should be providing a platform for such discussions.

  • Expect more lies and disinformation from the BBC. GB News cannot come soon enough. That aside, the upcoming Welsh election must represent some kind of record in that there will be two parties worth voting for – Reform UK and Abolish. I struggle to remember an election when there was a single party to vote for, so the Welsh can consider themselves to be very fortunate indeed.

  • True! I filled in a BBC survey the other day, indicating that at the slightest whiff of progressive indoctrination I simply switch off and go elsewhere in the market for news/entertainment. What we need is the majority to do the same, rather than imbibing and absorbing it. This is the big question for our times: is this progressive campaign working or is it water off the duck’s back?

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