Written by a senior Conservative Party member in Wales, as part of our general election series.
Just twenty years ago everyone had written off the Welsh Conservative Party. Now, they’re all anyone can talk about.
From an almost Tory-free zone in 1997, the party of 2017 now represents every part of Wales. With an historic win at the 2009 European elections, we have won more council seats, more MPs and the Tories now serve as the Official Opposition in the National Assembly.
The first two opinion polls of the General Election predict the Welsh Conservatives are on course to surpass the highs of 1979 and 1983 under Margaret Thatcher, 2015 under David Cameron, and even, in percentage terms, the result achieved in 1935 under Stanley Baldwin.
This progress in recent years has been as steady as it has been impressive. While two polls and an eighty-seat gain in the local elections on 4 May do not guarantee success on 8 June, they do indicate how far the party has come – and how far it still has to go.
The aim is for success on 8 June. Not just in winning more seats but in electing the party’s first woman MP. Women’s suffrage has been law for ninety-nine years and the Welsh Conservatives’ record is unacceptable; a product of years of complacency and discrimination.
The General Election highlights one more challenge for the Welsh Conservatives: a party in government at Westminster should do more than just aspire to gain seats in Wales. In the National Assembly it has been ten years since the party was on the brink of power. The so-called rainbow coalition – an alliance between the Conservatives, LibDems, and Plaid Cymru – promised to transform Welsh politics. Yet today the Welsh Conservatives are as far from power as at any time since the advent of devolution.
Our third challenge is to counter the accusations of isolationism that follow the Welsh party leadership’s support for Brexit. What is the answer? Conservatives in Wales must become unashamedly internationalist. Building a narrative which sets the party’s vision far beyond the borders of Wales rather than stopping at them will not only provide a credible alternative to Welsh nationalism, but post-Brexit, will recapture the centre ground which almost took the Welsh Conservatives to government a decade ago.
The foundations for this global vision already exist. Welsh Conservatives are leading the debate on the urgent need for new education policies based on global best practice to improve the miserable PISA results achieved under the Welsh Labour Government. This will develop the cooperation which exists between Welsh universities, global investors and colleagues from around the world.
In government, Conservatives are linking Wales to the world with improvements to rail infrastructure. The country is now more attractive to overseas investors as well as home-grown markets. The party also needs to finesse its approach to the Welsh Government-owned Cardiff Airport, recognising the potential for further route development, and the opportunities the newly-won scheduled service between Wales and Qatar will bring.
As the engine room of the Industrial Revolution, Wales earned itself the reputation as a progressive, inclusive, tolerant, globally outward looking nation. Speaking for the 772,000 people in Wales who voted to stay in the EU, as well as the 854,000 who voted to leave – and for those who didn’t vote at all. These are the principles which the Welsh Conservatives must emulate if it wants a serious role in devolved politics.
Being the Official Opposition in the National Assembly is about more than just numbers: it’s about relevance, influence, and credibility. With another four years until the next devolved elections, it is now time to begin that work and show that the Welsh Conservatives will take best practice wherever they find it in the world, working with others at home and abroad to provide global solutions to local problems.