Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conservatives in Wales a-changin.

I lost my seat in the National Assembly for Wales at the last election (in 1997) because the Conservative Party did better than expected. The unexpected result which did for me was Angela Burns' magnificent victory in West Carmarthen and South Pembs (by 98 votes). But the person who can more accurately be said to have replaced me as representative for Mid and West Wales was Plaid Cymru AM, Nerys Evans. Please don't ask me to explain. Life's too short.

Anyway, Nerys has decided to forego the comfort (electoral desert more like) of the regional vote to stand against Angela next May. With the experienced Christine Gwyther standing for Labour, this is going to be the seat to watch on election night. The Western Mail has given Nerys a big leg-up today by running a prominent two page article about her, complete with photograph. Because I'm interested in young Welsh political talent, of whichever party, I read it. And I have to say there's a thread running through it that I question - and which has inspired this blog post.

Nerys is reported to have said "The Conservatives are now branding themselves as Welsh Conservatives.....down to Plaid Cymru's existence". This is most certainly not the case. I was very much part of the Conservative Party in Wales, which recognised in the late 1990's that we needed to rediscover what I'll refer to as the 'Wyn Roberts factor', and reconnect with the Welsh people. It was nothing whatsoever to do with Plaid Cymru. Personally, I very much approved of our new approach - which more accurately is a rediscovery of a previous approach. The credit for this lies with those who have shaped the Conservative Party then and since then - from within, with courage and vision. I hope this is how the Welsh Conservative presence at Westminster will also be regarded.


Anonymous said...

Dear Glyn,
I read the article myself and found it quite interesting.

Perhaps Plaid Cymru didn't create the 'Welsh' Conservatives directly, but I really believe they did indirectly. It's nothing to be embarrassed about.

Why do I say this? well it all boils down to Nationalism. And you have to say that after Tryweryn an the like Plaid Cymru did become a symbol of nationalism for Wales. And whether you like it or not, there is a clear link with nationalism and the creation of Minister for Welsh Affairs, and then Secretary of State.

And as nationalism became more popular, parties had to adapt. And here we now have the Welsh Conservative Party.

Just a question to you Glyn- I'm assuming the Conservatives aren't a "federal" party. Do you think this would be a good idea in the future, or does it weaken the party?

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I don't think the anger generated amonst Welsh people in the 20th century was anything to do with Plaid Cymru either. The party responded rather than stimulated. Nationalism (awareness of nationhood is less perjorative) is generally 'right of centre' internationally, and the anger about Tryweryn and the development of a Welsh political identity has grown across the political spectrum in Wales. I would contend that none of it has been the consequence of the existance of Plaid Cymru. Even devolution was driven by the Labour Party, supported by the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru. The biggest step forward for the Welsh Language was made by Wyn Roberts' curriculum changes in the 1990s. Plaid Cymru is a creation of the same popular national mood that has influenced other parties- and there's nothing wrong with that. There have been several of us who have argued for many years that the Conservatives were on the wrong side of this debate - and that was nothing to do with Plaid Cymru either.

The 'federal' question is impossible to answer. The word seems to carry all sorts of connotations, which make it difficult to respond with a Yes or No. For some the word equates to 'independence'. For others it is no more than a description of what we have now - albeit a rather asymetrical version. Ironically (in my opinion) the greatest federalists ar those who demand an English Parliament.

Royston Jones said...

I'm not sure I can agree with you, Glyn, about the Conservative and Unionist Party in Wales becoming more Welsh. Certainly, people like yourself, Brynle Williams, David Melding and others help that image, but I still see your party as an adjunct to the English or British party in a way that the Scottish Conservatives are not.

For I can remember Scottish Conservatives standing as 'Unionist' candidates, in order to placate their Orange voters. So there is a different history up there, partly influenced by Irish politics but with other, distinctly Scottish, influences. And as the Conservative Party scarely exists in Northern Ireland itself this leaves us with England and Wales, or 'Englandandwales'.

The problem for the Conservative Party in Wales is that if it goes too far in search of a Welsh identity it will alienate many of its voters. For the truth is that a disproportionate number of Conservative voters in Wales are English. Where would your party be in Clwyd W. or W. Carms and S. Pembs without the votes of retired English people? (Or anywhere else in Wales?)

I almost feel sorry for the Conservative and Unionist Party. With devolution progressing the need to appear more Welsh has never been greater, or fraught with more difficulties . . . and I haven't even mentioned UKIP waiting to pick up the pieces.

The brutal truth is that there's no way the Conservative and Unionist Party can become - in any meaningful sense - more Welsh, unless it develops a death wish.

Glyn Davies said...

Its dynamic to receive a comment that I totally and fundamentally disagree with!! I know that there are many who think as you do Royston, and my job it to prove you wrong, as Wyn Roberts proved you wrong. And what is wrong with winning the support of people who have moved into Wales. Their votes are of equal value to those who were born here. I find its often those who move in that appreciate most what we have in Wales.

Royston Jones said...

"I find its often those who move in that appreciate most what we have in Wales."

But what exactly is it that they "appreciate", Glyn? In my experience it's the scenery, the low crime rates, less traffic on the roads . . . basically, the quality of life.

Many of them try to ignore Welsh identity, regarding it as a bit of a nuisance. They would rather pretend that they're living in England but without the problems of multi-cultural urban life.

Being uneasy with the Welsh presence and terrified by the threat of the 'slippery slope' they vote for a party that is guaranteed to keep Wales tied to England. Hence the strength of the Conservative Party in certain parts of Wales where there are enough of such people to make an electoral difference.

But I repeat, the problem for your party, Glyn, is that by appearing more Welsh, by supporting a Yes vote in the devolution referendum next March, you risk driving many of these people into the arms of UKIP, which is always looking for opportunities to portray your party as being a threat to the Union or soft on Johnny Foreigner. (Which may or may not include us Welsh.)

You come across as a basically decent man, Glyn, but I'm afraid your party is simply a more moderate expression of English nationalism than UKIP. But if UKIP becomes stronger, then it's obvious which way your party will have to go, both in England and in Wales. (Or should that be 'Englandandwales'?)

Glyn Davies said...

Royston - We shall have to let our disagreement lie there - and wait and see. I try to just look at the evidence, and not be overly influenced by some minority voice, which can always be found to justify any claim.

What I see is that I work in an office with 3 other Welsh Conservative MPs who are deeply commited to Wales. Three of us speak Welsh and are very enthusiastic about the culture of Wales. Welsh is the language of our office much of the time. And I'm a PPS to a Secretary of State for Wales who has delivered on the March 3rd referendum (which I do not believe a Labour Government would have) and I know from that closeness just how difficult it was to deliver. Don't think I'm breaking any confidence when I say she was beside herself with joy and relief when the paperwork was finally signed off earlier this month. Same goes for S4C. All around me, I saw noise and flapping - except in our office were I saw determination and committment to our Welsh Language channel. I've had a life time listening to anti-Tory rhetoric - usually not based on evidence. What I care about is delivery - for my nation. This is what I've said to the 400 Conservative members of the Montgomeryshire Association, and my constituents for years. Throughout the last 12 years they have continued to support me, and last May produced the shock result of the General Election - and most of us live alongside the English border.

Royston Jones said...

Agreed. Or, rather, we do not agree. Except in agreeing to let this matter lie. Agreed?

Sea Wood said...

"We haven’t got all the answers here in Wales." (Western Mail, "Devolution must work for Wales, says AM".)

Nice words, but are they 'throw-aways'?

Here I am, Wales #1 expert on drafting IP papers in the USA and just minutes away from the largest patent filing office in the world in the world's largest market for patented goods/services) and I have yet to find a WAG minister seriously interested in boosting Wales's IP impact in the USA. One or two WAG members, including a minister take a mild interest, but that's essentially all.

Frankly, Wales does not stand a chance of competing in a meaningful way with the likes of India and China on the IP front unless there is an over-haul of IP policy in Wales which remains based on the 'old Empire mindset'.

So its interesting that Nerys noted that “The Civil Service (in Wales) has been developed on a British model (old Empire mindset). That’s how it was created.

Nerys adds: “We (Wales) need to create a Welsh public service based on our needs and our wants and aspirations.”

It's a pity that Nerys didn't look me up when she was at the Pentagon, I live 'up the street' from the Pentagon (located in Arlington, across the river from DC). I would have shown her around the patent office located about 20 minutes drive from the Pentagon and its huge patent search rooms, which are open to the public five days a week.

I could have shown her how easy it is for Welsh inventors to directly file at the world's largest patent office. (Though it is advisable to use the services of a patent lawyer, but there's no need to double the cost by going through a UK/European patent lawyer especially if money is tight).

Democritus said...

Oh dear! What led all the UK wide parties to develop more of a 'Welsh' angle was prescisely the emergence of an Assembly which forced them into competition on specifically 'Welsh' issues.

Believe it or not none of the political parties is particularly well resourced, nor are the kind of folk who join them and give up time 'unpatriotic', although many particularly from the 'great generation' who recall the War concieve their patriotism in British terms.

For people who revere Saunders Lewis to accuse anyone else of being unpatriotic is risible, but if you repeat things enough - esp if you have the Murdoch press onside - they can inluence preceptions as the allegations made against the Callaghan govt (Jim-Navy; Healey-Tanks, Anzio; Crosland-Paratrooper; Benn-RAF fighter pilot ... I could go on but I won't) demonstrate.

Patriotism means different things to different people, but it doesn't make their patriotism any less sincere. Ever since the Zinoviev letter the Tories and their press allies have endeavoured, despite all evidence to the contrary, to portray Labour as anti-British. Now Plaid want to persuade us that all the other parties are anti-Welsh.

Glyn is just as Welsh as Neil Kinnock, Hellydd Feychan or Shane Williams. It is pathetic and infantile to suggest otherwise.