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Conference Review: Welsh Conservatives

SSE SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff, Friday 17th and Saturday 18th March 2017

Despite last year’s disappointing results in the Assembly elections, the Conservative Party is riding high on the wave of its recent by-election win in Copeland and its dominant lead over Labour in UK-wide polling. This was evident in the atmosphere at conference, with plenty of references to the local elections which are now just under seven weeks away. Perhaps rightly so, as the Labour Party seems unlikely to repeat the high benchmark of its 2011 result and Tories are set to be one of the main beneficiaries of this.

Technically this event housed both the Welsh Conservative Conference and the UK Conservative Party’s ‘Spring Forum’, with the morning being dedicated to the latter and consisting entirely of speeches from high profile figures and UK Government ministers.

Andrew RT Davies (South Wales Central)(Con) kicked off proceedings by alluding to past “golden ages” for Wales and arguing that only a “strong Welsh Conservative Government” would be able to deliver Wales’ unlocked prosperity. He criticised Plaid Cymru for agreeing to work with Welsh Labour after the 2016 Assembly elections, arguing that Leanne Wood (Rhondda)(PC) had opted for “power without responsibility” and claiming the parties’ cooperation amounted to a “socialist and nationalist regime”.

A major component of Mr Davies’ speech was a reaction to Nicola Sturgeon’s calls for a second Scottish independence referendum. Comparing her to Donald Trump, he suggested that Ms Sturgeon “wants to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall” and warned that it would be the Scottish people, rather than Mexico, who would end up paying for it.

Secretary of State for Wales (Alun Cairns) set out "the emotional and logical case for the Union". He outlined how Wales benefitted from international companies operating across the UK such as Toyota. He said that Wales would benefit from renewed trade links with Commonwealth partners in particular. He said "Whitehall and Wales were working together". He stressed that no powers would be taken from the National Assembly or Scottish Parliament following Brexit, but that both institutions would continue to grow in strength.

The Prime Minister (Theresa May) made a very political speech, repeatedly stressing that the four nations of the UK were better off in union. She described the EU refer­endum result as "an instruction to change the balance of power in the UK", and asserted that the Tories understood this and would respond accordingly. She confirmed the UK Government's intention to give technical apprenticeships parity of esteem, and said an announcement on ensuring a fairer deal for energy consumers would be set out "very soon".

 

Other speakers included Secretary of State for International Trade (Liam Fox) and Secretary of State for Education (Justine Greening). Liam Fox focused very much on his ministerial portfolio, spelling out his vision for the UK within the post-Brexit global economy. He urged party members to avoid the “seduction” of protectionism, arguing that a free and open global economy was essential for the continued success of the UK. Justine Greening spoke of a "postcode lottery" when it comes to education across the nations of the UK. She outlined reform under the Conservatives in England and contrasted success there with the records of Labour and the SNP in Wales and Scotland. She pointed to the most recent PISA results, calling education in Wales "a nightmare". She reiterated her commitment to ensuring greater social mobility, pointing to parity of esteem for vocational education as a means of achieving this.

The afternoon’s Welsh Conference saw MPs, AMs and a few councillors line up to deliver speeches as part of three panel discussions. The first was led by Craig Williams MP (Cardiff North)(Con), whose contribution focused on the delivery of the fiscal framework, city and growth deals, rail electrification and reduced Severn Bridge tolls by the Conservatives in Westminster. Russell George (Montgomeryshire)(Con) criticised the Welsh Government for failing to publish its economic strategy, and called for investment in transport, digital infrastructure, housing, and research and innovation. Nick Ramsay (Monmouth)(Con) focused on his role as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, arguing that the Welsh Government under Labour had gravely mismanaged taxpayers’ money in instances such as RIFW and Kancoat. Suzy Davies (South Wales West)(Con) praised the allocation of funding to social care in the UK Government’s recent budget, and pledged to lobby the Welsh Government to ringfence any consequentials from these funds for social care in Wales.

The second session was led by Angela Burns (Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire)(Con), who focused on the ‘cradle to the grave’ approach to health policy that she said the Welsh Conservatives would follow if in government. She pledged to work with the Royal College of Nursing to expand the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act to further care settings, and called for NHS professionals to be given rapid access to treatment themselves. This session also saw Mark Isherwood (North Wales)(Con) and David Melding (South Wales Central)(Con) give an impassioned defence of the Right to Buy policy, which the Welsh Government is seeking to abolish, criticising the Welsh Government for not building enough affordable housing over their time in office. Byron Davies MP (Gower)(Con) contrasted the records of the UK and Welsh Governments on transport infrastructure, accusing Welsh Labour of a lack of action on an M4 relief road and on the Brynglas tunnels.

Darren Millar (Clwyd West)(Con) headed up the third and final session of the day. His speech focused on his education brief, accusing the Welsh Government of complacency over another round of poor PISA rankings and ongoing school closures. He didn’t mince his words when discussing the role of Cabinet Secretary for Education (Kirsty Williams) in this, accusing her of “betraying her voters”. Mr Millar’s speech was also heavily focused on individual liberties, criticising a supposed culture of political correctness within Welsh HE and the Welsh Government’s proposed ban on smacking. Paul Davies (Preseli Pembrokeshire)(Con) delivered an impassioned attack on the Welsh Government for “abandoning” rural Wales, calling their record on agriculture and rural affairs a “disgrace”. Mohammad Asghar (South Wales East)(Con) called for an end to stigma over the value of apprenticeships and welcomed the UK Government’s implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy. Finally, Janet Finch-Saunders (Aberconwy)(Con) led on local government, criticising Labour-run councils on council tax rises and four-weekly bin collections

newsdirect wales is a political monitoring company. We watch all proceedings of the National Assembly for Wales live and check hundreds of online sources to keep our clients in the know about the developments that affect them. We’d like to help you too. Give us a call on 029 2009 0693 to find out more.

Picture credit: Geraint Rowland // Flickr

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