This weekend saw the last of the Welsh parties’ spring conferences before the Assembly election, which apparently is coming up quite soon, and a stunning Llangollen in north Wales hosted the Welsh Conservatives for a weekend which turned out to be a strange mixture of unity and division. Here we have a party that is united in its conviction that it can and will see a repeat of its 2015 general election success in Wales. There is very much a sense that a strong UKIP vote will hurt Labour and Plaid more than the Tories. Even if true, the best case scenario would only be a slight increase in AMs due to the inevitable loss of regional list members – there remains little chance of the Welsh Conservatives forming the next government in Cardiff Bay.
In terms of division, the level of EU-related drama over the course of the weekend was much greater than what you’d expect from a traditionally pro-EU Wales. Andrew RT Davies’ speech ignored the issue, which is fair given his insistence that he will not campaign on the referendum until Thursday 5th May has been and gone. Stephen Crabb, David Cameron and Kay Swinburne did not show quite as much restraint, arguing firmly in favour of EU membership during their speeches. This irritated a great number of party activists, with audible mutterings throughout and with some members choosing to walk out of the conference hall in protest. Luckily for Eurosceptics, the ever-confident David TC Davies was at hand to finish off conference proceedings with a few badly-disguised barbs at the EU and indeed Number 10 itself.
In terms of what a Welsh Conservative manifesto may look like ahead of the Assembly election, Andrew RT Davies said that the campaign would focus on five points: protecting the NHS, creating more jobs, delivering “excellence in education”, providing security and dignity for older people, and trebling free childcare to 30 hours a week. They certainly intend to hammer home the perception of Welsh Labour as tired and complacent on the delivery of vital public services. And if the party manage to take vitally close seats away from Labour and Lib Dem AMs, then their status as the main opposition party could be cemented further.
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