Andrew R.T. Davies believes that the centre right can lift Welsh politics from the doldrums

December 28th, 2011

I think 2011 will be seen as another missed opportunity by Welsh Labour. At a time when the people of Wales are looking to the government to step up and deliver, they are instead met with a First Minister and a Labour Assembly Group that are plagued with lethargy and obstinacy.

In March, the National Assembly received further legislative powers, doing away with the cumbersome Legislative Competence Order procedure and according to the First Minister, giving politicians in Cardiff Bay “the tools for the job”. Yet, seven months since the Welsh Labour Government received its self-acclaimed “mandate” to govern after the elections in May, only one Bill from its Legislative Programme has been tabled in the Assembly. This is in stark contrast to the six Bills tabled by the Scottish and UK Governments.

The turn of the year

In a special feature this week the four party leaders in the National Assembly reflect on their achievements during 2011 and prospects for the next 12 months. Tomorrow Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams claims the Welsh Liberal democrats are punching above their weight. On Friday we hear from Plaid Cymru’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones.

Such torpor undermines people’s confidence in devolution and does little to engage the Welsh electorate on its merits. Recent turnout figures at the Referendum and Assembly Elections confirm there is still great work to be done by all parties in this area. Such apathy reinforces a widely-held belief in the inertia of the Labour government here in Wales.

2011 was a tremendous year for Welsh Conservatives. With 14 Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay, we are now the second largest party in Wales and represent the only real alternative to the failed agenda of Labour that continues to let Wales down. Our task is to demonstrate that simply throwing taxpayers’ hard-earned money at a problem will not make it disappear. The fact of the matter is that anyone can spend money as if there were no tomorrow. The real test comes when tomorrow arrives and there is nothing left in the coffers. This is precisely the position the UK Government found itself in following years of Labour excess. It is the people of Wales who continue to face the very real consequences of those years of excess.

Sustained Welsh Government inactivity is threatening our economy’s chances of recovery. Instead of supporting businesses in Wales and providing the impetus and stability they need to thrive, the people of Wales are faced with a government that that is bent on a culture of blame. Instead of taking responsibility for, in the First Minister’s own words “the spending [that] during the years that Labour were in Government in London rose inexorably”, the Welsh Government is content to sit back and moan. This is in spite of the fact that the Welsh Government received a further £38.9 million as a result of the Council Tax freeze announced in England and an additional £216 million coming from the UK Government’s Autumn Statement.

My colleagues in Westminster are working hard to help families in these tough economic times, offering a cut in fuel duty, help for young unemployed people, pensioners and further investment in broadband, and support for businesses, whilst still tackling the budget deficit that was crippling the UK economy. This is in stark contrast to the paralysis shown by the First Minister’s tired regime.

Politicians are perennially faced with balancing competing priorities. However, the budget proposed by Welsh Labour and endorsed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats this autumn failed to adequately meet the needs of communities across Wales. By imposing a 6.6 per cent real terms cut between now and 2014-15 on the health budget, the Welsh Government is attacking the very service it claims to hold so dear. With waiting time targets being missed, vacancies remaining unfilled and operations  cancelled, our staff, who work so tirelessly in the Welsh NHS, must struggle to meet government targets without adequate support.

Since becoming Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, one thing I have been particularly struck by is how ignored the people of Wales feel. All politicians must accept some responsibility for this. However, the Cardiff-centric mentality that emanates from the Welsh Government has led to the concerns of local communities going unnoticed. To this end, I am establishing Community Engagement Forums throughout Wales, starting in January in north Wales and continuing throughout 2012. By getting out and about, beyond the Cardiff Bay bubble and meeting with groups and organisations across Wales, we can show that a centre-right philosophy can lift Wales from its doldrums, and transform it into a prosperous and thriving country.

2012 looks set to be an interesting year for Welsh politics. With Labour having failed to secure an overall majority in the Chamber, ministerial decisions can no longer be regarded as a fait accompli. Backbench acquiescence cannot be taken for granted, as has perhaps been the case in years past. I am hopeful that with this subtle shift in power, we will see a more robust debate from all groups in the Chamber.

The recent negotiations surrounding the draft budget showed that opposition parties can work together to effectively scrutinise the work of the government, a fundamental task in any legislature. Under my leadership, Welsh Conservatives will offer strong opposition and constructive scrutiny of the government’s performance whilst setting out an alternative vision for government that will improve the life chances of the people of Wales.

The Local Government Elections in 2012 represent a great opportunity for Welsh Conservatives to build on our on-going success and as a party that believes in the empowerment of local communities and enabling services to be delivered as locally as possible, we have a strong platform on which to stand. With Welsh Labour stubbornly refusing to implement a Council Tax freeze that would ease the pressure on the incomes of hard-pressed families and pensioners, this is yet another example of Welsh Labour Ministers failing to capitalise on an opportunity to drive economic growth.

Rest assured, Welsh Conservatives will not be resting on our laurels in 2012, but will continue to work hard to show that there is an alternative. Welsh Conservatives are prepared to take action to improve the lives of people in Wales and will not waste an opportunity to do so.

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Andrew R.T. Davies AM is leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

5 Responses to:Looking ahead to 2012: New Year offers potential for cross-party collaboration”

  1. Jon Jones says:

    “Since becoming Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, one thing I have been particularly struck by is how ignored the people of Wales feel.”

    Yes well, part of the problem is that there hasn’t been clear opposition to Labour in power. Both Plaid and the FibDems have half an eye on coalition at all times. So, Mr Davies, now you have a chance to BE an opposition…how about showing the courage to oppose the comfortable concensus in the Assembly?

    I have an idea; we all acknowledge that schools in Wales have not succeded in keeping up with the rest of the UK and, indeed, as PISA showed, the rest of the developed world. It hasn’t yet been acknowledged but 2011 was a disasterous year for GCSE results in Wales. The 0.1% improvement in passes at A*-C hides the fact that improvement was in many non-core subjects whilst English language, English Literature, French, German, Spanish, Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics all recorded a fall in the Level 2 pass rates.

    Modern Foreign Languages in Wales are almost wiped out at GCSE level and above. This year the number of pupils taking them fell again; French -14%, German-20.8% Spanish -3.1%.
    Wales is outstanding in the UK as the Country that is least able to communicate with the world outside our borders but where is the voice in the Assembly that has stood up for CHOICE in education? Why, for instance can’t parents even choose the language medium of the schools that they send their children to? Where are the basic rights enshrined in education law in the rest uf the UK?

    You are the opposition Mr Davies; let’s see you break out of the Assembly comfort zone and oppose.

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  2. John R. Walker says:

    “the centre right can lift Welsh politics from the doldrums..”

    He may be right but unfortunately the Welsh Tories do not qualify as centre right and haven’t for well over a decade! Not only are the Welsh Tories not centre right but they are now fully paid up supporters of all the core policies which have made Wales terminally uncompetitive, unattractive to investment, unaffordable to administer, unsustainable in almost every meaningful way, and socially divided both within and in comparison to the standards people have come to expect from front-line services in the rest of the UK. Economically and socially Wales appears to be locked into a death-spiral where the Welsh Tories are a growing part of the problem not part of the solution.

    In fact, it was the Westminster Tories who actually passed into Law most of what is wrong in the first place – and that goes right back to 1972 when Heath joined the EEC and put forward the current NUTS1 Regional structure where Wales is normally thought of as EU Region UKL not as a mythical nation state. The Westminster Tories did some good work in Wales in the early-mid 1980s and then threw it all away.

    As Jon Jones notes above, the politicians in Wales have not, are not, and apparently will not listen to the people. Between them, with an almost unparalleled level of inter-Party collusion, they are running some kind of social engineering experiment in Wales which has done nothing but economic and social harm since the late 80s.

    So the UK + Welsh Tories have utterly failed Wales, UKIP have had an open goal on the centre right but have consistently failed to ‘do’ real politics to fill the vacuum, and the BNP is a step too far for most people.

    On the face of it, the time is right for a new centre right Party in Wales which actually does what the silent majority appear to want – return Wales to a form of common representation with England, simplify and reduce both the number of politicians and public sector administration and their escalating costs and combined interference in our lives, and reverse the economic and social damage of the last 3 decades.

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  3. R.Tredwyn says:

    The Welsh blogosphere is inhabited by reactionaries like Mr Walker who are convinced that the silent majority share their anti-devolution, anti-EU attitudes and are panting for a form of Thatcherite British nationalism. The interesting question is: where do they get that conviction from? We just had a referendum where the votes broke 2:1 in favour of more devolution. Why would you suppose that those who didn’t bother to vote have an opinion one way or the other? If they really shared the reactionary view why didn’t they turn out and vote no? Opinion polls show most Welsh people now favour devolution and a small majority would go further with taxation powers for the Assembly, Polls also show more people are pro-EU in Wales and Scotland than in England. Anti-EU feeling is soft anyway and if a referendum, were held on EU membership the anti majority in England would probably fade away as it did in 1975.
    Argue for your beliefs by all means Mr Walker but don’t kid yourself the silent majority share them, You are currently in a minority.

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  4. R.Tredwyn says:

    I appreciate Jon Jones’ blogs because they always contain some facts. But in the comment above he uncharacteristically pulls his punch. He talks about choice in the abstract; what he wanted to say was that Welsh parents should be free to choose that their children be not subjected to one minute of tuition in or about Welsh. In Gwynedd too, I expect. But there is a loud bee buzzing in someone’s bonnet because it is utterly incredible that execrable standards of education in many Welsh schools can be put down to the fact that the kids are subjected to a bit of token “Welsh” each week , Might as well blame PE or RI for lousy exam results. The kids’ Welsh is beyond lousy too, in general.

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  5. Jon Jones says:

    R Tredwyn …you do me wrong!! “what he wanted to say was that Welsh parents should be free to choose that their children be not subjected to one minute of tuition in or about Welsh.” I am happy to deny this allegation. I don’t believe that pupils should receive Welsh Second language tuition in English medium schools unless parents want them to. Welsh second language at GCSE is a poor qualification and relatively few take the exam and fewer still excel in it. Parents should be presented with a choice of a Modern Foreign Language or Welsh as the option in EM schools. All parents should have an option to place their children in either a Welsh Medium school or an English medium school wherever they are in Wales. Few parents would choose EM education in Gwynedd, slightly more in Ynys Mon and many more in Ceredigion. Nevertheless the choice should be available.
    I must admit that Statutory Welsh lessons from 4-16 seems like tokenism to me. But what I was asking RT Davies to consider is whether the Tories in Wales have the backbone to demand choice for parents when it comes to the emotive area of Language Medium and Language teaching in schools.
    I know, I know….barring a miracle spinal implant not one politician in Wales will touch it with a barge-pole.

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