Our Cabinet League Table. Wallace top again, Patel up, Johnson down – and Sunak in the red

25 Apr
  • This is Ben Wallace’s third table-topping month (with 85 points his rating has barely moved), and a pattern is beginning to form below him – as Liz Truss, Nadhim Zahawi and Anne-Marie Trevelyan come in variously at second, third and fourth (with scores in the mid to low sixties).  Both the first of those and now the second are being written up as potential leadership candidates.
  • Priti Patel was bottom of the table last month on -17 points, having languished at the lower end of it for some time – not least because of the small boats issue.  The Government now has a policy to deal with it, and her rating consequently jumps to 31 points, near the middle of the table.
  • Boris Johnson was in the same zone last month, having been in negative ratings for the previous three, and is now back down again – third from bottom.  Ukraine will have pushed him up last month; partygate will have pulled him down this. But the driver of his low scores is that the Government is too left-wing, at least in the view of many activists.
  • Rishi Sunak plunged last month to third from bottom in the wake of the Spring Statement (on plus eight points).  He drops to last place this month, coming in at minus five points, in the wake of the furore about his wife’s tax affairs and former non-dom status.  It is perhaps surprising that his fall isn’t larger; it may even be that the worst is behind him – in this table at least.

Our Cabinet League Table. Sunak plunges to third from bottom.

4 Apr
  • Last September, I reported that Dominic Raab had plummeted third from top in July to fourth from bottom in our Cabinet League Table.  Today, he is back to sixth from top, having worked his way out of the relegation zone.
  • I write this to offer comfort to enthusiasts for Rishi Sunak, who was eleventh last month, but now finds himself plunged to third from bottom, in the wake of a Spring Statement with which the majority of our panel is dissatisfied.
  • Having managed the table for a long time, I know that what goes down can come up again – and vice-versa.  Our respondents are very knowing, and many use the table as a form of running commentary rather than a means of permanent judgement.
  • At the top, the changes are very marginal, with Steve Barclay’s fall of nine points from 64 to 55, and drop from second to fifth, being the largest movement in the top ten – and it’s not a very large one in the great scheme of events.
  • At the bottom, Priti Patel falls into negative ratings after a month’s bad headlines over Ukrainian refugees.  The Home Office is so permanently troubled that it’s hard to see her moving up towards the comfort of mid-table in the near future.
  • Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is out of negative ratings, where he had been for three months running, and into the middle of the table.  This is at once an impressive recovery from where he was and a lacklustre rating given his position as Prime Minister.
  • Johnson will undoubtedly have gained from his handling of the Ukraine, which received an overwhelming thumbs up from our panel.  Ninety-three per cent took a positive view of it and 58 per cent a negative one of Sunak’s Spring Statement.

Our Cabinet League Table. Truss’s year-long reign is ended as Wallace goes top.

1 Feb

Our monthly panel of Party members has become very knowing.  It seems to me increasingly to use the Cabinet League Table to upscore and downscore Ministers on the basis of the month’s events. And so –

  • Ben Wallace’s vigorous response to the crisis in eastern Europe, coming relatively soon after his mature conduct during the Afghanistan debacle, propels him upwards from 62 points to 80 points – and he displaces Liz Truss after her year-long reign at the top of the table.  The Defence Secretary’s name has crept into the margins of future Party leadership speculation. It will now advance further.
  • Truss herself is down from 74 points to 67 points.  That’s a small drop and of almost no significance, but it may indicate that the Foreign Office, with its multilayered challenges, is a tougher proposition for the occupant than International Trade in the wake of Brexit, in which she was able to roll over a series of deals.
  • Boris Johnson is still in negative ratings, but his score must be seen in the context of a positive total on Covid handling, and a change of mood about the toxicity of “partygate”.  Last month, his rating was -34 points, a record low for him.  This month, it is heading in the right direction.
  • Another interesting Johnson indicator is the fall in support for his most vocal critic in this table – Douglas Ross.  Last month, the latter was on 30 points.  This month, he is in the black by a slender margin of six.  The Prime Minister has his supporters as well as his critics. And they have marked the Scottish Tory leader down.
  • Elsewhere, the movements tend to follow publicity, good and bad.  So it is that Mark Spencer plunges even deeper into the red.  That Jacob Rees-Mogg, ninth last month, plunges to fifth from bottom.  That Sajid Javid gets a Covid bounce from twelfth to sixth.   And that Michael Gove, who has had a quieter month, recovers to mid-table.
  • Rishi Sunak’s score at 39 points is his lowest as Chancellor.  One can cite individual reasons for this, such as the coming National Insurance rise.  But it’s the big picture that matters.  Many panel members clearly believe that the Government is taxing and spending too much, and pin at least some of the blame at the Chancellor’s door.

These results came in over the weekend, and so don’t take into account the Sue Gray report and yesterday’s Parliamentary statement.  My best guess is that neither will help to improve the Prime Minister’s rating.

Andrew RT Davies: It’s time Cardiff took Westminster’s lead on Covid-19 – restrictions must be a last resort

11 Jan

Andrew RT Davies is the leader of the Welsh Conservatives and MS for South Wales Central.

As the Omicron variant has spread across the UK, it is right that the British Government and devolved administrations have taken the risks seriously.

We need to closely monitor the rise of variants and ensure we are in a position to respond to them, but in responding we must always prioritise peoples’ freedoms, and we must act proportionally.

For those who haven’t yet done so, I would strongly recommend that readers take a look at Sajid Javid’s article in the Daily Mail from December.

The Health Secretary said, rightly, that curbs on our freedom must be a last resort, and added that the British people expect politicians to do everything they can do avoid them.

We all want to face down this virus and protect public health, but I have concerns about how proportionate some of the measures in Wales have been.

Other variants will inevitably emerge, and indeed only the other day I was reading about a new variant detected in France. That’s what viruses do; they mutate.

But we cannot curtail freedoms whenever another variant emerges, like the Welsh Government has done. There will come a time where our lawmakers must accept that we are going to have to learn to live with COVID.

We must not always reach for the toolbox of restrictions first and in the absence of evidence, and that is, sadly, what we have often seen in Wales. And the model isn’t working. In Wales we have regrettably seen the highest death rate of any of the home nations as well as the highest infection rate. Another approach is needed.

The reason the I am a Conservative is that Conservatives believe in empowering people to make their own decisions and to take personal responsibility for their actions. As we move forward, with jabs in arms and regular tests, we must move to an emphasis on personal responsibility, backed up by strong and consistent public health messaging.

Meanwhile, socialists believe in state control, and we can see this contrast when we compare the language of our Conservative ministers at Westminster to their counterparts in the Welsh Labour administration. While socialists reach for restrictions, we reach for boosters.

We have seen Labour ministers talking about COVID ‘protections’ rather than ‘restrictions’. I believe that you should call a spade a spade, and to take away freedoms is always, in my view, a restriction.

While the British Government has been purchasing vaccines to save lives and returning people’s freedoms, in Wales the Labour administration has been playing politics with the pandemic and trying to rip our Union apart.

We saw a great example of this last month when Welsh Labour politicians behaved like petulant playground children, gloating about the fact they loaned some COVID tests to the UK Government. Tests have been shared among the nations through the pandemic, and in my view that demonstrates the strength of the Union – but not in the eyes of Mark Drakeford.

Former Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister, said “you’re welcome” to Javid on Twitter, without a hint of irony. If the Welsh Government had their way we would still be in the EU and our vaccine rollout would not be anywhere near where it is today.

Constantly, Drakeford and others in the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay have played identity politics with the pandemic, trying constantly to turn every little issue into a Wales v England match in an effort to dog-whistle for nationalists in Wales.

Our freedoms are more important than political point scoring. We saw this point scoring when, in other parts of the UK, the self-isolation period was dropped from ten days to seven days. Welsh Labour’s Health Minister said she would not put in place the same change, only to go back on that just a week later.

We cannot continue with spiralling waiting lists and missed cancer diagnoses. We cannot continue with closed businesses forcing people to turn to the state for support, because we know how much socialists love to have people in the hands of the state. I am very pleased that the Treasury has refused to agree to Drakeford’s request that they finance his anti-science socialist agenda.

Indeed, so strong is the Welsh Labour aversion to private business that his administration have in place a rule under which you can be fined for going into work but can sit in the pub all day and watch television.

Then there is the mental health impact of restrictions. Again and again we have asked people to curtail the attendance for special and once-in-a-lifetime moments like weddings and funerals.

With the incredible arsenal we have to combat the virus, our vaccines, our antivirals and our testing regime, we have the tools to give people confidence that never again will they be forced by the state to miss a chance to welcome a new member of the family or to attend a funeral.

So, going forward, I believe that the devolved administration in Cardiff Bay should be subjecting any future restrictions on our freedoms to three key tests.

Firstly, is there anything we can do first to avoid harsh restrictions? Some measures, such as table service in hospitality businesses, are light-touch changes that reduce spread and do not so badly hurt businesses or freedoms.

Secondly, are the restrictions backed up by science? Restrictions on people’s freedoms must be scientifically proven to work, and vaccine passports are a perfect example of the Welsh Government introducing something that doesn’t work.

Finally, the third test on any new restrictions should be whether or not they are proportionate to the threat or otherwise of any given variant at any given point in time.

If we can shift to a mentality whereby we see restrictions as a last resort, we can begin to meaningfully recover from the pandemic, and rebuild our businesses, our health service and our mental health.

Our Cabinet League Table: Johnson falls to his lowest ever negative rating.

28 Dec
  • Perhaps the only good news for Boris Johnson is that his score, woeful as it is, is nowhere near as dire as that of Theresa May in the spring of 2019 – when she broke the survey’s unpopularity record, coming in at a catastophic -75 points.
  • Nonetheless, this is the Prime Minister’s second consecutive month in negative ratings, his third altogether, and his lowest total of the lot.  The explanation? Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and Net Zero, not necessarily in that order.
  • Nadine Dorries is down from fourth (plus 61) to mid-table sixteenth (plus 25), Michael Gove from twelfth to sixth from bottom (plus 43 to plus 16) , and Sajid Javid from eighth to twelfth (plus 54 to plus 29). All are associated with support for Covid restrictions.
  • Mark Spencer stays in the red and Priti Patel inches into it: in her case, the explanation is “small boats”. Liz Truss is top again, Ben Wallace is up from second to fifth, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Nadhim Zahawi are scoring well. Generally, there’s a drift down.

Our Cabinet League Table. Raab plummets from third from top in July to fourth from bottom last month.

5 Sep
  • Last month, Dominic Raab was third from top in our Cabinet League Table, on 73 per cent.  This month, he drops by 21 places to fourth from bottom, coming in at 6 per cent and narrowly avoiding negative ratings.  It’s one of the biggest falls ever in our table – almost on the scale of Theresa May’s dizzying fall from top of the table into negative territory in the wake of the bungled 2017 election.
  • Meanwhile, Ben Wallace moves up from ninth, on 51 per cent, to fourth, on 64 per cent.
  • The Westminster story of the last week or so has concentrated on Raab v Wallace – and this finding seems to show Conservative activists taking sides.  Our take is that it’s more of a verdict on how British servicemen and the Foreign Office have reacted to events in Afghanistan; and on Wallace’s robust take on Joe Biden and, perhaps, Pen Farthing.  The Defence Secretary seems to be morphing into a politician who, like the Prime Minister himself, is seen by many people outside Westminster as authentic.
  • Boris Johnson drifts up from fourth from bottom on three per cent to seventh from bottom on 13 per cent.
  • Otherwise there’s little change in the table, but it’s worth closing by having a look at Priti Patel.  Last month, she was tenth from bottom on 26 per cent.  This month, she is eight from bottom on 18 per cent.  As recently as May, she was among the top members of the table: sixth from top on 64 per cent.  You will have your own view on the reasons for her fall.  Ours is: channel boats.

Andrew RT Davies: The Senedd is wrong to bar MSs from displaying the Union Jack

29 Jun

Andrew RT Davies is the leader of the Welsh Conservatives and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.

Flags are an important symbol of national identity. As a proud Welshman and a proud Brit, I feel very lucky to be able to fly the iconic Welsh dragon flag as well as the Union flag. These flags fly alongside each other outside the Welsh Parliament, a pairing which symbolises Wales’ place in the United Kingdom.

They stand side by side defiantly, as inside the building some separatists would like to see one of those flags taken down.

I found it strange that last week the Welsh Parliament’s Presiding Officer told Members of the Senedd that we should refrain from displaying flags in our backgrounds during virtual parliamentary sessions. This followed a contribution from one of my Conservative colleagues, who asked a question via video link. In the background, Janet Finch-Saunders MS had a Union flag on show. The Presiding Officer, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, asked that Members observe a ‘flagless’ rule going forward.

Wales has two national flags. If members want to display them in their offices as proud symbols of national identity, then what is the harm? There should be no reason why the First Minister can’t display his beautiful Welsh dragon statue in his background, and no reason why Janet or any other Member can’t show off their Welsh and British national symbols.

Indeed, for many months other Members of the Senedd have displayed flags and national symbols in their backdrops during parliamentary sessions, including the First Minister.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Elis Thomas, a giant of Welsh politics, used to wear pin badges of the Welsh flag, or a Welsh flag and a EU flag together, in the chamber and on Zoom. Though he and I come from vastly different places politically, I think it is right that he was never told to stop displaying symbols of the things he believed in passionately and campaigned on.

I fear that there may have been a double standard at work, and that the displaying of the Union Flag in particular was what provoked the Presiding Officer’s request for ‘flagless’ parliamentary sessions. I hope that is not the case.

I am saddened that, going forward, Members will not be allowed to show off their national symbols in their video link backgrounds. Since we have been holding virtual and hybrid sessions of the Welsh Parliament, there have been laughs, gaffes, bad lighting, technological problems and quirky backgrounds. Although there are many in the Senedd I disagree with, we’ve all been going through the same thing over the last year, and it’s been a profoundly human experience.

While I am keen to get everybody back into the chamber safely, MS’s backgrounds have been an interesting opportunity for expression, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the different flags, guitars on walls and messy tables.

I will continue to wear my Welsh flag face mask in and around the chamber of the Senedd. I’m proud of that flag and, like Dafydd Elis Thomas’ badges, it’s a symbol of what I believe in and what I campaign for.

Why there is so much grassroots disquiet at the Welsh Tories’ best-ever Senedd result

12 May

Running the live blog tracking the elections in Scotland and Wales was something of an emotional rollercoaster. Early on, the Conservatives in both nations lost key targets. But in the end, they each ended up either delivering or matching their best-ever performances.

But whilst Douglas Ross’s achievement is near-universally acclaimed, and has cemented his authority in the Scottish party, there is disquiet amongst his Welsh colleagues about their own performance.

On the face of it, this is surprising. After all, at 16 MSs, the Welsh Conservatives have returned their largest-ever Senedd caucus. They have basically managed to win five of the seven seats that UKIP won in 2016, effectively consolidating the ‘unionist right’ in the Welsh Parliament whilst seeing off what looked like a strong challenge from Abolish the Welsh Assembly, who despite strong polling failed to return any MSs at all. Plaid Cymru are now definitively at the Senedd, as at Westminster, Wales’ third party.

The leadership is understandably keen to present this as a triumph. Likewise, some of the MPs are chipper, saying that suggestions the party under-performed “a total press fabrication”. They point out that the vote share is up and delivered a record number of Senedd seats, both of which are true.

So why are others in the party so unhappy? Why are the media headlines about ‘soul-searching’, not success?

In short, because it failed to do what it was trying to do, which was mobilise the mass of support that saw Boris Johnson deliver an exceptional haul of Welsh constituencies at the 2019 general election to change the political map of the Province.

Whilst they did unseat the Liberal Democrats in Brecon & Radnorshire, of the party’s Labour-held targets only Vale of Clwyd fell. Meanwhile Clwyd South, Delyn, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham stayed red, despite having Conservative MPs at Westminster. It was the same for second-order targets Cardiff North and Gower, which had Tory MPs in the recent past.

Those defending the Conservative performance point out that in many cases the Labour MS was returned with fewer votes than the Conservative MP received in 2019, so these should be winnable seats.

But whilst this is true as far as it goes, it only highlights the other big strategic failing of the campaign. It was supposed to mobilise 75 per cent of the voters who back the Tories at the general election. In the end, one source said that “by my calculations we only achieved 52 per cent”. Once again, and for all the grand claims by the devocrats that it should be considered the pre-eminent voice of Wales, turnout for a devolved election failed to reach even half of registered voters, coming in at just 46.5 per cent.

This failure probably hurt Abolish too – it’s no point polling seven per cent if those voters sit it out on election day. And defenders of the campaign point out that it affects all parties.

But there is no denying that it hurts the Tories more. Last Thursday, Labour took 443,047 votes to the Conservatives’ 289,802; in 2019 it was 632,035 to 557,234. Tory MPs tell me their canvassers know voters who turn out not just for Westminster but for local elections, yet sit out the Senedd.

How to mobilise them is probably the biggest single challenge facing any Welsh Conservative leader. But it comes with risks. In order to woo devosceptic voters (not to mention see off Abolish) the Tories ran a strongly unionist campaign on the promise of “no more powers!” – which delivered their best-ever result. They have had to abandon their old ambition to win power via  some sort of deal with Plaid. For the first time, even some of the MS group are devosceptic, in addition to several MPs and much of the activist base.

The long-term consequences of this have been disguised by Labour’s strong showing this time. But it heralds a future Senedd more polarised around the constitutional question. So long as Labour is led by a nationalist such as Drakeford, their only path to holding on to power if their position slips will be a deal with the capital-N Nationalists. Meanwhile there won’t be any shortcuts to power for the Conservatives, who will need to either win switchers directly from Labour or double-down on whatever strategy it takes to get their Cardiff-sceptic coalition to actually vote.

Holding more than a quarter of the seats in the Welsh Parliament is a good result. But polling suggested that the Tories and Abolish between them might at one point have got more than a third. Governing requires winning at least close to half. This election doesn’t create an obvious path to those sort of numbers, which may be why there is such grassroots disquiet at what is, objectively speaking, the Conservatives’ best-ever result at Cardiff Bay.

One, two, three – and now Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the fourth time

4 Apr

The table now seems to be in set pattern established soon after Britian’s vaccination success became apparent.

The same Ministers remain at its top and the same too at its bottom.  Consider the case of Kwasi Kwarteng, up a place this month at fourth: his score, 64.7, is exactly the same as it was then.

There are a mix of small score and table movements up and down, but none of them worth expending many words about – though we pause for the Ministers at the very top and bottom of the table.

At the top, there is Liz Truss, on her fourth table-topping month – and a record high of 89 per cent.

That’s a reflection, in a minor key, of her decisive handling of the Equalities brief and, in a major one, of the rapid succession of trade deals: most of them rollovers, true – but accomplished more speedily than some anticipated.

At the bottom, there is Gavin Williamson – on minus 27 per cent.

That’s a dreadful rating, but less so than the -43 per cent he scored last month, or this – 36 per cent and -48 per cent during the previous ones.

Our reading is that his early and emphatic support for free speech during the Batley Mohammed cartoons row, which we haven’t heard the last of, accounts for his improvement.