Many Conservative MPs have no local elections in their constituencies this year

20 Jan

What do Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, East Riding, Herefordshire, Northumberland, Shropshire, and Wiltshire have in common? They all have unitary local authorities that are not having elections this year. They are also areas which have a high representation of Conservative MPs. Cornwall, for example, has six MPs – all of them Conservative. In some other parts of the country, where district councils still survive, the pattern is more complicated. Six districts in Surrey go to the polls, five other districts miss out. Where district councils are up for election this year, only a third of seats are being contested in most cases.

By contrast, we have full council elections in London, Birmingham, Wales and Scotland. These are areas where Conservative MPs found themselves very much in the minority after the last General Election, despite the overall result being such a success.

It just so happens that the electoral cycle this year means that voting will not tend to be in natural Conservative territory. That should give a slight note of caution to the prevailing narrative about the prospect of leadership challenges to the Prime Minister. It has been suggested that if Conservative MPs see severe losses in council seats in their areas they will conclude a change is needed. The human element will kick in. Rather than reading about opinion polls or focus groups, it is something they will have seen for themselves – anger while canvassing on the doorstep; councillors they have fought alongside suffering defeat. But in Wiltshire – where all seven MPs are Conservatives – that will not happen. As there are no elections.

Of course, the more politically astute Conservative MPs would still be concerned by a real drubbing in the council elections elsewhere. I’m afraid it is true that often the opportunity is used to send a message about national issues. So it would be naive for a Conservative MP to imagine their own patch would have been different.

There will still be plenty of Tory MPs that will be seeing elections in their areas. 21 of the 73 constituencies in London have a Tory MP – a minority, but hardly a trivial number. Wales has 14 Conservative MPs out of 40. Scotland has six out of 59. Elsewhere voting (for a third of the seats) will take place in some metropolitan boroughs that are Conservative-run – Dudley, Solihull, and Walsall. Other Conservative unitary authorities electing in thirds include North East Lincolnshire, Southampton, Swindon, Thurrock, and Wokingham.

Then we have the Conservative district councils. Gosport, Harrogate, Huntingdonshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme have all their seats up for election. Adur, Fareham and Nuneaton and Bedworth have half the seats up. Many more have a third of seats up – across assorted Conservative heartlands in Kent, Essex, Surrey, Hampshire, Staffordshire and elsewhere.

We also have county council elections in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset. These were due to take place last year but were held over as those authorities are in the process of becoming unitaries.

Constituency boundaries do not tend to neatly fit in with local authority ones. So that complicates matters. But it should be noted that most of the 181 district councils in England have no elections at all this year.

Another consideration: in the event of the results being as dire as foretold, who was making the commensurate gains? Will Conservative retreat equate to Labour advance? Perhaps not. Conservative MPs might be consoled if the victors are a hodge podge of independents and residents’ protest groups.

Then what of historical comparisons? Most of the seats coming up for election in England were last fought in 2018. Those were a rather dull set of elections. There were some modest Labour and Lib Dem gains, very modest Conservative losses, and a wipeout for UKIP. They were consistent with the opinion polling at the time which had Labour and the Conservatives roughly level pegging. It was the following year, 2019, that saw really substantial Conservative losses – with the Lib Dems being the beneficiaries.

Generally, the Conservatives have had an astonishingly long run of electoral success in local government. William Hague’s leadership is sometimes looked back on as a fruitless period, as the 2001 General Election was essentially a repeat of the Labour landslide that took place in 1997. But the Hague era saw Conservatives advance in council elections and that pattern has generally continued. That might increase the shock factor this year if there are a large number of Tory losses.

With the council elections over three months away, it is a bit soon to make predictions with much confidence. Though Labour’s poll lead is in double figures at present it may well slip back. The Conservatives may also do rather better at the ballot box than the polling suggests. That has happened before. I have spoken to several leaders of Conservative Groups on local authorities who are bullish about their prospects – in private as well as in public. But even if the current anger persists and the Conservatives do take a battering, the timing could have been much worse. Most Conservative MPs either have no elections in their constituencies or only for a minority of their councillors, often in a minority of the wards.

Local elections in depth: Sandwell is seeing the fallen bricks from the red wall being crushed into dust

3 Nov

Source: Election Maps.

Case study: Sandwell

Control: Labour.

Numbers: Labour 58, Conservatives 9, Independents 4

Change since last local elections:  Conservatives +9, Labour -9.

All out or thirds: Thirds

Background: Sandwell is a metropolitan borough of the West Midlands. It was formed in 1974 and covers the towns of Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich – as well as several smaller settlements. This area became known as the “black country” with all the coal and soot that was around during the industrial revolution. Sandwell is named after Sandwell Priory which was a medieval monastery, near West Bromwich – which was beset with infighting and mismanagement. A prior called Richard Dudley was accused of being soft on crime – harbouring murderers and thieves. It all went so badly that the place was closed down in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey – more than a decade before the main Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

The Council has been dominated by the Labour Party – though was run by the Conservatives for a year in 1978. In recent years Labour has held every single seat. Yet at the last General Election, the Conservatives won three of the four constituencies that include parts of Sandwell. James Morris doubled his majority in Halesowen and Rowley Regis (a constituency that also covers part of Dudley.) Then we had Nicola Richards gaining West Bromwich East for the Conservatives. This was a seat that had been Labour since its creation in 1974 – even during the Thatcher landslides. It had previously been represented by Tom Watson, the Labour Deputy Leader. West Bromwich West was another Conservative gain. This seat had once been held by Betty Boothroyd, the Commons Speaker. Again, it had never been Conservative before. Though Labour did hold Warley with a big majority.

Why did the Conservatives do so well in Sandwell in the General Election? The EU referendum result may give a clue to the mystery. Two thirds of the voters of Sandwell voted for Brexit. A challenge for the Conservatives is that the borough is very multi-racial – Warley has a large Asian population which may explain why the Labour vote has held up there.

Results: Was the fall of the Red Wall in 2019 just a temporary protest about Brexit or something more fundamental? These results from May offer an important piece of evidence that it is the latter. Some wards showed a spectacular breakthrough. In Friar Park Ward a Conservative was elected with 51.6 per cent of the vote – up by 36 per cent. Great Barr with Yew Tree saw a Conservative easily gain the seat after more than doubling the vote share on last time. In Cradley Heath and Old Hill, Labour narrowly hung on, but the Conservative share of the vote tripled. Since the council elections, the Conservatives have gained a by-election from Labour and so are now up to ten – that was in Tividale Ward which Labour had held on to in May.

During the election campaign there was frustration with the Labour-run council over poor services. CCTV was not functioning effectively enough to combat flytipping and other anti-social behaviour. Potholes would deepen and street lights be left broken. Reporting the assorted problems to a complacent bureaucracy seemed to make no difference. The Conservative councillors are already getting stuck in challenging the waste and mismanagement. They are helping to get Neighbourhood Watch schemes established. But the difficulty will be finding new people to come forward to join them. Only a couple of years ago, the Conservative Party organisation across much of the borough was scarcely operational. Further Conservative progress will rely on the Conservative councillors and MPs scouting around for keen recruits willing to stand as candidates. That won’t be easy. But Labour’s task looks even more daunting. Their red wall has fallen. Yet far from putting back the bricks, they are being turned into dust.

Emily Barley: For voters in Rotherham, the “take back control” message means control of their own lives

30 Apr

Emily Barley is the Deputy Chairman Political of Rotherham Conservative Federation and was the Conservative Party candidate for Wentworth and Dearne at the 2019 General Election.

On Thursday next week, voters go to the polls across England in a series of local elections. Though important everywhere, the Conservative Party will undoubtedly have its eye on the areas that make up the crumbling red wall, watching carefully to see if the new Conservative voters who switched in 2019 have stuck with us.

Rotherham, where I am one of three Conservative candidates in Hoober Ward, is one such place. After decades of Labour rule, and the area becoming world-famous for all the wrong reasons, Conservatives are seriously challenging this time. Our team of candidates is strong, local to their wards, and, since restrictions were lifted to allow canvassing, has been out and about knocking on doors and talking to residents.

Thousands of conversations in the last few weeks have shown that the Conservative vote is holding up well since the General Election, where we won one constituency, Rother Valley, and slashed the Labour majorities in the other two that make up the borough. Even more positively, we have been finding brand new switchers – people whose loyalty to Labour was seriously tested during the Corbyn years and then broken completely by the election of out-of-touch Starmer as the Leader.

They tell us that the party they supported for decades is lost to them and that while the Conservative Party has not yet won their loyalty, they feel closer to us than anyone else and will be voting Conservative in May.

So far, so good.

But I fear we have a developing problem: what I’m hearing on the doorstep about what people want from their Government does not appear to match what the Government believes they want.

In many ways, the easy part was Brexit. 67.9 per cent of people living in the Rotherham area voted to leave the EU, giving a clear instruction to Westminster. But though Brexit has been delivered, the story has not yet concluded, and that’s because the ‘take back control’ message meant more to people here than simply getting out of the EU.

For them, the vote to leave the EU was an expression of confidence in the UK’s ability to succeed in the world as an independent nation, and it was a vote for a different kind of government, more in touch and with smarter policy decisions to fit Britain. Most importantly, the way they feel about Britain’s right and ability to be independent is also how they feel about themselves.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that folks up here simply don’t like being told what to do, how to think, and how to enjoy their lives.

One area where the government is totally disconnected from what their new voters want is the nanny state. I live and campaign in a part of the world where people value their right, as adults, to choose for themselves on junk food, smoking, and drinking.

And so I’m worried that we’re set to repeat the mistakes of the Labour Party: who thought voters in these areas were simple to understand, easy to win over, and not smart enough to decide for themselves.

Covid-19 has changed a lot of things, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the way people in Rotherham have accepted the at-times authoritarian intrusion in their lives means that they are now more open to being told what to do, but that is not the case. As reasonable, level-headed Yorkshire-men and -women, they understand what a crisis is, and they have made an exception that will shortly run out.

As the crisis fades, there is an opportunity to move forward in a different way, showing that Conservatives understand and respect people’s desire to take back control. A shift in focus is needed – far far away from telling people what to do and lecturing them on the consequences of their actions in the way Boris and his government have grown all too comfortable with. Instead, we should be giving people information, showing them alternatives and their benefits, making it easier to make healthier choices, and leaving the decisions to them.

This means dropping any suggestion of bullying tactics like junk food taxes or minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and it means building on the helpful encouraging tone of the NHS Better Health programme.

There’s an opportunity too, to move away from the EU’s outdated approach to e-cigarettes, reforming volumes and strengths, and looking at how best to embrace new technologies.

Breaking from the EU on this would be yet another benefit of Brexit, and would go down particularly well in Rotherham, where smoking rates are higher than the national average and people are heartily fed up with being told off about their habit.

As things stand right now, the Conservative Party’s relationship with new Conservative voters is more precarious than it seems. The polls look good as we enjoy the protection of people’s goodwill, but if we repeat the disrespect of the Labour Party by telling them how they should live their lives and failing to recognise the full implications of their wish to take back control, we run the risk of pushing them away. A new approach to public health, rooted in treating people as the adults they are, is required.

James Frayne: Do voters care about breaking international law, and if so, how much?

15 Sep

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

How much of an electoral risk is the Government taking by threatening to break international law? There hasn’t, to my knowledge, been much published polling on the issue and I haven’t seen any qual either. I’m not sure how revealing any opinion research would be at this point, anyway. Not only is the issue highly complex, but the Government hasn’t communicated a settled position on its intentions – and, in turn, the issue has not been played out properly in the media or in Parliament.

The public have only seen complex snippets. It’s therefore extremely unlikely the Government’s threat to break international law will have had much of an impact on public opinion at all so far. This isn’t to say the issue isn’t important or won’t have an impact in time. But it’s much more useful to consider how opinion might change and what might change it. How might we anticipate this change? Six questions come to mind.

Will this just split down Leave-Remain lines? As we know from the 2019 election, most people are bored to death by never-ending negotiations to leave. As we also know, almost everything on the Brexit process splits down Leave-Remain lines. There’s almost no crossover, where Leavers take the side of Remainers on an issue and vice versa. The well has been poisoned; you just have to take the occasional peek at Twitter and see otherwise normal people spewing bile at each other over Brexit.

ConservativeHome has taken an unusual position here: it’s associated with Leave but has encouraged MPs to vote against the Government. How common will ConservativeHome’s position be? This is the crucial question. Until significant numbers of Leavers (particularly Conservative Leavers) come out and join ConservativeHome, it seems most likely that Leavers will tacitly back the Government. Public opinion would shift if more Leavers follow the Editor’s advice.

Will this just look like Brexit chaos? The entire Brexit negotiation process has been a massive fiasco. From the morning after the referendum, government on this has been a shambles. One of the reasons so many people wanted to ‘get Brexit done’ was because they wanted the chaos to go away. I wonder therefore whether many will just write this off as being just another cock-up. Government opponents will need to explain why this is a special case. At present, they haven’t yet been able to do this effectively, although the arrival of more senior Conservative politicians into the fray might change things somewhat.

Can the public ever be made to care about international law? International law is complex, of course. But my sense is that it can’t be simplified in the way those hostile to the Government’s threat are seeking to do. People like Blair and Major are talking about how Britain’s moral standing will be adversely affected and so on. While a reasonable point, there are two reasons this won’t work.

Firstly, because, Brexit partisans aside, and rightly or wrongly, most people still consider Britain to be a moral actor in the world; this alone won’t undermine that. Secondly, more importantly, because many believe other countries break international law all the time. That said, opinion would surely change if and when the public are confronted with the prospect of another country unilaterally changing a treaty they had agreed with us. (It’s also worth adding the straight reality that Tony Blair is hardly the best advocate for international law.)

What is the reputation of the law more generally? My very strong sense is that the English public have also lost respect for ‘the law’ more generally. They believe  the law no longer reflects natural justice and, that word again, fairness. Respect for the law has been slowly eroding for many years now, but it has been eroding very quickly in recent years. Increasingly, people have not only heard stories about pathetically weak sentencing, but they’ve also heard, in their eyes, perfectly reasonable Government policy decisions being unpicked by the courts.

The Establishment Left has claimed this shift in opinion amounts to a swing against an independent judiciary and the beginnings of a march towards a more political legal system. It’s nothing so thought-through; rather, people think the law no longer reflects right and wrong and therefore the accusation levelled at Britain – as being a law breaker – simply doesn’t have the same power that it once might have done

What do the public think about the EU’s behaviour during negotiations? It would be an exaggeration to say the mass of the public have followed Brexit negotiations closely. But, to the extent they have, my sense is that they think the EU has behaved with hostility towards Britain.

Varadkar, Barnier and Juncker seemed to revel in Britain’s difficulties during negotiations. The pro-EU British media liked to praise these politicians for this, on the basis they were teaching about the reality of its new position. But it was always going to be pointlessly destructive because it stored up English resentment that, when the time came, the Government would be able to tap into – as it now might well do.

Will the public cut slack to the Government over Northern Ireland? It’s important to consider the merits of the Government’s stated case – or, rather, what the public will think of these merits.

At one level, the Government has a very strong argument: it’s perfectly reasonable to argue Northern Ireland, as much part of the UK as England, should not be treated differently. The problem, of course, is that the Government initially said it should be treated differently and that it had secured a winning agreement.

Will the public rally behind Northern Ireland if the Government makes a case that the agreement is having unintended consequences, or will they think Northern Ireland isn’t worth the bother? There’s no question that unionist sentiment has faded in recent times; not because of a surge in English nationalism, but because of a sense that Scotland, particularly, wants to go its own way. The UK doesn’t seem the country it did even 10 years ago. Will English Leavers think the Government should therefore dig in in the way it seems to be planning?

What does all this mean? My sense is that, on current trajectory, the Government’s opponents will not be able to make this an issue the public care about (Covid obviously towers above everything at the moment) in time. The only way this will change is if Conservative Leavers are mobilised en masse – and if perceived historical allies start to question this behaviour too, mostly from the US, but also Canada and Australia. As it stands, it’s mostly been anti-Brexit voices who have made the running on this issue, which, as I note above, makes it look like just another day in BrexitLand.

Clare Ambrosino: Why One Nation Conservatism can unite the country and win the Millennial vote

21 Aug

Clare Ambrosino is a Communications Consultant and was a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in last year’s General Election.

It is a common perception that my generation, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), also known as the Peter Pan generation, the Boomerang generation or the Me, Me, Me generation, are principally governed by their desire to live life hedonistically, and place their emphasis on personal pleasure and career rather than buckling down to a life of responsibility.

Certainly, a brief look at the social media profile of anyone born after 1980 (#guilty), will show a lifestyle of holidays, instagrammable rooftop cocktails and a catalogue of material purchases, as well as a penchant for photographing everything ever eaten in a restaurant. This has led many of our parents, who by the age of thirty were already married with kids and a mortgage, to roll their eyes and wonder when we are going to settle down to real life!

However, are Millennials really so privileged or is this apparent golden age of opportunity masking the simple fact that our parents, who received free access to university education and were able to buy a home with generous mortgages (sometimes as much as 100% of the cost of the house) shared fundamental values and a belief in society which we do not have?

After all, what better way to get people to buy into the values of a society if they literally buy a stake in it? Is it any wonder that young people today – the first generation unable to buy a home in decades – seem to want to spend as if there were no tomorrow? Could it be that precisely because the thirty some-things of 2020 are unable to buy their stake, that many have become largely disillusioned with traditional party politics, preferring instead the populist and single-policy movements?

Talking to my peers, it seems that many of them don’t see the relevance of traditional values or traditional politics to their lifestyle, and they prefer to live life in the now. They choose the fast hit of dating apps and fun over responsibility and deferred gratification.

Millennials were largely born into carefully planned, child centred families whose high ambitions, encouraged them to aim high and provided infinitely more affirmation than their parents had received. For decades they have enjoyed the lowest unemployment levels on record, and had access to opportunities and luxuries that previous generations did not have, brought by technological advancements and globalisation.

Yet, all is not as idyllic as it seems. Born into a fast changing and threatening geo-political landscape and with old certainties of growing up in question, younger people have become reluctant to commit to saving and planning for the future in the same the way previous generations did.

The twin towers, the war on terror, the credit recession, austerity, the tensions underlying the EU referendum and now, to cap it all, a deadly pandemic all wrapped up into a new recession and culture wars on the side. The lives of Millennials have been set against a backdrop of fear and anxiety, so that it is of little surprise that many, mercifully not all, have turned inward and do not buy into the values which are the pillars of society. ‘Peter Pans’ of both sexes prefer to burn the candle at both ends. They are cicadas, not ants.

The fact of the matter is however, that many, if not most Millennials would love to plan for the future and raise a family, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. According to recent ONS data, overall marriage rates are at their lowest on record, sinking by 45% since 1972, with the average age of marriage being 35.7 for women and 38 for men. High university debts make it difficult to save for the significant deposits now required by banks, and this has led to increased rents and inflated house prices.

Coming into Covid-19, the last standing pillar of stability for young people – that of employment – is now also at risk. This will naturally lead to an exacerbation of an already existing resentment towards the institutions and powers at play.

Now more than ever, the nation needs to be brought together as a whole and we need to make younger people feel that they have a voice which will be listened to. The fall of the red wall in the North was the proof that if people feel that they are being part of the conversation, they will respond. Too many people have felt excluded and unheard – excluded from the decisions of Westminster, excluded from the workforce, excluded from society itself.

The Prime Minister said last week that we can expect to have a “bumpy few months” ahead of us, and we have a “long way to go” until the UK sees a return to “economic vitality and health”. However, one of Britain’s greatest strengths is that its people pull together in a crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whilst causing one of the biggest recessions in our economy, may become an opportunity to reset the way we live and work – the Great Reset, as it was called by the World Economic Forum. The UK should use this time to focus on its strengths as one of the world leaders in the AI and tech sectors, to generate new jobs for the young, retraining existing workers and pushing forward with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The UK should also pivot on the rising trend of working from home to encourage people to move out of the city and invest in rural and coastal towns, where homes are more affordable and new investment is much needed for the survival of their economies. What the government can do to encourage this, is to ensure there are favourable conditions for these opportunities to thrive, such as cutting edge broadband connectivity across our rural areas. Our education system too can follow the job demand, so that the community, education institutions and job opportunities are more closely interlinked.

It is always worth looking at the Democrats to see the future direction of the Labour Party. Esteemed Professor Niall Ferguson, in an article for The Atlantic in May 2019 entitled ‘The Coming Generation War’, correctly identified that the Democrats would start to use generational divides as a wedge issue for future elections. Certainly, this appears to be the central strategy in the impressive Democratic presidential campaign. Joe Biden has recently told a virtual town hall with young Americans that “young people have got a kick in the teeth”, effectively communicating how he feels younger voters’ pain.

In the UK, the Labour Party, whilst traditionally relying on the votes of younger people, has yet to articulate the generation crisis they find themselves in by offering any real solutions.

As Conservatives, it should be our priority to be bold and become the voice of this generation by providing a new vision to keep unemployment levels down, and keep the promise of a home owning democracy, which has served previous generations so well. We should allow young people to buy a stake in society and live by One Nation Conservative values. Now more than ever, young people should be reassured they have a stake in the future and nothing will encourage people to feel included as much as home ownership and stability in the workplace.

Adrian Mason: Welsh disillusionment with devolution gives the Conservatives an opportunity

19 Aug

Adrian Mason is the Deputy Chairman (Political) of the North Wales Conservatives.

Imagine forming a new single-issue political party. In the first election, you field no constituency candidates and you do not produce any election material to promote your cause. Would it surprise you to then receive a quarter of the votes in some regions in the first election you enter? Of course, it would, but that is exactly what happened in North Wales during the Assembly Campaign in 2016. The Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party did just that, picking up 44,286 votes overall, not that far behind the Liberal Democrats! Incredible, well yes, but not if you put matters in perspective. Devolution in Wales has never been as popular a concept as in Scotland. In fact, anecdotal evidence from the doorsteps in the 2019 General Election campaign showed that even after 20 years of devolved Welsh Government, many people were not aware that the Welsh Assembly (now grandly renamed ‘Parliament’) is responsible for health, education, and other important areas affecting daily life.

Then along came Covid 19 and everything should now have changed.

The pandemic has opened the eyes of many here in Wales with regard to devolution and the powers conferred upon the Welsh Labour Government to diverge from Westminster. Over recent months the public has seen Wales taking a different path out of lockdown, often – seemingly deliberately – lagging behind England. It has left people feeling bewildered. Whilst many people in Wales looked to the Prime Minister’s guidance, it has come as a wake-up call to learn that even though many voted Conservative in the General Election – on a significantly larger turnout than at any Assembly election – and we have a Conservative UK Government with 14 Welsh Conservative MPs; vital decisions affecting our everyday lives now reside in Cardiff with a Labour administration.

The public indifference to the Welsh Parliament shown by many just last December has now hopefully evaporated. It should be crystal clear that devolution in Wales has made a seismic difference to how we are governed. This then presents an opportunity for the Conservative Party in Wales at next year’s Welsh Parliament elections.

In votes gone by, many Welsh electors have simply blamed Westminster for the ills of the Welsh NHS, where, in 2018, 3.4 per cent of patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E compared to 1.3 per cent in England, despite receiving more per head funding. Then we have the bottom of the class education system. Recent PISA statistics published in December 2019 show Wales still lags behind the other UK nations in maths, literacy, and science. These statistics provide an open goal for the Conservative Party. Welsh Labour have been content to allow the electorate to believe that their own failings were the failings of the Conservatives, and even in the 2019 General Election campaign some of their candidates were being disingenuous about this.

It is not just health and education that the Welsh Labour Government controls in Wales. They also have the power to vary the basic rate of income tax, given to them under provisions of the Wales Act 2017, wrong-headedly amending the Wales Act 2014 which provided that a referendum was required before tax varying powers could be granted. Sadly, this amendment to the devolution settlement, denying the people of Wales a vote on such an important issue, was enacted by a Conservative Government.

So, what do you get if you give a socialist government tax-raising powers? You get higher taxes, and this is exactly what will happen here in Wales. Taxpayers will be paying a premium to sustain Welsh Labour’s profligate spending and inferior public services. It will hold little value either for many parts of Wales as Labour looks to satisfy its core voters in the south-east.

The Conservative Party in Wales not only has to overcome voter apathy, it needs to make a positive case for devolution. The latter may be the solution to the former, but unfortunately, neither objective is in sight. A recent Survation poll carried out by the Centre for Welsh Studies saw the Conservatives in Wales trailing Labour by 14 per cent. In order to win power, the Conservatives need to provide a clear vision of how much better life would be in Wales under a Conservative Government.

It is not just a case of attacking Labour’s atrocious record over the last 20 years. The Party needs to set out exactly why life will be improved under a Conservative administration. You would expect such things as rolling back the State, a low tax, business-minded environment, encouraging international companies to set up base here. We need policies that promote excellence in health and education and investment in our agricultural sector, to promote our tourist industry and taking advantage of the fantastic opportunities that await us outside the EU. We need to set out a clear blue divide between the Wales of today and the Wales of tomorrow.

Only by painting an optimistic picture will the Conservative Party be able to win over the voters of Wales. Even those who voted Conservative in the General Election are more hesitant to vote for the Conservatives in Welsh Parliament elections. People though are genuinely tired of Welsh Labour and are looking for an alternative. They won’t find it with the nationalist Plaid Cymru with its narrow view of the world and they will not find it with a Party wishing to abolish the Welsh Parliament, which, like it or not, it is here to stay. The Conservatives are the only realistic alternative. However, unless something changes dramatically and quickly, we are likely to see another five years of Labour. This would be a tragedy for Wales.

The Conservative Party in Wales needs to analyse why so many people voted to abolish the Assembly last time around. A vote to abolish is a damning rejection of the status quo. These voters have been alienated and see the whole devolution project as not fit for purpose. The Conservatives need to promote policies that will give these people back hope that devolution, in sensible hands, can be a force of good. That is now the challenge for our Party in Wales. Failure to do so will see more people deserting the Conservative cause in Wales and either abstaining in next year’s election or lending further support to the abolitionists.