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Welsh Conservative Leader Resigns

Cathy Owens
Cathy Owens

Andrew RT Davies has today resigned as the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives - or the Leader of the Conservative Group in Assembly - an important distinction which reflects the party's continued difficult relationship with devolution. 

He resigned after a meeting of the Group this morning, where clearly enough members reflected their frustration with his leadership and the lack of progress the Welsh Conservatives have made. The push for change was always going to happen at some point in this Assembly term. The Conservatives really under-performed at the last Assembly elections, and it was clear by then that not only did he have no support from the party at a UK-level,  but they were actively trying to avoid having to meet him. 

It didn't happen until now for a number of reasons, one of which is no one really wants the job. It is tricky being the leader of a group that has been in opposition for 20 years. It is clear that there are few people in the group keen to push new ideas and drive the modern Conservatives into new direction .  And the poor results at the last election means that there were no new members - and no bright young things to help renew the party and snap at the heels of the old hands to refresh the policy agenda. 

So most AMs were happy to carry on as usual, and no one even looked like they wanted to ask him nicely to consider his position, let alone press publicly for him to go.

But this week probably came to a head with his comments on Airbus and their call for certainty on Brexit negotiations. This is not just a Brexit/Remain split - the group encompasses all views on the matter. It was the willingness for Andrew to give the impression that it was no problem at all that Airbus might leave Wales. It's an anchor company with thousands of direct jobs in Broughton, Newport and elsewhere. 

There have been many rows between Andrew, his AMs, the Welsh MPs, the Secretary of State and with two Prime Ministers – the last two have literally refused to campaign with him during elections. But this last disagreement seems to have been the catalyst.

With Paul Davies stepping in as the interim Leader, and probably the hottest pick for Leader in the election that is to happen, we may see a significant shift.

Nick Bourne had initially developed a ‘compassionate Welsh Conservative brand’ that did well here – allowing the Conservatives to use the establishment of the Assembly to help rebuild their platform in Wales, after a brief period of turmoil in the early years.

Andrew RT represented a tack back to the right, with in the main, a less devolutionist outlook. Things changed, of course, and I have no doubt that the disdain that colleagues in London have for devolution pushed Andrew RT to try and assert his influence, and he made some sensible interventions around Welsh funding and constitutional issues.

This development does raise questions about whether this election is for the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives or not. As Alun Cairns and others have  regularly pointed out – Andrew RT Davies is only the Group Leader of the Conservative AMs, a role which is seen as about as important in London as the Group Leader on Barry Town Council. I once attended a Welsh Conservative Conference Dinner where, whilst sitting on the top table, he was not mentioned, and no one referred to the Assembly.

With Paul Davies, at least we can be sure that relationships will be rebuilt with the Secretary of State, UK Ministers and No 10. He is also a more palatable possible coalition partner for Plaid Cymru to continue their negotiations with. It will be easier to sell to members of Plaid Cymru. That said, having met delegates at the recent Welsh Conservative Conference – the members most likely to vote in the election – Paul is going to have write a slightly different stump speech for them.

Suzy Davies will be pushed to stand, and Darren Millar really should be standing in this election. Angela Burns may also be considering it. At least the election itself will push the  AMs to come up with some new ideas about how to be Conservative in Wales which is more than just opposing the Welsh Government.

We’ll be publishing a tracker shortly, to keep you up to date with all the news on this election.

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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