The Welsh Conservatives have launched their manifesto which warns that Wales is falling behind in business enterprise. There are no Council elections in Wales this year but the progress we have made in the past will be important in terms of the General Election. In the 2007 elections for the Welsh Assembly the Conservatives won five constituencies – compared to just one in 2003.
Generally we can expect to do rather better in a General Election than in the Welsh Assembly. Conservatives are naturally hostile to the waste and bureaucracy of superfluous layers of Government. So some feel the way to show their contempt for the Welsh Assembly is not too take part in elections to it. Back in 1997 when the referendum was held on setting up the Assembly, the Conservatives were the only Party campaigning for a No vote and came within a whisker of success – the No Vote was 49.7%.
Some money could be saved by abolishing the Wales Office (which has a "administration costs" of 3.2 million and since the advent of the Assembly has diddly squat to do.)
But I would favour radical localism. The option of real devolution of abolishing the Welsh Assembly (as well as the Wales Office) and handing its powers down to the local councils. Not to mention its £14 billion budget which includes £361 million for "Central Services and Administration" plus £48 million for the Assembly Commission - "the corporate body for the Assembly" which all goes on ensuring the talking shop is suitably lavish. £13.6 million goes on Members Salaries and Allowances - it makes Westminster MPs sound cheap.
We could probably save one or two billion out of that £14 billion budget through localism – while also securing better services. That would be roughly the equivalent of the total Council Tax revenue in Wales. There is a Conservative proposal of having another referendum to the Assembly more power – let's also have the option of getting rid of it with real devolution and see if that proposition could get the extra 0.4% of the vote needed from the last referendum.
In the 2008 Council elections in Wales (when all the seats came up) we gained 63 councillors – bringing our total to 174. That means we have nearly 60% more councillors in Wales than we did at the time of the last General Election. We also gained overall control of another Council, Vale of Glamorgan, to add to Monmouthshire. Having overall control of two councils may not sound a lot but it equals Labour's tally (they have Neath Port Talbot and Rhonnda Cynon Taff). Neither the Lib Dems nor Plaid have overall control of any of the other 18 councils in Wales.
In Conwy and Denbighshire we have most councillors although we don't lead either Council. In Newport we share power with the Lib Dems.
We already have three MPs for Welsh seats – David Davies in Monmouth, David Jones in Clwyd West and Stephen Crabb for Preseli Pembrokeshire. We also won all these seats in the last Assembly elections.
In the General Election our eight target seats are Aberconwy (Target 5), Cardiff North (Target 20), Vale of Glamorgan (Target 32), Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Target 46), Brecon and Radnorshire (Target 89), Bridgend (Target 170), Delyn (Target 182), Cardiff West (Target 194). However the Welsh Conservatives apparently reckon Delyn and Cardiff West will be easier to win than Bridgend despite what the computer says.
Of these eight both Cardiff North and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire were won in the 2007 Assembly elections. For reasons given above if enough Conservative voters could be motivated to vote in those elections surely they will be won in the General Election.
What of the other six?
In Aberconwy, which comes under Conwy County Borough Council, there are 21 relevant wards. As with much of Wales there are lots of Independents which complicates projecting our Council strength into General Election prospects. But there are five wards with at least some Conservative representation, against three for Labour. Good luck to he Conservative candidate Guto Bebb.
In the Vale of Glamorgan of the 17 relevant Council wards the Conservatives won in 10 of them (although in one ward Llantwit Major representation is split between the Conservatives and the Llantwit Major Independents) Labour won in five wards and Plaid in two. Good luck to our candidate Alun Cairns
Brecon and Radnorshire, where the constituency is currently held by the Lib Dems, comes under Powys Council.That is a Council with 15 Lib Dems and nine Conservatives but dominated by Independents of whom there are 45. I think in the relevant wards the Lib Dem lead over us is proportionately greater but I got a bit lost trying to work it out – a largely futile exercise anyway given all these independents.
I remember being told that typically the Independent councillors in Wales were really Conservatives. retired businessmen, pillars for of their community, who felt it was a bit infra dig standing under a Party label. I don't know whether this is true but looking at some of their photographs it seems plausible. Anyway, good luck to the Conservative candidate Suzy Davies.
Bridgend constituency, naturally enough, all comes under Bridgend County Borough Council. That Council has 27 Labour councillors against six Conservatives. However it includes wards from the safe Labour seat of Ogmore. Of the 19 relevant wards the contest looks rather more even. Three wards returned Conservatives. Four were Labour. One was a Lab/Lib Dem split. One as a Con/Lab split. Five were Lib Dem and five were Independent. Good luck to Helen Baker.
Finally there is Cardiff West. Of the nine relevant wards on Cardiff Council one was Conservative (although there were a couple of near misses) while Labour won two. There were also three for Plaid and three for the Lib Dems. Good luck to our candidate Angela Jones-Evans.