Cllr James Evans is the Cabinet Member for Economy, Housing and Regulatory Services on Powys County Council.

As we go into the 2021 Senedd elections, the Welsh Conservative Party has what is possibly its best opportunity to date to gain seats in places we have never thought possible and to form the first Welsh Conservative Government.

Paul Davies has set out a vision that a Welsh Conservative Government will create a devolution revolution and, as Boris put it, “clear out the nostrils of the Welsh dragon”. With new & fresh vibrant policies that are Wales-centred and which will change Wales for the better, ending over 20 years of Welsh Labour and Liberal Democrat neglect of our country.

In the 2019 General Election, we saw people in their droves voting for us for the first time. Undoubtedly, Brexit and the Corbyn effect helped us gain the 80 seat majority. The Boris influence was a factor and that will no doubt also impact on the 2021 elections.

If we want to win a majority in the Senedd, we need to relate to voters and that means picking candidates who aren’t necessarily the “usual Tories”.

We made some of the biggest gains in 2019 in constituencies with candidates with strong local connections, or candidates from a blue collar/business background who related to voters. Candidates who offer something different, real life experiences. For example, Sarah Atherton who was a social worker and served in our armed forces. Dr James Davies, who still works in the NHS and Virginia Crosbie, who worked in banking and then retrained into teaching Maths. These candidates have real life experience and can relate to voters and this is something we need to build on going forward.

If we want to win enough seats to deliver our policy platform in 2021, associations must select from a wide range of candidates who are ‘real’ and can relate to people, who have life experiences and skills to bring to their communities and the Senedd. In my honest opinion, in recent times we have moved too far away from the working / middle class ordinary business owner candidate and have been too focussed on ex-special adviser or lobbyist candidates who have spent most of their working life in politics or lobbying politicians and have little experience outside the political bubble. Candidates should be selected on ability and merit and not as a reward for services to the party or to fill a quota or based on who they have previously worked for.

I am not suggesting for one minute that those candidates shouldn’t be considered or that they do not have something to bring to the table. Their experience of negotiating political issues and their experience of political workings is a bonus. However, we need, as a party, to encourage more diverse candidates; we need to ensure those who don’t come from those backgrounds feel they have an equal chance of selection and are equally worthy. Selecting those with less career political experience and encouraging and selecting more of those with a proven private sector or front line experience should be a priority for the party if we want to govern in Wales.

When I attended my Parliamentary Assessment Board and my Welsh Assembly Assessment, I was amazed by the amount of ex special advisers, lobbyists and graduates who were attending and there was only a small handful of people who come from private business, blue collar jobs, or people who did not attend higher education, or, as I see it, people who have experience in the real world outside of politics.

When I speak to other candidates from the private sector, from business or blue collar backgrounds who haven’t ‘grown up’ in the political bubble, they feel sometimes not as good as others who have a politics degree or have the experience of working in Westminster and Cardiff. The failure to select people with skills and abilities outside of the bubble simply weakens us, at a time when we should be at our strongest.

What I want in a candidate is someone who can walk into a hospital, small businesses, building site, or a livestock market, and communicate with people, empathise and have a genuine understanding of their needs, the work they do, and understand the issues they face on a day to day basis. I don’t believe having a degree or a political background makes you a better candidate. For me its someone who can have the down to earth honest conversation that people and members want and actually support their community and resolve issues instead of talking the good talk during a selection meeting and using the old buzz words of I will “fight” “strain every sinew”; then get selected and don’t follow through on their promises.

2021 is the best chance the Welsh Conservatives have to secure a working government in Cardiff Bay in more than 20 years. To achieve that, we need a strong group of candidates who aren’t the ‘usual suspects’ and made up from a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and experiences – to ensure that the best policies are developed that work for all the people of Wales. These are the people who broke the red wall in 2019.