Andrew RT Davies AM is the Welsh Conservative Leader and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.
Tomorrow morning, we will be welcoming delegates and members from across the UK to Wales for Conservative Spring Forum at Welsh Conference – hosted by Glamorgan CCC at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff – scene of one of the most thrilling climaxes to an Ashes test in cricket history.
On that day in 2009, Monty Panesar and James Anderson summoned up the spirit of the 24th Regiment of Foot, and defended their patch of turf in a manner which called to mind the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. Visitors to Wales on Friday will be reminded of that historic occasion, but should resist the temptation to dwell on the all-too-familiar metaphor for Wales of honour (if not quite triumph) in the face of overwhelming odds.
Instead, delegates attending this week will find an optimistic party determined to help shake off the tag of the Welsh as plucky underdogs. In Wales, we can sometimes be guilty of clinging too fondly to the past, but in doing so we risk missing out on the opportunities just ahead of us. It’s a national characteristic reinforced by many of the country’s political leaders – but not by its people.
Consider, if you will, the shell-shocked response of the Welsh political establishment – and in particular of Labour and Plaid Cymru – to Brexit. The Welsh public at large embraced the opportunity to take back control, in part because they sensed an opportunity to recast the mould. Yet the response of the Welsh Government has been paralysis, and it’s clear that the Labour Party and the Welsh nationalists have yet to wake up to the result.
Whilst the Scottish separatists can at least cling to domestic support for EU membership in the referendum, here in Wales the public convincingly backed a new relationship for the UK with the EU. It’s led to a bizarre turn of events where the Plaid leader, a Fisher Price Nicola Sturgeon clone, now wants to press ahead with a debate about Welsh independence – even though polls show around five times as much support for Brexit amongst the Welsh public as for the breakup of the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front nothing changes. NHS waiting lists get longer, our education system continues to be outperformed by the rest of the UK, and the Welsh Labour Government continues to waste millions of pounds of public money on flawed investments.
People are looking to their politicians to articulate a positive vision for the future – not to relive and re-run the battles of the past. And now that the public has spoken on Brexit it has become all too clear that only one party has shaken off that result and is in any position to deliver it. The Welsh Conservatives.
The Prime Minister is doing that with her bold and ambitious plan for a country that works for everyone, and I am proud to see Theresa May and my good friend the Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, standing up and fighting for Wales – and the United Kingdom.
Compare and contrast that with Labour’s first major pieces of legislation since the referendum: a bill to repeal the UK Government’s trade union reforms, and legislation to ban the right of council tenants to buy their own homes. It’s as though the last 30 years never happened, and Michael Foot is back in charge of the Labour Party.
So how does Welsh society move forward and how do we deliver the improvements to public services that were promised at the dawn of devolution, but which have yet to materialise? We know that there is work to do to rebuild bridges between those groups in society who do disagree, but at the same time we cannot allow Brexit to become a smokescreen for the Welsh Labour Government’s failures.
I remain as convinced as ever that Wales can thrive in the next chapter of its illustrious history, because the people of Wales are resourceful, creative and industrious. And, sure, from time to time it’s ok to draw on Rorke’s Drift for inspiration. But we need to shake off the tag of plucky underdogs or victims of history, and chart a new course for Wales.