Adrian Mason is the Deputy Chair (Political) of the Conservative Party in North Wales.
The impact of December’s General Election has yet to sink in. An 80-seat majority is a phenomenal achievement for the Conservative Party. In England, we saw Labour dominated areas turning blue in unprecedented numbers. In North Wales, this pattern was repeated.
We gained seats in Ynys Mon, Vale of Clwyd, Delyn, Wrexham and Clwyd South whilst retaining Aberconwy and Clwyd West with increased majorities. I offer my warmest congratulations to all of our candidates in what was a hard fought election campaign. Labour now only has one MP in North Wales: in Alyn & Deeside where our candidate, Sanjoy Sen, valiantly managed to narrow the Labour majority with a massive 11.2 point swing. Ultimately unsuccessful it was, nevertheless, a huge achievement and had it not been for the Brexit Party, which took six per cent of the vote, who knows what would have been the outcome? The net result is that North Wales looks like an almost Labour free zone. But is it?
Before we get too excited, there is a rather large caveat to all of this success which distinguishes us from England. Wales is a devolved nation. We have had nearly 20 years of Labour-dominated government. It means that in the devolved areas outlined in the Government of Wales Act 2006, including such important matters as health, education and social care, our newly elected MPs will not be able to directly affect the policy and strategic flow of the river.
It gets worse. The Labour government in Wales is as left-wing as Corbyn. It has shown itself to be completely incompetent – presiding over the worst record for the NHS and education than anywhere else in the UK. The NHS Health Board in North Wales, Betsi Cadwaladr, has been in special measures for nearly five years, and A&E targets of 95 per cent of seeing patients within four hours are consistently missed throughout Wales.
In 2016, PISA educational test results showed that Wales was the lowest UK nation in science, reading and maths and we did not follow England in reintroducing linear A Levels as the gold standard qualification.
And You just need to look at Wales to see how Corbyn would have destroyed our UK economy. Even though under the Barnett Formula, for every pound spent in England, Wales receives £1.20, the Labour Government here squanders money on vanity projects for the benefit of its core voters in the South and wants to introduce outlandish policies such as giving the vote to 16 years olds and increasing elected membership of an already inflated and substantially under-employed Welsh Assembly.
You may well be asking, is there a solution? Why don’t we simply get rid of Labour through the ballot box? Alas, this is easier said than done. We need not look any further than the recent general election. If you look at the geographical map of Wales, blue is certainly the predominant colour. Demographically though, it is dominated by the South Wales valleys, an area occupied by dyed in the wool Labour supporters.
It means that 21 seats are Labour-held here compared to the 14 held by the Conservatives and four by Plaid Cymru in the rest of Wales. These areas are unshakeable, Labour-dominated constituencies. A well-respected Brexit Party candidate voiced his despair to me during the campaign. He said even though many wanted to vote for him, old allegiances were too strong.
The net result of all of this is that the Welsh Labour government looks after its own. It spends money disproportionally in its heartlands to the detriment of other parts of Wales. This causes a huge feeling of disenfranchisement, especially up here in the North. People can see that Wales is destined to remain a one-party nation for generations to come and no matter how many Conservative MPs we elect, this will not change in our lifetimes.
What has been the Conservative Party ‘s response at Westminster to this Labour domination in Wales? Incredibly, it has been to offer Wales even more devolution. The Wales Act 2014 gave limited tax-raising powers to the Assembly providing this was authorised by a referendum. However, the Wales Act 2017, bizarrely and wrongly, scrapped the requirement of a referendum and gave prescribed, unfettered authority for the Labour Welsh government to raise income tax and borrow money.
It is only a matter of time before they do just that. We as a Party have not helped the feeling of South Wales’ domination either. Three of the four Welsh-based Conservative Secretaries of State for Wales this century have been South Wales MPs. The Welsh Conservative Party is based in Cardiff, four to five hours away by rail and road transport from many parts of the North. The Welsh Party Chair and most of the Welsh Conservative Board are from South Wales.
There is a real need for the Party to redress the balance. A useful start would be to overhaul the existing administrative infrastructure to make it more evenly balanced, to take into account the changed political picture in the north. It could perhaps consider setting up an office in North Wales with autonomy to provide services to the needs and requirements of our newly elected MPs without reference to Cardiff and instead dealing directly with CCHQ.
Whilst the welcome influx of Conservative MPs in North Wales is a wonderful development for our area, the challenges they will face from Welsh Labour and even our own Welsh party, which cannot or does not understand the frustration of North Wales voters at the prospect of yet more devolution, will mean that their ability to represent our interests will be more difficult. The Prime Minister, when visiting the area during his leadership campaign, encountered the strength of hostility towards further expansion of devolution in a question and answer session. He agreed that there would be no further devolvement. I sincerely hope that this is the case. It is an incredibly perverse and short-sighted policy to offer more and more power to an already incompetent Labour government which has little regard for the interests of North Wales.