Paul Davies MS is Leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament.
This week the Prime Minister started a debate about devolution, and I welcome his intervention. Not because I agree with him, but because it gives me the chance to outline how as Welsh Conservatives we can address the concerns that he and others have raised.
Just to be clear: devolution has not been a disaster. But it does need a complete overhaul.
That is a message I have heard loud and clear from our members who have been incredible in engaging with our election preparations. There has been an exciting buzz in the party that I have not detected for years, it has been refreshing.
And yes, I have been listening to the concerns of those who want to reverse the devolution settlement. I hear you, and I understand.
The concept of devolution isn’t the problem, and devolution doesn’t cause bad decisions and poor government. What holds this nation back is being saddled with successive Welsh Labour-led governments, on whose watch our economy has stagnated, public services have become unresponsive to the needs of the public, and whose ministers pathetically limp along with little energy, passion, or accountability for their performance.
That’s the real disaster, and its continuation is one we need to change, for all our sakes.
Usually when a government gets things wrong it’s the drop in the opinion poll ratings for that party which is the indicator. But what we are seeing in Wales is a growing number of people blaming devolution instead of the party who are solely responsible for getting things wrong in government.
It’s not just the poor performance of the Welsh Labour Government most highlighted during the pandemic which has affected peoples’ attitudes to devolution. Perversely, Labour administrations have actually undermined the devolution settlement itself by pushing for more and more powers for themselves – while failing to use those at their disposal more effectively. They are more interested in power than progress, and we need to make sure that the public understand this.
Trying to undermine Brexit, setting up an international relations department, and establishing a commission on justice are examples of a Welsh Labour administration greedy for powers and playing politics with the future of the United Kingdom.
During the pandemic they have further undermined the Union, often preferring to adopt a different approach than that over the border simply for the sake of being different. Labour has also fuelled community tensions and pandered to Welsh nationalists.
In next year’s election I will campaign for the opportunity to lead this nation, but it will be more than that. I will be campaigning for Wales to be at the heart of the United Kingdom. I believe in Wales and in the UK. I am not alone in feeling this, and it’s not just Conservatives who are passionate about being Welsh and British. We will respect the devolution settlement from day one, and work with the Prime Minister and the British Government to deliver for Wales, as a team.
I am excited about offering a radical, imaginative and ambitious alternative as we head into the May elections. If Labour win next year, with another five years running Wales into the ground, it will give them almost 30 years in government in Wales! That is not just unhealthy but a massive risk to our economic wellbeing and the future of our nation. I want to offer hope to families and communities the length and breadth of Wales who have been let down since 1999.
Wales deserves better. I will cut the number of ministers in half; we will freeze the number of civil servants; and I will set up an independent Office for Government Resilience and Efficiency to monitor our expenditure and provide oversight of our plans.
I will also, unlike all the other party leaders, respect the devolution settlement. More time spent delivering and no time spent asking for more power. We will also go further by ruling out more referendums on the constitutional settlement, and we’ll stop spending your money in non-devolved areas, such as justice, international affairs and immigration. We will scrap Labour’s efforts to devolve policing, justice, and elements of welfare.
Enough is enough. People elect politicians to get on with governing, and to do it with what they’ve got, and if they haven’t got the get up and go they should get up and clear out!
I will lead a government that is ambitious. I want an economy that grows, where Wales is a place to invest, grow and export. Over the past 20 years we have seen zero ambition by Labour, who have done nothing to grow our economy, but act as if it is London’s problem to solve. It isn’t, it’s ours. We’ll invest in infrastructure, facilitate investment in Wales, cut business rates and focus on skills. I want us to be wealthier and healthier.
In creating a healthier Wales, we need to be better in how we meet peoples’ needs. We spend billions on public services which struggle to reform, are sometimes poorly led, disconnected from each other and fail to put the individual at the heart of what they are about. Wales is not a big country, but we need organisations to work together in ways not done before.
Fundamentally it’s time for government to think and act differently. Today’s ministers have become stale. They look bored, with little appetite or ideas for the present, let alone the future. This will not change with the current party or those on the nationalist left who support them.
Only a Welsh Conservative Government can offer real change and hope to those whose lives have not been transformed, and who deserve so much more.