Divisions in the Conservative Party tend to have national consequences - just look at Brexit. Now, in Wales, new trouble is brewing for the party which, only in December, enjoyed an historic result in the General Election.
As a consequence of a surge in Assembly-scepticism and the Welsh Government’s questionable handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the Senedd is in the spotlight. Under the radar, largely hidden from public scrutiny for 20 years, Cardiff Bay politicians are experiencing a newfound level of unwanted attention.
A fortnight ago, Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, criticised the Welsh Government’s reaction to Covid-19 and called for the Senedd to be “scrapped”. Cardiff North turned Montgomeryshire MP, Craig Williams, rushed to the defence of the Assembly and rebuked his Conservative colleague’s comments in an open letter.
The Powys MP brandished the remarks as “wrong and unhelpful”. Instead, he recommended that Mr Kawczynski join the effort to elect a Welsh Conservative Government. Mr Williams failed to acknowledge that, under the electoral system in Wales, it is effectively impossible for his party to win an election. Plaid Cymru have categorically ruled out a coalition and, as history shows, will always be willing to prop up a Labour administration for little in return.
Concluding his letter, Mr Williams relegated the debate on the future of Welsh democracy to a game of rugby: “I look forward to our continued friendly rivalry when Wales play and naturally defeat England on the rugby field and I very much hope you can play in the next House of Commons/Welsh Parliament game, which is a much better place for this debate”.
Recent polling shows up to 60% of Conservative voters want to scrap the Assembly. Yet, the exchange between the two MPs provoked Tory politicians in the Senedd to rally behind Mr Williams. In a statement, Darren Millar MS, pledged the Welsh Conservative’s unconditional support for the institution. All in a week where a Conservative Councillor in Powys quit the party over its policy on devolution.
This week, the Prime Minister’s approval ratings slumped savagely for the first time since the General Election. The Conservative honeymoon period could well be over. In Wales, this might have unexpected consequences for the Tories who, while in opposition for 20 years, have buried internal divisions over devolution. Like Brexit, a void is opening up between Tory voters and the Conservative clique in Cardiff Bay, who seem unwilling to acknowledge or challenge the Assembly’s abject failure.
Elections to the Senedd are less than a year away. Assembly-sceptics have a decision to make: can they back a Conservative Party wholeheartedly wedded to the status quo in Cardiff Bay?
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