Last week at the Welsh Conservative AGM, my term as Chair came to an end after three years. It is a period I have enjoyed immensely, though it could hardly be said to have been the easiest few years in politics. My role has been to ensure that we have strong support on the ground, working with the professional party and representing the Welsh Conservative Party on the National Board to secure funding to put in place solid campaigning resources. You can judge from the ballot box last December that this was done and teamwork and leadership were key to this.
During my period in office, we witnessed turbulent political times in terms of Brexit negotiations, but at no point did I think about jacking it in. When times are tough, you get tougher, and you win through. And win through we did last year. Despite having lost some excellent MPs in 2017, we saw a great resurgence of support in December 2019, gaining seats in the North of Wales particularly and increased majorities throughout in other Conservative-held Welsh seats. It was a specific joy to me to see James Davies and Craig Williams returned to Parliament. We all came in together in 2015, went out together in 2017, and it’s a fantastic result that Craig and James are back there now.
In these years it was important not to be distracted from some of the big issues facing the Conservative Party in Wales. At the outset of my term of office, I set myself a series of goals to try and move the party forward. There were three goals for those three years: membership, finance, and organisation. In all three of these areas there has been strong progress and clear outcomes.
When I became Chair, I said that I wanted to see an increase in our membership, rather ambitiously, I said I wanted to double it. Sometimes in politics you set yourself objectives that you are not sure you will meet, but which you have to be focused on. The membership drive was one of those targets, but it was an ambition met in full. In three years, party membership has doubled in Wales. But I bet you won’t read or hear about that anywhere in the media.
Looking at finance, which has always been the unspoken problem for the Welsh Conservatives in terms of the resources we can muster, serious progress has been made in making sure that we can stand on our own two feet more. As I leave office, we have secured a sound financial platform, partly driven by an expansion in membership, and it is for others to build on that.
In terms of my third goal, that of organisation, there has also been massive progress. My aim was not just to make sure the three pillars of our party keep working in union by ensuring our membership, and our elected representatives at both ends of the M4 work closely and effectively with both the professional party and voluntary party. It was also to revisit our structures and operations in Wales, particularly as this was last done some twenty years ago when we were preparing for the Assembly to open. Conservative Party HQ in London agreed to appoint Lord Mark McInnes of Kilwinning CBE, Director of Scottish Conservative Party, to conduct the review and I am most grateful to him for his thorough and considered work. A copy of the review has been forwarded to all Party members in Wales and I look forward to seeing these recommendations implemented in the coming months.
I did not do any of this alone. My sincere thanks are also due to the professional staff at CCHQ Wales for all they have done and to the members who have been hugely supportive during what has been a particularly difficult time through the last pandemic dominated months. You have all helped me enormously to deliver on the three challenges I set myself.
Yet it would be disingenuous to suggest it has all been plain sailing. There have been ups and downs – and the ups have far outweighed the downs – but if you were not a Conservative member and you were relying just on the media then you would have just heard about the downs. They could barely report we had done so well last December and BBC Wales have been anxious to present it as some sort of blip ever since. Most of the writers, most of the presenters and most of the commentators that comprise ‘journalism’ in Wales have something that unites them in respect of the Conservative Party: they do not understand us, they do not respect us, and they do not report us – unless they have something negative to say. Fortunately the majority of the public see through this. Regrettably, I would suggest to the new Welsh Board that more has to be done to challenge poor journalism and that a log should continue to be kept of misreporting, under-reporting and outright lying. And this needs to be fed back to the new Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie. Much of the Welsh media is not politically neutral. Dealing with them is the one part of my role as Chair which I will not miss.
Whilst sad to see the end of my period in office, I will still be very heavily involved. A project that really interests me is getting a Welsh Conservative History Society off the ground by the time of our next Welsh Conference. I also take on a new role as President of Welsh Conservatives and look forward very much to supporting the incoming Chair, my friend and colleague Glyn Davies. It was an enormous honour to have served as Chair and it has been an immense privilege to have been at the helm and represent the Welsh Conservatives at all levels, connecting with members across Wales as well as in Westminster and Cardiff Bay. As someone who has sat in both of those legislatures, and as someone who has been an ordinary party member, I know how important it is to keep all three of those groups linked together. My successor, Glyn, is also skilled in pinning them all together through decades of experience.
It would be wrong of me to set him three goals too, but I can certainly guess what is the top issue for the new Chair. We now look forward to selecting and supporting the very best candidates to move forward and replicate our 2019 General Election results next May at the Senedd election. Both of us – indeed the whole of the Welsh Conservative Party – are committed to making Paul Davies the next First Minister in Wales.
Lord Davies of Gower is the outgoing Chairman and incoming President of the Welsh Conservative Party.