2021 is a big year for me as I celebrate a thirtieth anniversary, writes former Assembly Member, Jonathan Morgan.
30 years of membership and campaigning for the Conservative Party. I joined in 1991 not long after the departure of Margaret Thatcher when my grandfather and great uncle were both defending their seats at the Cardiff City Council elections. Family loyalty, local community politics and a keen political interest. Politics for many of us had become strangely energised, the end of one political era and the start of a new, leading to the 1992 General Election. A victory that delivered in excess of 14m votes across the UK, a record unbeaten, and a result somewhat against the odds at the time.
I now see similar energy, although in different circumstances, amongst the politicians and the members of the Welsh Conservative Party as we approach the next Senedd elections. This is in stark contrast to a Labour Party which looks bored, out of ideas and lacking enthusiasm for anything other than the chance of staying in power, all for the sake of something to do. I suppose our experiences of the early 1990s, a change in leader, style and message, even when in government for a significant period of time, had the effect of delivering electoral success. Welsh Labour’s change in leadership could not be more different, a First Minister so “energised” as we enter the election that only his offer to the public is to serve part of the next Senedd term. It’s hardly the most exciting of messages. Why vote for a man who admits he can’t see the job through?
Having spent 12 years in frontline politics and almost 10 years working outside the political fray I see a different Welsh Conservative Party, engaged in our plans for the next election, where our increased membership base that has doubled is contributing more to policy, excited by the belief that we can at last challenge and change the political status quo in our nation. The Gwydir article by Byron Davies outlines these achievements. We’ve also taken the opportunity of remote working to bring more people into our discussions, making it easier for members and supporters to connect. There have been many developments over the past months that have changed the landscape.
Look at Gwydir and your fantastic output. Look at Prydain Review. Look at the Conservative members who are engaging and writing and shaping the future. New platforms for discussion which have been absent until now. We are buzzing with energy, enthusiasm and electoral success. From Boris Johnson to Paul Davies, our leaders are giving us direction and determination, the effect of which has been to mobilise people in a way that to some extent has alluded us in the past.
In the changing the landscape, shaped by Brexit and the 2019 General Election we also start to understand the extent of Labour’s challenges.
In the first 10 years of devolution they also had a UK Labour Prime Minister, the kudos of three significant General Election wins and a Wales that was largely closely aligned to what Labour stood for. The political environment has now changed. Lifelong Labour voters no longer there in the numbers they once were because of the indifference, even disdain shown by Labour’s political class to ‘their’ voters who dared to imagine a different future for Britain outside the EU. The same voters who now see Mark Drakeford’s flirtations with being “indy curious” as dangerous and running contrary to Labour’s traditional support for the union of the United Kingdom in moving the party towards the nationalist left.
“Indy curious”, a bit like being at college when you’ve smoked something that seemed fun at the time but left you feeling really stupid the moment you came round! Generations of Labour leaders must be holding their heads in their hands at this absurd and damaging dalliance with nationalism, running contrary to the proud history and beliefs of the Labour movement. The bottom line is that Labour is continuing to take risks with shifting their political theology away from their voters because they mistakenly believe it will pull support back from Plaid. It might, but there will be a larger number of traditional Labour voters who will be appalled by such a move.
The Cardiff Labour Councillor Keith Jones got this spot on in his recent and thought-provoking Welsh Political Icons podcast on former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. In it, he asked “how many frontline Welsh politicians speak for the Welsh working classes today who see themselves as proudly Welsh, proudly British, proudly trade union and proud of the Royal Family?”
It’s an interesting question that Welsh Labour struggle to answer, and having failed to grasp the public mood over Brexit they are now incapable of appreciating that many of their voters, who have long been relied upon to put Labour candidates into office, are happy and comfortable being part of all that Britain is about, and means to them. Increasingly I see the next election set in the context of that new landscape, which places the union of the UK at the heart of the debate, not just about the governance of Wales, but Wales as part of a United Kingdom and whether that will continue if Labour wins again.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Labour is now in Plaid’s camp. The writing was on the wall in the first Assembly term. When the First Secretary Alun Michael faced a vote of no confidence some Labour AMs pleaded with us not to do it, not because they thought he was their star performer but because the alternative under Rhodri Morgan would allow a more nationalist element to reshape their future.
Be under no illusion, the next Senedd election is about the UK as it is the governance of Wales, it is a battle for the United Kingdom between an energised Welsh Conservative Party under Paul Davies and the forces of the left who all now sit somewhere holding hands in that nationalist camp.
2021 will be the fight of our lives.
Jonathan Morgan is a former Welsh Conservative Assembly Member & Shadow Minister for Health and Social Services