As we go into the 2021 Senedd elections, the Welsh Conservative Party has what is possibly its best opportunity to date to gain seats in places we have never thought possible, writes Councillor James Evans.
Over the last few months, Paul Davies and his team have set out their vision for Wales, one that will see a Welsh Conservative Government enter a new age of devolution. One, that – as Boris has put it – will “clear out the nostrils of the Welsh dragon”. With new, fresh and vibrant policies that are focussed on changing Wales for the better, the Welsh Conservative Party holds a genuine chance of ending over 20 years of neglect, shoddy leadership and stale policy.
In the 2019 General Election, the welsh electorate turned out in their droves to vote and support the Welsh Conservatives – some for the very first time. Undoubtedly, Brexit and the Corbyn effect helped us garner our 80-seat majority, but we must not underestimate the influence Boris Johnson had on the electorate – a factor that will undoubtedly be seen in the 2021 Senedd election.
However, if we want to be serious about establishing a majority government in the Senedd, we must relate to our voters, and this means choosing candidates who aren’t necessarily the ‘usual Tories’.
Our biggest gains in 2019 were in those seats where our candidates had a strong local connection, mirrored against those from blue-collar/business backgrounds – backgrounds our voters can relate to. A prime example of this is Sarah Atherton MP, who before entering politics worked as a social worker and served in our armed forces. Another example: Dr James Davies MP, who, throughout the COVID pandemic, has chosen to continue working for the NHS. And Virginia Crosbie MP, a retired Maths teacher. These are the candidates that possess real-life experience, which gave them the ability to relate to their voters. This is something that has to be built on going forward.
If we want to win enough seats to deliver our policy platform in 2021, then associations up and down the country must seek to select a wide range of candidates that are sourced from the ‘real world’. In recent years, the Conservative Party has chosen to move away from your typical working/middle-class, ordinary business owner in favour of individuals who are often ex-special advisors and lobbyists, giving very little time to those of us who have worked outside the political fray. Indeed, this highlights a wider issue: candidates should be selected on their ability and merit, not as a reward for services to the Party or the names of their references.
Now, I am by no means suggesting that these candidates shouldn’t be considered. However, as a political party, we need to be encouraging a more diverse array of candidates to stand. We need to ensure that those who come from working-class, blue-collar backgrounds have the same chances of selection as those from within the political bubble.
When I attended my Parliamentary Assessment Board and my Welsh Assembly Assessment, I was amazed by the number of ex-SpAds, lobbyists and graduates who were also attending. Indeed, there was only a handful of people – who like me – came from blue-collar environments.
When I speak to other candidates from similar backgrounds – those of us who haven’t grown up in the ‘political bubble’ – I often hear the same concerns. They don’t feel as if they are as good as those with degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. When we’re at our best, we’re represented by the likes Sarah Atherton, Dr James Davies and Virginia Crosbie – this is when we’re strongest. This is when we win elections.
What I want in a candidate is an individual that can walk into a hospital, small business or livestock market and can instantly communicate, empathise and understand the voters they wish to represent. Having a degree or a political background doesn’t give you this skill, nor does it make you a better candidate. If I was a voter in a marginal seat such as Wrexham, I would give my vote to a down to earth candidate who seeks to support their community. Somebody who will bang the drum and walk the talk.
After more than 20 years of stagnated, Welsh Labour-led leadership, 2021 is our best chance to see the Welsh Conservative Party secure a working government in Cardiff Bay. And so we need a strong group of candidates who aren’t identified as our ‘usual suspects’. We need individuals from an array of different backgrounds and experiences to ensure that our agenda works for the people of Wales. These are the people that broke the red wall in 2019, and these are the kinds of candidates we need to break the red wall and green damn in 2021.
James Evans is a Conservative Councillor for Gwernyfed on Powys County Council & Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, Housing and Regulatory Services.