Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Conservative Party at a Crossroads

The recent row and subsequent sackings of four shadow ministers over the issue of income tax throws into sharp relief the identity crisis facing the Conservative Party in Wales. Is it merely a regional branch of the Conservative Party or is it the Welsh Conservative party?

Clearly any leader of a party that sets out a policy and then has senior officeholders abstaining or voting against that policy would be fatally wounded if they didn’t sack the erring members. But can the National Assembly Conservative Group make policy at odds with that of the UK leadership? Nick Ramsey clearly feels that if it comes to backing UK policy or Welsh policy then UK policy takes primacy, and the one that is out of step is the Welsh Leader. Indeed if this was just bust up between some abrasive characters in the National Assembly then there would be limited interest and impact, but the Conservative Board for Wales was in crisis talks and it would seem that the rebel view that they could not go against policy as enunciated by Secretary of State for Wales was widely supported.Yet the Leader of the Conservative Group in the National Assembly was elected by a ballot of all Conservative Party members in Wales. Who has the mandate?

This row goes to the heart of the identity of the Conservative Party in Wales. In Scotland they have a different constitutional relationship with the party in Wales & England. The Welsh party seems to have no more autonomy than does constituency party in England.

I suspect this row will not propagate very far outside the political observers but it is fundamental. The Conservative Party in Wales has clawed its way out of oblivion, thanks in part to a more proportional electoral system in the National Assembly and a considered re branding as a Welsh Party. This row could leave a lingering impression that the re-branding is just skin deep and when push comes to shove it is just an English party masquerading as a Welsh party.

I am no friend of the Conservative Party but if it is serious in its ambition of projecting its Welsh credentials it needs a formal separation from the “UK” party along the lines of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. That would be good for Welsh politics and give a voice to those genuine Welsh Conservatives. The die hard anti devolutionists who want no differences between Wales and England - believers in a West Anglia, would be better off in UKIP.

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