Martin Shipton interviews Paul Davies… ‘Successive Welsh Labour-led governments have failed the people of Wales’

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Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies has dropped a big hint that his party will promise a cut in income tax if they take power after May’s Senedd election.

Mr Davies was speaking to WalesOnline as part of a series of interviews with the leaders of the main political parties ahead of May’s election. You can see the interview with Plaid leader Adam Price here, and the interview with Mark Drakeford is here.

Asked what offer his party would be able to make to the people of Wales, Mr Davies said: “Even in these difficult circumstances we’re in the process of putting our manifesto together. You’d expect the party to be doing that. We’re hopeful that we’ll have a draft manifesto available in the next couple of weeks, and it will probably be tweaked as we go nearer the election.

“I believe that we’ll have an exciting manifesto. We will offer a credible alternative to the people of Wales – and we’ll offer hope and aspiration, because over the last 20-odd years I’m afraid successive Welsh Labour and Welsh Labour-led governments have failed the people of Wales.

“I’m in politics because I want to improve the lives of the people of Wales. Politics is about people. I’m passionate about making sure that Mrs Jones down the road can get her operation when she needs it. I’m passionate about the fact that a young person looking for a job gets that job. That’s why I’m in politics – because of those bread and butter issues.”

It was put to Mr Davies that his party at Westminster had granted income tax-varying powers to Wales, on the basis that this would make Welsh politicians more accountable.

Asked whether the Welsh Conservatives would use them if they came to power, he said: “You’d expect me, as a Conservative, to believe in a low tax economy . I do believe in a low tax economy, so if possible we want to reduce taxes. If you look back in history you will find that governments that have reduced taxation have actually grown the economy very successfully.

“You’re absolutely right – it was a UK Conservative government that changed the constitutional settlement, and it has now given the Senedd and the Welsh Government much more accountability because it has that ability to vary taxes – and my view as a Conservative is we want to reduce those taxes in order to grow the economy.”

Asked whether it could therefore be taken that income tax cuts would be one of the pledges in his party’s election manifesto, Mr Davies said: “Well you’ll have to wait and see.”

When it was put to him that he was hinting that would be the case, he said: “You may think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Asked whether he believed that Labour being in power since devolution began had resulted in a failure to deliver, he said: “That’s why our message is going to be so important, I think, in the forthcoming election, My message is that if people don’t vote Welsh Conservative, then unfortunately they will have five more years of a Labour administration. And if the Labour Party forms another government at this election, by the following election in 2026 they will have been in power for nearly 30 years – and that would be catastrophic for Welsh businesses and for Welsh families.

“My message will be absolutely clear to the people of Wales. Vote for us for real change and for improving the lives of the people of Wales.”

Asked whether his party’s criticisms of the Welsh Government’s lockdown measures because of their perceived damage to the economy had been undermined by similar restrictions imposed by his party’s Westminster government, Mr Davies said: “But this is devolution, isn’t it? People – our opponents especially – criticise us for not differentiating from what our colleagues are perhaps doing in Westminster and when we do differentiate we still get criticised for it. So we can’t win.

“But I think we’ve been consistent during this pandemic. I’d like to think that I’ve worked constructively with the First Minister. I’ve worked constructively with the Welsh Government since the start of this pandemic. I was invited by the First Minister to sit in on the government’s Covid-19 briefings on a weekly basis, which I did. Since September I’ve been attending meetings with the First Minister and indeed with other ministers practically on a weekly basis.

“Of course we have challenged them. We have asked difficult questions when we think that the government has got it wrong, and our job is to do that.

“When people criticise us for always opposing the Welsh Government, well that’s not been the case, because if you look at the facts we have supported 49 of the Coronavirus Regulations that the Welsh Government have tabled since the end of March, and we’ve only voted against six of those regulations.

“There are some things that the Welsh Government have got right. Right at the beginning of this pandemic they led the way in making sure that temporary hospitals, field hospitals, were set up as quickly as possible.

“Of course it was the great and fantastic staff within the NHS that did the actual work, but I think that the Welsh Government showed leadership at that time to make sure that those temporary hospitals were actually established.

“But they got certain things wrong. They abandoned testing targets when they should have stuck to them. They didn’t test in care homes quickly enough. They were responsible for sending incorrect letters out to incorrect addresses.

“I think overall we have been very constructive as an opposition, and we’ll continue to be constructive.”

Asked how a government led by him would improve performance in the three key areas of health, education and the economy, Mr Davies said: “We’ve already announced some policies over the last couple of years. I believe people are looking for change. They want to see the back of this Labour-led government, and they want a credible alternative in place.”

It was put to Mr Davies that some members of his party were close to the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, and that polls suggested most Tory supporters in Wales would vote in a referendum to get rid of the Senedd.

He responded: “I can understand some of these people’s frustrations. I voted against the establishment of the Assembly back in 1997, but now we’ve got it we’ve got to make it work for the people of Wales.

“But I do understand people’s frustrations, because the Labour and Labour-led governments have failed the people of Wales. My message to these people is work with us, not to abolish the institution but to abolish the Welsh Labour government. Voting for any party other than the Welsh Conservative Party at May’s election will result in five more years of a Labour administration, and I’m sure that those people don’t want to see that either.”

Mr Davies was asked about a decision by a panel not to allow the widely respected former Assembly Member Jonathan Morgan’s name go before party members in South Wales Central when they select regional candidates for the Senedd election. Mr Morgan, one of Mr Davies’ own advisers, had been asked by a member of the panel how he would vote in a referendum to abolish the Senedd.

The Welsh Conservative leader said: “I’m disappointed, obviously, that Jonathan didn’t make it through to the selections for the regional list.

“Jonathan is a senior adviser for me and I value his advice very much. But at the end of the day, it is a matter for members in that region and that panel what questions they ask candidates.

“The Conservative Party is a broad church and always has been since I joined it back in the early 1980s. I think that’s what’s great about the Conservative Party – we have so many people from so many different backgrounds being members of the Conservative Party, giving the party that richness. I think we should be proud that it is a broad church and I want to see it continuing being a broad church.”

When it was put to Mr Davies that some of the members of the party’s congregation may be somewhat dubious, including the chairman of Clwyd South Conservative Association who recently made a tasteless comment on Twitter about young mothers in A&E units, he said: “People shouldn’t be making offensive comments at all. People should be very careful in the language that they use. Of course that member that you refer to has apologised and resigned as our chairman, and he’s done the right thing.

“I also believe that people can be rehabilitated. When people do make mistakes and they apologise, we should accept that as well.

“As leader of the Senedd group, I shall always make sure that we have a broad church in the Conservative Party.”

Asked which seats he thought were in play for the Conservatives in the Senedd election, Mr Davies said: “As you’d expect, we’ve been crunching the numbers, we’ve been looking at the figures. Let’s not forget that back in the General Election in 2019, over half a million people voted for the Welsh Conservative Party. If we can persuade 75% of those people to vote for us in May’s election, then we can beat the Labour Party and become the largest group in the Senedd.

“If we become the largest group in the Senedd, then we’ll be in the driving seat to form an administration. Don’t forget, the Labour Party has never had a majority in the Senedd – they’ve always formed coalitions or formed a minority administration.

“My team’s focus over the next four months will be to make sure that we win as many Conservative seats as possible.”

Asked how he could form an administration without the support of Plaid Cymru, whose leader Adam Price has said his party would not contemplate a coalition with the Tories, Mr Davies said: “I think it’s quite possible that we could be in a position to form a minority administration.

“The Labour Party has been in the position to form minority administrations in the past, so there’s no reason why we can’t form a minority administration. Plaid Cymru have made it clear that they’re ruling out forming a coalition with us, but if we do become the largest group in the Senedd, then we’re in the driving seat to do just that.”

Asked whether he thought a “confidence and supply” arrangement with Plaid – under which they wouldn’t bring a Conservative administration down or starve it of funds in return for some policy commitments – was feasible, Mr Davies said: “Well, we’ll have to wait and see. My team’s focus is to win as many Conservative seats as possible. Who knows what’s going to happen after May 6?”

At previous devolved elections in Wales, many voters who back the Conservatives at Westminster elections have stayed at home, either because they don’t think the occasion is important enough or because they’d rather the institution didn’t exist.

Asked what his message would be to such people, Mr Davies said: “Quite simply, if they want to get rid of this failed Labour administration, they’ve got to vote Conservative.

“It’s possible that we could reach that 75% figure I mentioned earlier, which could make us the biggest party.

“I think I’m right in saying that in 2007, 73% of those who’d voted for us in the 2005 General Election voted for us in the Assembly election.

“My message to them is, if you want real change, then please vote for us.”

Asked about the extent to which he thought that – as in previous devolved elections – many people would vote not on Welsh issues but on their view of UK politics at the time, Mr Davies said: “I think there will be more focus on our election this time round. I think what this pandemic has done is shone a spotlight on devolution and on the way the Welsh Government and indeed the Welsh Parliament operate. More and more people are now aware of the powers that reside so far as the Welsh Parliament is concerned, so I’d like to think that will increase the turnout at the next election.

“But as politicians we’ve got a lot of work to do to persuade people to come out to vote for us at the election. That will be part of my job, and that’s why it’s important we get our messages right and persuade the people who did vote for us in the 2019 General Election to vote for us this time.”

Asked whether he thought the extra visibility that Mark Drakeford had received during the pandemic had given the First Minister an electoral advantage, Mr Davies said: “Well of course whether you’re the First Minister or the Prime Minister, you will always get more coverage than opposition leaders and opposition parties – that’s the nature of politics I suppose.

“But I’d like to think I’ve been more visible over the last six months. I take every opportunity that I can to talk to journalists, and to appear on TV programmes and radio programmes as much as I can to convey the Conservative view here in Wales, and I will continue to do that.”



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