To prove just how quickly things change in politics (and why I don’t like making predictions), a fortnight ago I said (in a post on a possible, now confirmed, leadership election in Plaid Cymru) that Andrew RT Davies was “in a stronger position than ever” and one of the most effective opposition AMs.
The very next day came the Airbus statement and Andrew’s response to it. Within a week he had resigned.
Attention now shifts to who will lead the largest opposition party in the Senedd. We still don’t know the entire story behind Andrew’s resignation, but all signs point to this having been on the table for a while and the Airbus statement was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Curiously, there won’t be a “Welsh Conservative leader” as in Scotland but a “Leader of the Welsh Conservative Assembly Group”. Why? I don’t know, but there are calls for reform for Luke Evetts on Nation.Cymru last week and it might be one of the issues during the leadership election itself.
Aside from that discussion on the Welsh branch’s place in the Tory world, there’ll be at least two other competing priorities that the Tory membership and candidates will need to consider.
Firstly, what sort of Opposition do the Tories want to be? Will they appoint a leader other parties might be willing to work with on a case-by-case basis – or even in a formal coaltion? Or do they want to adopt a similar strategy to Plaid of a “Mexican Standoff” – keeping an equal distance between themselves and all the other opposition parties?
Secondly, there’s Brexit. Who will be willing to toe the UK Government line and support a negotiated deal? Who will stick to their guns and seek a Hard Brexit with a “No Deal” firmly on the table? The signs are this has been already answered with both candidates suggesting the former.
Realistically, there could only ever be two candidates due to the number of endorsements required in an 11 member group (Mark Reckless doesn’t count). Here they are.
Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.)
Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Deputy Leader
First elected in 2007.
Professional experience: Business Manager at Lloyds TSB
- Likely to be seen as the “safe pair of hands” option by the party establishment due to his experience as deputy leader and Chief Whip; knows how “the party” works and presumably how to maintain discipline.
- Has experience of taking a constituency from Labour and perhaps has his finger on the pulse of ordinary people – particularly outside southern Wales – in a way you wouldn’t expect from your stereotypical Tory.
- Thoughtful, careful and considered – he’s not known for making rash decisions, but is capable of disarming opponents with a barbed fact or two; example: he’ll introduce an Autism Bill in the next few weeks after years of demands for one and a carefully considered consultation.
- Fluent Welsh-speaker.
- A bit bland, not media savvy; in danger of being seen as “The Man in the Beige Suit”.
- Unlikely to be well-known outside of Assembly circles.
- Working with small businesses in rural Wales will go down well with a large chunk of natural Tory voters, but he might come across as too much of a “party machine” man.
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
Shadow Social Services, Broadcasting & Welsh Language Minister
Assembly Commissioner for Finance
First elected in 2011.
Professional Experience: Marketing & Management (Swansea Grand Theatre), Solicitor, youth mentor
- Takes a collegiate approach to politics and is known as being a campaigning AM including support for first aid training and public defibrillators, improving disabled access, encouraging women in politics and (more recently) the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
- One of the best of the 2011 intake and her nouse when it comes to politics perhaps hasn’t been properly utilised to date; has very extensive “real world” experience.
- Is intelligent, media-savvy and witty; has a tendency to lull committee witnesses and ministers into a false sense of security before whacking them (figuratively speaking, of course) with forensic questioning.
- Fluent Welsh-speaker.
- Has a (relatively) safe list seat, but it’s still a list seat and doesn’t offer the same security as a safe constituency – though that might not matter if the electoral system is reformed in the Sixth Assembly.
- Like Paul, is not likely to be that well-known outside of Assembly circles.
- Lacks “stage presence” in the Senedd chamber when compared to Andrew RT Davies.
As far as I know, the election will be by first-past-the-post amongst the Tory membership; whoever gets the most votes wins.
Nominations close on 16th July (not that it matters). The winner will be announced on 6th September – a week or so before the start of the 2018-19 Assembly year.