2011 offers opportunity for break with past

Nick Bourne hopes the next Assembly election will bring an end to Labour’s dominance in Wales

The year started with a new First Minister. Many of us hoped that this would represent a break with the Old Labour past charactrised by the former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan. We were to be disappointed. It was business as usual as far as Labour was concerned – well to the left, even of Gordon Brown.

The first few months of the year were spent in preparation for the General Election that had to be held in the spring of 2010. I personally campaigned in all forty Welsh seats and was delighted that the outcome of the General Election saw eight Welsh Conservative MPs – four of them former Assembly Members (David Davies, David Jones, Alun Cairns and Glyn Davies). The result meant that the Welsh Conservative Party was now clearly in second place in parliamentary terms in Wales.

Reports from the Party Leaders at the Year’s End

Earlier this week we heard from First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones, Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, and Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams. Next week we shall be running special reports on the impact of the current Public Spending Review on Wales.

ClickonWales wishes all our readers a prosperous and happy New Year!

I was delighted too that David Cameron emerged from the ensuing negotiations as Prime Minister. A coalition of all of the other parties would have been unstable and driven by sectional interest. The Liberal Democrats deserve credit for the difficult decision that they made. It has, in my opinion, provided the country with stability and cohesion.

The most important task for the incoming government in Westminster was to deal with the record deficit that had been left by the outgoing government summed up by Liam Byrne’s leaving note as Labour Chief Secretary “Good luck, the money has run out”. The resulting tough action has also obviously hit Wales though in fact the impact here is significantly less than in England.

Political parties have had to come to terms with the consequent financial settlement and have had to order their political priorities accordingly. The Welsh Conservatives quickly came to the conclusion that the National Health Service budget had to be protected at all costs. As people live longer and new drugs and treatments become available it would be unthinkable to my mind to cut the NHS budget and I am surprised that this is what Labour and Plaid Cymru have done. Consequently we have had to cut back on other areas while seeking to protect the most sensitive areas of public spending like schools and housing.

The election for the fourth Assembly, which may well have law making powers in devolved areas, is clearly an important one. I believe fervently that a non-Labour Assembly Government is a crying need for Wales. We have had twelve years of Labour domination in the Welsh Government and this has not led to improvement in our public services or our economy. Indeed, we have gone backwards economically. As current economic performance figures indicate, we will qualify for another round of European assistance based on our low GVA even after the omission of the economically weak states in Eastern Europe into the EU. This is a national disgrace.

The elections represent an opportunity for a historic break with the past and a chance to shape a new Wales based on power in local communities, a fully funded NHS and a vibrant private sector led by strong indigenous Welsh businesses.

I think this approach resonates with the priorities of the Welsh people. It is certainly the message Welsh Conservatives will be taking forward into the Assembly Elections in May of 2011. Our policy of protecting the Health budget, whilst providing budgets directly to schools and offering business rate relief will be central to our appeal to the Welsh people come May.

In the meantime, of course, there is a referendum on additional powers for the National Assembly which Cheryl Gillan as Secretary of State has facilitated. The Assembly Conservative Group is supportive of these additional powers. The current system of bidding for powers from Westminster is unwieldy and leads to duplication, confusion and wasted time.

There is also a further referendum on the same day as the Assembly Elections on the AV system. I am against this system. However, having the referendum on the same day as the Assembly Elections may well promote higher turnout and does save scarce resources.

In short is has been a remarkably busy and interesting year and the year ahead promises to be no less frenetic and no less important.

Nick Bourne is Leader of the Welsh Conservatives and AM for Mid and West Wales.

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