Fresh horizons for Welsh centre right

David Melding says that if his venture into the world of ideas is to be successful his new think tank must appeal across parties

Taking more than a little inspiration from the IWA and the Bevan Foundation, a centre-right think tank will be launched at the Park Plaza Hotel, Cardiff on Thursday, 28 June at 7 p.m. Wales is becoming a more competitive political space and even the Labour Party’s excellent local election results have not restored the Party to dominant status. This is good for Welsh democracy and also good for the centre-left and Welsh Labour itself in the long term. Mature democracies need challenge, choice and above all a stream of new ideas to keep public policies as innovative as possible.

Until now there has been an intellectual gap on the centre-right of the spectrum in Wales. A platform is needed to allow people with centre-right views to work out solutions to the challenges facing Wales. It must be inclusive and welcome people from a variety of political traditions and indeed those of no allegiance in particular. Think tanks are not ethereal political parties but a way to add new vocabulary to public discourse.

The new think tank will fail if it is seen to be a front for the Welsh Conservative Party. It will also need to engage nationalists and Liberal Democrats of a centre-right disposition. Above all it must be run by people not professionally engaged in politics. Politicians already have a platform and think tanks must get beyond political parties. Disconcertingly there has already been a need to assuage some anxious voices. So for the record, the think tank is not going to be the vicarious creature of disgruntled Tories who want a more Welsh Conservative Party or of Nationalists unhappy at Plaid’s leftward direction under Leanne Wood’s leadership.

Much thought has been given to the organisation’s name. No decision has been made yet but the name will be announced at the launch event. However, there is a working title and comments on its suitability, or suggestions for an alternative, would be most welcome. So here goes: Gorwel The Welsh Foundation for Innovation in Public Affairs.

On the constitutional question, the Foundation will hold no view. Rather, whatever the political architecture of Wales, the aim will be to advance relevant, effective and thoughtful centre-right responses to contemporary challenges. Does Wales need an elite, world class university? How might a bilingual Wales look by 2030 or 2040? Can the Welsh economy be revived by private sector innovation in partnership with community enterprise? And so on.

David Torrance, the lively Scottish commentator and biographer of Alex Salmond, will be the guest speaker at the launch. He will look at the state of the centre-right in Scotland and this will then lead onto a general discussion about the situation in Wales. David trained at the Cardiff School of Journalism and has since established himself as an authority on the centre-right in British politics and how it has responded to the challenges of a modern quasi-federal state.

A short business meeting will follow David’s talk and people will be encouraged to get involved in the Foundation’s development. A programme of work will be agreed over the summer and the Foundation’s organisational structures will begin to take shape.

I hope this initiative will eventually be welcomed across the political spectrum. The political parties will face challenge from the new Foundation but not a challenger. Wales needs a stronger civic culture and the Foundation could play a vital part in our maturing democracy. Above all the Foundation will be inclusive. No one needs a formal invitation to attend the launch or to get involved.

David Melding is Conservative AM for South Wales Central and Deputy Presiding Officer in the National Assembly.

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