A Welsh malaise

A lack of self confidence and Labour hegemony has been detrimental for Wales, says Andrew RT Davies.

The respected columnist and former MP, Matthew Parris, recently penned a bleak analysis of Wales’ fortunes in the devolved era.

Neglected by its low-calibre Labour politicians, he said. Out-shouted by Scotland, and overlooked by Westminster; his conclusion, that Wales is not an emergency, it’s worse than that.

The reaction of the Welsh public was revealing.

Ann Robinson made an enemy of the Welsh for life when she nominated us for inclusion in Room 101, and AA Gill fared even worse after describing us as ‘pugnacious trolls’, yet the measured tone of Parris’ argument prompted reflective debate and possibly told us a few home truths.

Why, for example, does Wales remain the poorest nation in western Europe; the most reliant on EU structural funds?

Perhaps there is also some truth, we wondered, in Parris’ assertion that this corner of the UK isn’t big enough or loud enough to make its voice heard?

It’s certainly true that parts of Wales remain extremely poor, with pockets of social deprivation where unemployment, across all generations, sits uncomfortably above the national average.

Yet, in spite of his overwhelmingly downbeat assessment of our country’s fortunes, I do sense that the answer is more straightforward than it may first appear.

After all, Wales is a proud country, with an industrious and successful past – and there is little or no evidence to suggest that we cannot enjoy an optimistic future.

Wales was the first industrial nation: powered by a boom in coal, for years dominating the iron and metal mining and smelting industries.

And it is also a nation of shopkeepers, and entrepreneurs.

In an era of globalized e-commerce – of eBay, Etsy, and Amazon – it’s worth remembering that the mail order revolution was started here, by Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones in a small town in mid Wales.

But you could be forgiven for forgetting the industrious, entrepreneurial nature of the Welsh people; stymied and stifled as we have been by 17 successive years of Labour rule.

All of which leads me to conclude that at least part of Wales’ problem is presentation and perception. And first impressions last.

It’s not just about shouting loudly enough to be heard, though. We must be conscious of the manner in which we sell ourselves to the rest of the world.

Anyone who visited the capital over the years would have witnessed the aesthetic horrorshow that was Cardiff Central Station, and the immediate area around it. Thankfully it’s now undergoing a comprehensive makeover.

Cardiff is a beautiful city, with more green space per capita than any other city in the UK, but for many first-time visitors an impression has long been cast of a tired, scruffy and downbeat capital city.

The same lackadaisical approach is all too often evident in the way the Welsh Government presents us to the world – backward looking, short on confidence, and pitching to the lobby at home, not the external markets of the future.

Just last month the First Minister went to the US – ostensibly on a trade mission – to “sell Wales to the world like never before”. But instead of painting a picture of a Wales that’s open for business, Carwyn Jones used his keynote pitch to US businesses to send a political message back home across the Atlantic – warning that Brexit could precipitate the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Anyone with a working knowledge of Dragon’s Den knows that you don’t rubbish your own product during the sales pitch, and it’s hard to see how the First Minister’s alarming rhetoric would have bolstered investor confidence. But if there’s one thing more dangerous than incompetence, it’s incompetence masquerading as righteousness – which is the emerging challenge for Wales.

Matthew Parris was right to identify low calibre Labour leaders and a lack of self-confidence as the cause of the Welsh malaise.

After seventeen years in government, Labour’s public services are blighted by systemic problems and have long suffered from a lack of bold ideas or investment. But we cannot allow the First Minister to use our impending exit from the European Union to justify his failure to improve things, or allow him to distract us from the fact that his government is bereft of solutions.

Carwyn Jones’ righteous indignation at the result of the EU referendum is one thing, but crying ‘Brexit’ at the first sign of difficulty is quickly becoming his default position. Incompetence, once again, masquerading as righteousness.

Labour will be held to account for their record in the first seventeen years of devolution, but Brexit must not be allowed to become the smokescreen that perpetuates another generation of Labour failure in Wales. That’s the real emergency.

Andrew RT Davies is the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives.

10 thoughts on “A Welsh malaise

  1. With the greatest of respect, Mr. Davies, you only have yourselves to blame. If the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru had come to an agreement between themselves to only field one anti Labour candidate, Labour would not have control of the Assembly. For instance, Llanelli (Lab HOLD by 1.36%) the combined opposition vote was 43.31%, you would have gained the Vale of Glamorgan, Vale of Clwyd, Gower, Wrexham, Cardiff North and maybe even Clwyd South by the same scheme. So, how about it then? At the council elections next year, in Labour heartlands, join up to have just a single anti Labour candidate and see how many seats you can win off them by working together.

  2. In North America, this type of article is called “dissing your own place” – an unfriendly gesture. I watched the First Minister’s presentation at Chicago in its entirety because it was placed on line the by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs soon after the event. The presentation was a clear indication that Wales was “open for business,” which, I understand, was the purpose of the journey to North America. Questions from the floor focussed on the potential fallout from Brexit, the top of mind issue, which the First Minister answered the ably and diplomatically.

    I thought the IWA was a forum for offering friendly advice, not “dissing your own place.”

  3. The analysis by ATD is correct about the poor performance Labour/LLAFUR,however the creation of the Assembly was almost guaranteed to give us a one-party state,and we know where that leads,or not leads as the case might be. The society of Wales is very fractured,however at the age of 71 I do not believe I will ever see a right of centre party in power in the BAY,rather the continuation by welsh people for a soft socialist/nationalist ‘government’ for ever moaning about lack of money.The continual drive by PC for separation from England,and the fear of Labour politicians of nationalism,plus the performance of BBC Wales means that the radical changes necessary in the provision of public services will never take place.If a ‘country’ cannot keep its public spaces clean and tidy,and where I live in the Vale of Glamorgan the roads/side roads are littered and unkempt,whilst at same time the expense of ‘nation’ building goes on an on. Matthew Parris is a very astute political analyst and he’s correct about Wales and our future,but no one can get a grip on reality any more.

  4. Whilst you were scratching this essay out at the back of the hall did you not notice Hammond on his hind legs crying ‘Brexit’ as he abandoned the target to clear the deficit by the end of the parliamentary term – a cornerstone Conservative manifesto pledge I seem to remember ?

  5. I kept waiting for this article to offer a solution to the straw man it created. Sadly it never did.

  6. Both Mr Davies and Mr Hayfield make some very sound points

    …which will probably lead nowhere. The real Welsh Disease is that there was never a greater nation of talkers, but come election time a plurality still votes for the donkey painted red while the rest just argue among themselves.

    Meanwhile, a country of massive potential goes to waste.

  7. Get rid of the EU and then get rid of the EU’s 3 NUTS1 Regional legislatures – the biggest strategic problem is the excessive and pointless extra layer of governance not necessarily the party which is running it. You can’t blame Llafur for the economic collapse of Scotland or the long-standing weakness of the economy in N. Ireland. Having said that, Llafur is not only clueless but the same clueless people have been sitting at the top table interfering in things they clearly don’t understand for far too long!

  8. I am surprised this article made it to publication on this site. The vast majority of articles here are well thought out, well considered, challenging and well written, regardless of whether you are in agreement with the content.

    This article offered us nothing. Where are the solutions to the malaise he sees?

    Lazy references to third parties’ views and even Dragon’s Den. If Wales has been so badly led, then what can someone from outside deduce about the quality of the opposition in Wales.

    I hope IWA will challenge senior contributors like ARTD to offer us more in future before agreeing to publish.

  9. If, Mr. Davies, we suffer from a lack of self-confidence (and I concede that we most emphatically do), then might it have something to do with the fact that we have been told – from every Unionist political hack, from every one of ‘our’ (outside-owned) newspapers and (if more obliquely) from ‘our’ (outside-owned and -controlled) broadcasters – not just for years but for generations, that we are ‘too small’, ‘too poor’ and ‘too weak’? That we can never do anythiing of any consequence for ourselves without being led or ‘subsidised’ by England? When you throw that propaganda at a population to such a degree and over such a long period of time, then it is inevitable that it will lodge itself deeply into the subconscious of a significant proportion of the population. You, Mr. Davies, and the other representatives of British Unionism (of which the Labour Party in Wales is the largest force) are merely causing us as a nation to reap which you have sown.

    With regard to Labour’s dead hand on political life (which is even more visible on the local authorities that they control; a constant by-word for arrogance, indolence, insolence and outright corruption), then it is a pity that we don’t really have a strong, determined and genuinely nationalist party. We have seen how the poltical landscape of Scotland has been transformed by a outward-looking, progressive and pragmatic civic nationalist party not – unlike the ‘Party of Wales’ – afraid of using the word ‘independence’ and being clear about what they mean by it, and what benefits will accrue to the people of that nation as a result. Compare and contrast with here, where – thanks to the legacy of Milord Dafydd Elis Thomas’ attempts to turn Plaid into a party for socialists alone, and to the generational failure of nerve of all of its leaders since – the supposed ‘nationalist’ party seems only to want to continue to prop up a system which is neither one thing nor the other and of proven no earthly use to our nation and – in doing so – propping up a Labour Party which still seems by its attitudes and statements to believe that our nation is either merely a ‘geographical expression’ or that it didn’t exist anyway until Nye Bevan invented it. Until they – as I believe they say nowadays – ‘grow a pair’, then the disaffected Labour vote will instead migrate to the absurdities of KIPperdom for want of anything more radical.

  10. PG – Llafur most definitely need a better Conservative opposition here in Wales. Your comments PG correctly draw attention to a big weakness in the Assembly – the lack of an intellectual heavy lifter at the helm.

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