Paul Davies: a careful and considerate politician

Daran Hill reflects on the leadership contest, and considers what’s next for the party’s new leader

This campaign “caused me no problems at all,” said Byron Davies, chair of the Welsh Conservatives, as he announced the new leader of the Assembly Group. You could tell he meant it.


The positive, poised and professional campaigns from both Paul Davies and Suzy Davies have shown them both to be assets to their party and to politics. The battle between them for group leader has been a rather cordial affair that caused the party few headaches. Neither candidate or their supporters played games in seeking nominations. Like the contest as a whole, that part was done without fuss and every AM in the group fell into line behind one or other of the Davies’, even though David Melding was his usual creative and quirky self in nominating one but voting for the other.


In terms of messaging, the context was equally uncontentious. Both candidates veered away from attacks or surprise pledges. At no time did either Davies say the party would go nowhere under the other or they were doomed to lose the next Assembly election if the other one won. Neither of them wanted to cut support for the Welsh language (hardly surprising since both are fluent Welsh speakers, the first time any party has been given such a choice since 1998). And nobody said the Assembly should be abolished (not even the members, shock horror).


Instead it was, to the outside world, a gentle tussle between two Assembly Members on the same wing of the party. Interestingly both of them offered hard line appeal around seeing Brexit through, which is evidently what the party wanted to hear if recent polling is to believed. It certainly is what Tory Central Office and 10 Downing Street wanted to hear. Everyone in the Tory hierarchy will be pleased by the way in which the latest Davies to lead the group has been eased into post without external rancour and recrimination.


Conversely, the price for such a contest was its lack of media appeal. There was very little division to exploit and very little discord to explode. A minor spat about whether constituency or regional AMs were best placed to speak for the whole of Wales or to lead the party to future victory was a blip more than a bust up, and the type of squabble that Harry Hill would have resolved with one of his hyperbolic urgings: “Which is best to lead the Welsh Conservative party? A regional member who has never won a first past the post election? Or a first past the post member from a far corner of Wales? There’s only one way to find out – Figgggggggggggggghhhhtttt!”


That’s not to say that there weren’t differences, but they were more differences of emphasis than differences of policy. Suzy was more focused on specific policy areas, while Paul repeatedly emphasised the need to consult the members on key decisions. In trying to decipher the contest and what it meant, the latter pledge was particularly important since it gave a particular clue as to why this contest had come about. Half the group and a number of MPs clearly had concerns about the way in which in Andrew RT Davies had engaged with them. They were the same half who decided a change was needed and in Paul they coalesced around a figure who promised repeatedly to listen.


His audience is Ffos Las was actually very light on elected politicians (Darren Millar was the only non candidate there) but Paul’s first job has surely to be building a better flow of communication between AMs and MPs and other parts of the voluntary party. This contest may have born out of division, but it has the ability to heal if its resolution is utilised properly.


The Welsh media has, just like in 2011, pretty much ignored the contest. They have never had much of interest in the Conservatives and this time round the scraps in the other parties have, to be fair, appeared more interesting. But I do think they have done a disservice to Paul Davies by pretending he has little oomph. His critics during the campaign mentioned his colourlessness and beige suit. But he is no Iain Duncan Smith and does not need to adjust the volume. As a clever, consensual and considerate politician, Paul is indeed a “safe” sort of figure but that is perhaps one of his great strengths. As a friend said to me, “After the past few years every party could do with a Paul.”


At the despatch box he is also a skilled operator. As I have written previously written here, Paul Davies is slow to be roused but indignant when he does so. His stand ins at First Minister’s Questions have also been uniformly punchy. He is not scared of challenging the Welsh establishment. Those of us who have been fighting the corner of Carl Sargeant see him as an ally in the same way RT has been, and I was personally pleased to hear him commit to be “equally as strong as Andrew” because the Sargeant “family has been treated appallingly.”


But, of course, it matters far more what is said outside the confines of the National Assembly than that which happens within it. Paul Davies needs now to lead a team which takes a fight to the country in the most challenging of circumstances. His commitment that Suzy Davies “has a huge contribution to make” to this will be welcome to her numerous fans who respect her ability to connect and enthuse.


So what happens next? I suspect most of the early moves and decisions will be based on a long term strategy which, as Paul conceded in his victory speech, has to recognise failure as well as success. It will also be heavily influenced by another contest over which the Conservatives have no control. The Plaid Cymru leadership fight which is still ongoing will produce a leader who will or won’t entertain the idea of working with the Conservatives after the 2021 Assembly election. Playing devil’s advocate, I would suggest the Plaid leadership election is as heavily influenced by that dynamic as any other political question.


For the Welsh Conservatives, they have done two important things in electing Paul Davies at this point. Firstly, they have a leader pledged to let the party decide about any future coalition deals with others. Secondly, this careful and considerate politician is perhaps the closest they have ever come to electing a leader who is, on many levels, the right sort of Welsh Conservative to make that deal with other parties to get Welsh Labour out of government.


And that, as Paul Davies keeps repeating, is exactly what he wants to do.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Daran Hill is the Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Positif

4 thoughts on “Paul Davies: a careful and considerate politician

  1. Diolch Daran for this careful article. I am a Plaid Member who thinks that Welsh Conservatives need a careful and objective look. Plus I have a home in N.Pembs, which means I look in particular at Paul Davies, and Stephen Crabb in this marginal seat. For someone like me, you have to get past the obvious difficulties.
    1. Brexit. Bad for Wales but Conservatives in Wales feel obliged to support it. On the surface. Because I am not convinced. If they are realists they will know Brexit has to be stopped or fudged. My impression is that this game isn’t over.
    2. London-centricity which means that London gets Cross-rail and a Heathrow runway but Wales loses electric trains, a tidal lagoon etc.
    Is there such a thing as a truly Welsh Conservative? What might they go for? Respect for farming, strengthen the Welsh Revenue Authority so that Wales finances become transparent (we spend what we raise), more savvy with economic growth, happy with Wales running law and order in a Welsh jurisdiction (+plus codify Welsh laws). Maybe even Dominion Status for Wales – ask D.Melding. Best of all, an end to the quango dominated existing Assembly and 100 years of the stifling Labour embrace of Wales. I think a lot of nationalists would buy this. And put up with a lot of the sillier Toryism, Rees-Mogg etc. Could be good for all of us surely? Or am I dreaming?

  2. Jonathan Edwards.

    I agree with you on Brexit. And while I would love to see the nonsense of Brexit stopped, I also think that would be a bad idea.

    The people voted for Brexit. Yes, Leave broke the rules by overspending, and, yes, they told a pack of lies. “Only a fool would leave the single market”, “we can be like Norway”, “Brexit will not make you worse off”. Now we are told leaving also means leaving the single market, we will not be like Norway and it will make us worse off. Even Brexitters are now admitting we will be worse off. But Breixtters , especially Brexitextremists, are still going strong and still believe in the fantasy land of Brexit and we cannot, sadly, return to the pre-Brexit days as if nothing as happened.

    The media will still be pro Brexit and while they are all singing from the same hymn sheet the result will be the same. But if we have another vote and if remain win, it will not close the case, especially if it’s a narrow remain win. It will leave unsettled business.

    The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said

    “You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on you. No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”

    Brexit is a madness the UK has to go thru. I hope that after this madness is thru and we see the results of Brexit we will be able to re-join the EU. Sadly that is unlikely to be within my lifetime.

  3. Philip
    You said “we cannot, sadly, return to the pre-Brexit days as if nothing as happened”. I did not say it.
    For one thing, the USA elected Donald Trump in late 2016.
    As well as home in N.Pembs I have a home in North Carolina. A well-run swing state. (With a hurricane on the way, so I’m not sure I will make it back to Wales this week!)
    Trump is good for 3 reasons
    1. A lot of Americans genuinely feel the US needs a re-boot, and they did win the election. (They kicked out the Republican Governor of N.Carolina while the State as a whole went Republican, just. So Americans do think about what they are doing.)
    2. Trump has asserted somewhat over Europe. He has shaken up NATO (which the UK Government probably supports). And he has made it pretty clear he will do a deal with the EU. But he can’t be bothered with smaller mixed-up places, as the UK seemed to him on his closer inspection. And the EU will get a good deal from the US. (The US dislikes the higher product and employment standards which apply in the EU, but will end up having to follow them)
    3. Trump is not fazed by Political Correctness, an attitude which will spread over here.
    So our world in Wales has changed a lot since 2016, as you say.
    The advantages of staying in the EU are now (1) much greater and (2) much better understood in Wales. As Paul Davies and other Conservatives in Wales must be realising, I am glad to say. Another pertinent question is whether the Left in Wales is going to continue to be afraid of UKIP voters in their blue-collar constituencies, which is how they privately view the problem. Personally I don’t divide Wales in this class-obsessed way. Polls tell me that all Welsh people are now pr-EU, which they weren’t at the time of that Referendum. This surely is a healthy reflection of the evidence they are now picking up with their own eyes.
    As I said, this isn’t over yet

  4. Jonathan

    “You said “we cannot, sadly, return to the pre-Brexit days as if nothing as happened”. I did not say it.”

    Sorry if I give the impression that you did say that. That was my statement and I do not mean to imply it was yours.

    On point 2, pre-Brexit he told the UK we would be at the front of the queue in a post-Brexit trade deal. Now we will be firmly at the back of the queue. I want to labour that point for Brexitters.

    On point 3. Trump is not fazed by Political Correctness, an attitude which will spread over here.
    So our world in Wales has changed a lot since 2016, as you say.

    Again, I agree, but a UK unfazed by Political Correctness and a UK government that wants to strengthen and unify Britain and impose British values is an alarming combination. UKippers and Brexitters don’t see any hypocrisy in taking the UK out one union while removing any say the Welsh and Scottish have in running their own countries. Has Wales changed enough to successfully resist Westminster removing all its powers. I would like to think so, but I am not convinced. While we may not be afraid of UKIP or their voters, the Tories are more persistence and it will be a steady drip-drip attack on Wales.

    I agree with the advantages of staying in the EU. Wales voted narrowly to leave the EU. We may now vote to stay in the EU, but it is the vote in England that matter’s. Brexitters are becoming more extreme. Not only do they still believe in “Project Fantasy”, the fantasy is growing wings and a no deal Brexit seems to be gaining ground, a golden future for the UK outside the EU. We are out of the EU in just over 6 months. The UK government has spent two and a half years infighting, ignoring the EUs stance, since day 1, of “no cherry picking”, gone back with a load of cherry picking plans which has been shot down. The UK seems in the grip of a madness which is getting worse. I wish sanity would return within the next 6 months, but I do not see it. I can see Brexitters “Project Fantasy” morphing into “Project Completely Crazy” and the British public buying it.

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