Politics in Wales is starting to see a seismic shift in the political landscape for the first time in decades. 2019 saw the largest group of free market supporting MPs elected since 1983 across Wales, with the vast majority of gains coming from former Labour strongholds. Free market, Conservative MPs now control the vast majority of Parliamentary seats in Mid, West and North Wales, with Labour losing all but one of their former north east stronghold.
Wales’ vote to leave the European Union in 2016 fractured the already fragile political orthodoxy here. Traditional Labour communities voted a different way because they thought the status quo was not working for them, but the left’s reluctance to accept this decision drove many from their traditional political safe space and into the hands of the Conservatives.
New voices are emerging on the political scene, with Wales now having a free market, low tax supporting think tank – the Centre for Welsh Studies and a new nationalist free market political party – Gwlad. As well as young, vocal candidates that are standing across the country in next years devolved Assembly elections who are of a new kind of political thinking and are keen to shake up twenty-two years of continual socialist rule. A recent poll conducted by ITV/Cardiff University put the Conservatives at doubling their number of seats in next years devolved elections which would mean that for the first time they would become the largest political party in the Welsh Assembly and a poll by the Centre for Welsh Studies had the Conservatives to make some smaller, yet significant gains.
The battle for political change will not be easy, for over one hundred years’ socialist parties of both unionist and nationalist tendencies have won the majority of seats in Wales and since devolution began in 1999 Welsh Labour have won every devolved election. To overturn such an ingrained attitude takes time, there are lots of factors to contend with, but I will focus on two which are rarely discussed.
The national and local media in Wales is seen as being very cosy with the current political establishment, the vast majority of local and regional newspapers are now owned by Trinity Mirror, not exactly the friend of free market supporting candidates.
As well as struggling to break through a hostile media, understanding Welsh employment data is vital if you want to understand the challenge ahead. In England 16.5% of the population work in the public sector. When compared to Wales you would be shocked at the difference, Wales has a whopping 26.5% of their working age population employed in the public sector. With over a quarter of the working population working for the state it is tough for any political party to get a message through that focus on public sector reform, tax cuts and reduced business regulation. Because the Unions, who are still very powerful in Wales, they will see this as an attack on their very existence and will whip up the workforce to oppose any change.
These are just two factors that make it tough for parties promoting free market ideas to get the cut through they seek and may be a barrier over the coming twelve months for the Welsh Conservatives.
The pandemic that we currently see affecting people across the world will also have an effect on politics going forward. It is not yet known whether or not it will have a positive or negative effect here in Wales for the left or the right. But what will be looked at is how the situation has been handled here, with the handling so far receiving much media criticism and calls for the socialist Health Minister to stand down.
As a proud Welshman and someone who has spent the vast majority of my life living in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, I see on a daily basis the hardworking and determined people of Wales that live outside of the Cardiff Bay bubble. Over the past twenty years of socialist rule here a new divide has been created between those of South Central Wales and the rest of Wales. South Wales Central and Cardiff have received a disproportionate amount of investment in comparison to the rest of the country. A centralising agenda has been continually pushed by the socialist Government, with Cardiff becoming a city that dominates the rest of the Welsh economy, sucking the life out of the surrounding communities and attracting all new businesses to the city.
West, Mid and North Wales have seen huge population shifts, the young are leaving and people are retiring to these areas. The young don’t often leave because they want to, but because they have to. The opportunities have simply not been attracted to these areas. This is where a new free market supporting Government would be able to radically transform Wales into a nation of traders and producers, not a nation of public sector workers. If the Conservatives and other free market supporting candidates want to be successful in the 2021 devolved election’s, then they must promise to deliver for the rest of Wales.
The opportunity for free marketeers to create the freer, more prosperous Wales we want to see is within our grasp. Next years devolved elections will be the chance to make that breakthrough, but it will only be achieved if the message is right.