Challenging The Devo ‘Power Grab’ Narrative

Crispin John

Ahead of the Conservative Party’s virtual conference, Senedd Leader Paul Davies has written an interesting piece for the Gwydir website. He says that, if a Conservative Government is elected in Wales next May, he will form a Government that respects devolution, that will work with Westminster, and will not pretend to have powers that they simply do not possess.

To many on the right of Welsh politics, this will be music to the ears. One of Davies’s key pledges will be to get rid of the International Relations department in the Welsh Government. When I read this, I thought I was going to burst with a sense of overwhelming joy. The Welsh Government has never had, does not have and – if sense prevails – will never have any powers over foreign affairs and international relations. They simply have no business setting up shop in Brussels, New York, Beijing, or any of the 21 offices they have scatted across the globe. The minister does not require an air miles card, nor a carbon footprint the size of a yeti.

This, however, is Government under Welsh Labour. It is like a fancy-dress party in which everybody pretends to be something they are not. Yet underneath the exterior trappings pulled out from the costume box, there is nothing extraordinary to write home about. The critics of Davies’ remarks will tell you that Wales needs these offices to safeguard lamb exports or to promote tourism, or that it is right that Wales has a say in global affairs. And yet Wales can do all of these things, and more, as part of a strong and United Kingdom.

It is not just the international relations department that has gone too far, of course. Both Plaid and Labour have called for the devolution of Justice to Cardiff Bay, which would destroy a legal system going back some 900 years. In recent times, the Welsh Government have been quite sly about this one. They have expanded the Counsel General’s role to give Jeremy Miles responsibility for Brexit (not a devolved matter, or course), and now COVID-19 recovery, not that you’ll have known about the latter, given that he doesn’t seem to have said a word on the subject.

It is like a fancy-dress party in which everybody pretends to be something they are not. Yet underneath the exterior trappings pulled out from the costume box, there is nothing extraordinary to write home about.

Crispin John

The Counsel General does not even have to be an elected MS – but by ensuring that he is, and piling on extra “work”, it gives some sort of justification for calling for the devolution of justice. They’ve moved on, as well, to police funding and prisons. Don’t be fooled. Labour and Plaid want home affairs as well as justice devolved to Wales. Energy and broadcasting are next. The more powers they can grab hold of, the better.

In this week’s Plenary debate on Value for Money for Taxpayers, the Conservatives did an excellent job in highlighting that in excess of £1 billion has been wasted by successive Welsh Governments on defunct policies, abandoned projects and overspending against budgets since 2010. This is the sort of politics that people can relate to, and the Welsh Conservatives need to do more of this in the run up to next May’s elections.

This is what makes the Welsh Conservatives’ pledge for a devolution revolution so attractive. By pledging to work with Westminster, balance the books, and keep a streamlined Government that doesn’t waste its cash on salaries for an inflated cabinet, Paul Davies can present a real alternative for the People of Wales.

It’s high time that the Welsh Conservatives focussed on exposing the Establishment cartel that is the incestuous relationship between Welsh Labour and Plaid, so Paul and his team should be congratulated for having the courage to take this on. In doing so, they can pick up votes from those who have become disillusioned with devolution and for whom the Senedd is just a glorified county council, but who feel that the fringe parties just do not speak for them. There may be a long campaign ahead, but the Welsh Conservatives have just started it with a bang.

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