The Broad Church

Christopher Harries

Recent developments in the Welsh Conservative party risks undermining the notion that the party is a broad church.

In recent years we have had attempts to remove a candidate for espousing devosceptic views that clashed with the conservative group in Cardiff Bay. More recently, the selection panel for South Wales Central questioned prospective candidates on how they would vote in a hypothetical referendum on abolishing the Senedd. Some members may think this an apt question, given the membership is on the whole sceptical of devolution. Yet could it be a reaction by some members to the previous attempt to remove a devosceptic candidate? 

The unilateral exclusion of prospective candidates based on such an issue does a disservice to the membership. Has the party become a single-issue party and must prospective candidates be subject to such a litmus test? 

As Michael Evans pointed out in his excellent article last week, potential candidates are aware that a devosceptic message is a way to increase the probability of victory at selection meetings. Yet the membership must be the judge on the suitability of a prospective candidate. A sift committee is not the means to unilaterally root out individuals who we may disagree with politically. 

I make this case as someone of the opinion that the Welsh Parliament should face abolition, and yes, I welcome the presence of overt devosceptic candidates on the regional shortlists. Yet, I have no wish for the Welsh Conservative party to move away from being a broad church. We cannot lament attempts to remove a devosceptic candidate and stay silent when it appears that a litmus test has been used, as a means to exclude viable prospective candidates from being forward to the membership. 

Be under no illusion the party must be a broad church. Able to accommodate debate and represent a necessarily broad spectrum of opinion. As a party, we should not be afraid of discourse and should oppose any factionalism that risks sidelining individuals. Members must be free to hold and voice their views providing loyalty is maintained to the party at the ballot box. 

Debate on contentious issues like devolution must be acceptable if the party is not to see supporters abandon it for rivals. We should be wary of the party becoming a sect intolerant of dissenting opinion, while to descend into factionalism would be the surety for failure at the ballot box.

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