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Friday, February 14, 2014

The continuing fall out of the Welsh Tory split

Over at Click on Wales, Daran Hill has blogged on the 'self-inflicted wound' of Andrew R. T. Davies' decision to sack four Tory rebels from his front bench team. He gives four reasons why this is not a good decision for the Conservatives of which the second is, in my opinion the most relevant:

Secondly, Antoinette Sandbach, one of the four removed AMs, has already tweeted the most damaging consequence of the reshuffle: “it is regrettable that he has chosen to divide his party.” The choice to do this is of course entirely Andrew’s as group leader, but the consequences of doing so are his too. By choosing to make this decision in this way he has turned a disagreement over the obscure issue of whether income tax rates are locked together, if and when they are ever devolved, into a full blown division.

No party or party leader is stronger by alienating sections of his party. Even the short history of devolution shows us that the Conservative group is never stronger when key members end up on the backbenches. Think of Jonathan Morgan’s split with Nick Bourne, or the moment six months before the 2011 Assembly election when Andrew RT Davies himself left the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. The speculation at the time as to why he took this “mysterious” step is well summated here. Both Jonathan and Andrew at least by leaving of their own volition had to profess loyalty to Bourne. Antoinette, as the first of the four casualties to speak plainly, has shown no such restraint. The division is clear.

However, what is significant is the fact that Anoinette Sandbach has commented on the post and in terms that suggest that the divisions within the group are stark and go to the heart of Andrew R. T, Davies' leadership style:

Darren I argued for the position that you outlined in your comment. Local Councils have more tax raising autonomy than the Welsh Government does at the moment. The equivalent position of the Welsh Government at the moment is that of a child being handed “pocket money” by a parent. They can choose how to spend it but have no responsibility for earning it. Although that is not the position in my home where reward is linked to results and decisions taken! I know that Nick, Janet, Oscar and I stood up for what we believed in. I know that we all stand by that decision. David TC Davies summed it up perfectly in his comments. Sadly Andrew made us choose between party and group, he had no need to do so. I know that his influence and thoughts on his preferred position could have been expressed through the channels that he has open to him.

If there is to be a referendum on this issue then Andrew not only has to be able to take his shadow cabinet with him, but he will need to persuade both the party and the wider public that this is the right course to follow.
The Welsh Conservatives now sit in two camps, one led by Andrew R.T. Davies and the other, in ideological terms anyway, led by the Secretary of State for Wales.

On the one hand Davies has been decisive and avoided looking weak. He is positioning himself as an autonomous Tory leader against David Jones.

On the other hand he has to play his cards in a way that keeps his party together. You can't take on David Jones and most/all of the Tory MPs with a weak group. It is unseemly for one of the demoted AMs to leave an online public comment effectively whingeing.

The easier option would have been to abstain on the Plaid amendment, and keep the group together. But Davies must have felt that doing that would only see the problem re-emerge further down the line.
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