As Theresa May addressed the Welsh Conservative Party conference in the Llangollen Pavilion over the weekend, English Local Election results were still flooding in; by close of play the Conservatives had lost more than 1,300 seats. Amidst this quite staggering political upset, May’s time at the conference – which began with party member Stuart Davies’ now infamous heckle: ‘’why don’t you resign? We don’t want you’’ – was spent elaborating on the party’s poor performance in the local elections and emphasizing Brexit’s divisive nature on the doorsteps.
May focused on the ideas of party solidarity and internal cooperation as the key to facilitating a timely Brexit, but the atmosphere in the pavilion did not inspire either of these things. Party members described the event as down beat and even funerary, with many commenting on the internal friction that currently pervades the Tory party and mainstream politics at large and its chokehold on party progress.
In the face of a divided party operating in the shadow of a still unresolved Brexit, May’s focus turned to Welsh education and healthcare. Commenting on the children being let down by an education system that is trailing behind UK national standards and a Welsh NHS that can not provide the necessary standards of care to its patients, May looked to leverage Welsh governmental insufficiencies against Labour’s ongoing leadership, echoing Welsh Conservative Party Leader Paul Davies’s view that Labour, not devolution, is the issue with Welsh politics.
In his first conference address since election as party leader, Davies also focused on education and healthcare, as well as urging the Welsh Government to stop ‘’dithering’’ over the M4 relief road decision. Many crucial topics, however, could be seen languishing in Brexit’s pervasive uncertainty, and if May fails to address the issue with haste, we might be seeing a lot more heckling.
Although many important and impassioned messages were communicated at this Welsh Tory Party Conference, you can’t help feel that May, Davies and all senior members of the party are trying in earnest to both apologise for and distract from Brexit. Although the promises of establishing UK wide parity in education, healthcare, housing, social care and infrastructure could potentially attract lots of voters as the next Assembly elections begin to appear on the horizon, in the short term faith will continue to waver unless May can truly rally the party and address the European elephant in the room.