Brexit or Bust: The Welsh Conservative Spring Conference

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.

Welsh Labour Leadership Contest: The votes are in - but will the outcome make any difference to the future of Wales?

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The polls have closed for the Welsh Labour leadership election and the winner will be announced on Thursday (6 December).  But will the outcome have any significant impacts on the future of Welsh development and infrastructure?

While Mark Drakeford has remained the favourite to become the next First Minister since becoming the early front-runner, the divided nature of politics and preferential election process means it would be dangerous to discount the other two candidates, Eluned Morgan and Vaughan Gething, before the final result is announced.

We have taken a look at each candidate’s policy commitments and the impacts these may have on the built environment, construction, transport and energy sectors.

Mark Drakeford:

The current Finance Minister has long been seen as the inevitable successor to Carwyn Jones, with his experience and commitment to Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party being seen as the cornerstones to his leadership drive. Mark has clearly set out his policy commitments and released a detailed manifesto entitled “21st Century Socialism”.

So, what is Mark proposing under his leadership:

·       Energy: Mark has proposed a large surge in Wales’ relationship with renewable and sustainable energy. In his manifesto he outlines that investment in renewable energy must be seen as a bid to boost the Welsh economy, adding that Wales must make use of the abundance of wind, water and waves available.   His pledges include re-examining the case for a new Welsh Energy Mutual (based on the Welsh Water model), as well as setting up an independent commission to advise on nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Mark has stated that he would appoint a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for housing and allied matters, allowing housing to be represented at the top table. He adds to this that he would press ahead with plans for a vacant land tax, tackling land banking and allowing for the release of land for housing and regeneration developments.  He has also committed to aligning housing and planning responsibilities, allowing councils to work together more flexibly across boundaries in a bid to provide the housing Welsh people need.

·       Transport and the M4 relief road: He has expressed a strong desire to tackling M4 congestion in South Wales, although he is yet to commit to the M4 relief road, unlike Eluned and Vaughan. Additionally, Mark claims that he would revise Planning Policy Wales to make provision of sustainable transport infrastructure a fundamental requirement for new development

Eluned Morgan:

The last to get on the ballot following the intervention of Carwyn Jones to ensure a woman was on the ballot paper, Morgan has been clear in expressing her principal policy area: The Welsh Economy.  Eluned has stated that “economic development and the provision of jobs will be my first priority as First Minister of Wales.” Below is a summary of the key manifesto commitments set out:

·       Energy: having formerly been Director of National Development for SSE in Wales, this is an area Eluned is very familiar with.  She has detailed a range of ambitions for energy in Wales including producing affordable clean energy, increased regulation around sustainable construction, a carbon-neutral public sectors and stronger renewable energy policy.  Eluned has also recently expressed her support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: In terms of regeneration, Morgan was quick to bring economics into play. She stated that “I will investigate the introduction of a Cymru Currency to see if we can encourage people to spend more of our Welsh money locally.” Morgan also added that she will assemble a panel of experts to give advice on revising taxation in Wales who can then investigate how best to support Wales’ town centres.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: Eluned has stated that encouraging active travel and supporting public transport could transform the economy in South Wales, whilst also standing by the election manifesto on which Labour promised to deliver the M4 relief road.

Vaughan Gething:

Vaughan has positioned himself as the candidate for change in the Labour leadership bid.  Using the campaign slogan - ‘ChangeTakesCourage’ - Vaughan asks “What kind of Wales do you think we deserve?” Despite not providing a detailed manifesto, based on interviews and statements, his key policy commitments can be surmised as follows:

·       Energy: Vaughan makes little mention of energy and environmental issues, but has recently expressed support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Vaughan has been clear that in order to support Wales’ town centres, we need to empower local authorities to ensure they have the financial tools to ensure their communities thrive. He states that he wants to reset the relationship between Councils and the Welsh Government, allowing local authorities to have greater control over the way they spend their budgets.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: For Vaughan, doing nothing with regards to the issue of congestion in Wales is not an option. He adds that this means delivering the M4 relief road.

It is clear there is a range of new policies being put forward by the three candidates in relation to the future of economic development, investment and development in Wales.  It is likely that a collections of these (from all candidates) will be promoted as the Assembly term progresses, with the emphasis depending on who the new Leader is, and how their cabinet is formed moving forward.

Please watch this page or follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK to keep up to date with the Welsh Labour leadership race.

Lewis Clark, Account Executive

Labour Party Conference 2018 – Brexit, renewables and feminism

Thousands of party members, journalists, lobbyists and others descended on Merseyside for the Labour Party’s annual conference this week, as Labour looks towards post-Brexit Britain and the possibility of a forthcoming General Election.

While Brexit, nationalisation and a commitment to equality dominated much of the narrative, what became clear was Labour’s determination, up and down Britain, to return to power.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and many others, spoke at great lengths of the Britain they want to see, and the best means of achieving it.

One of the key themes to come out of Corbyn’s Leader speech was a commitment to green policies, putting renewable energy and efficiency at the heart of Labour’s offer.

Earlier in the week, Rebecca Long-Bailey the shadow business secretary, set out that the party is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century (the UK’s current goal is an 80% cut by 2050). 

The aim is that almost all of Britain’s homes and businesses would be powered by wind, solar and nuclear power by 2030, including the development of 13,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar panels on thousands of roofs and widescale home insulation.

Critically, Corbyn has chosen to place environmental issues at the centre of the party’s economic offer, with the aim of creating thousands of sustainable, high-skilled jobs, the impact of which would be to tackle joblessness in communities that have borne the brunt of deindustrialisation, whilst also recognising that the environment is a key issue. In addition, Corbyn has promised to back proposals for a tidal power lagoon in Swansea Bay if Labour wins power.

Focusing on Wales, First Minister Carwyn Jones struck a chord with the crowd, not for his beard jokes, but for his wish that the next UK Government in Westminster would be Labour, calling for his English counterparts in Westminster to match Labour’s dominance in Wales.

Jones spoke of Wales’ commitment to sustainability and the transport revolution, whereby trains are being built in Wales, for Wales, and not for profit.

He also spoke of gender-equality, or lack of it, expressing his disappointment that he may need to use his Welsh leadership election nomination to endorse Eluned Morgan AM to ensure there is a woman on the ballot paper this autumn.

Our attention now turns to the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference and also the Plaid Cymru Autumn Conference following today’s election of Adam Price as the new party leader.