Addressing the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Swansea’s Liberty Stadium, Andrew RT Davies AM, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, said:
Conference, colleagues, friends.
It’s fantastic to be here in Swansea – a city where things really are happening.
A glittering League Cup downstairs.
A football club putting Wales on the map and trophies in the cabinet!
But they’re not the only team!
Some said that it was risky for Tories to come to Swansea, but it’s even riskier to congratulate Cardiff City in Swansea and especially at the home of the Swans!
Welsh teams now make up 10% of the Premier League. Great for Welsh football, great for Welsh sport.
Welsh sport might be a place where things are happening, but so too is Swansea.
A city soon to have an electrified railway line thanks to the largest railway infrastructure investment in Wales since the Victorian era. We must thank Cheryl Gillan for all the work that she did in securing this superb investment and for the work she did for the party and for Wales. Cheryl you did Wales proud.
I’m proud that the Welsh Conservatives are the first party to host a conference in the Liberty Stadium. Coming to Swansea for the Conservatives is like coming home. So many of our great figures have come from these parts..
Llanelli’s Michael Howard..
..Aberavon’s Geoffrey Howe..
And of course, Gowerton’s Lyndon Jones!
It’s great to be in Swansea and great to be in such a superb stadium.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank all of you.
You’re the ones who pound the pavement, selling our message street by street, organising the raffles, helping all of us as AMs and MPs.
And next week we have elections in Anglesey where we need to help all of our candidates…
And of course next summer, we all need to get out and return Kay Swinburne to Brussels to keep Wales’ voice as loud and proud as it has been!
We couldn’t do the work we do without you, thank you.
And whilst I’m thanking people, I must pay tribute to my group of Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay. Each one of them speaks up for their areas of Wales, keeping the Conservative torch alight and fighting for Wales. And of course the brilliant team who support us all every day.
Team, let’s keep taking the fight to the left!
Just a few weeks ago, our party lost one of its greatest leaders. Margaret Thatcher was an inspiration to many. She put the Great back into Great Britain and our country owes much to her leadership and determination.
But as we sit here reflecting on Lady Thatcher’s achievements and sporting and political achievements for this city and our country, we must remember than none of these things have been easy and likewise, our challenges politically remain as tough as they were in 2010.
Maybe Swansea City Football Club know what a challenge is like better than any of us.
In 2003, they almost slipped into the conference league. A decade on, they play in the most competitive league in the world.
Draw whatever comparisons you like from that analogy, but if we roll up our sleeves and set our face to the challenges confronting us, Wales can do it.
But the truth is conference, that Labour think they have a divine right to rule in Wales.
Some of their Ministers are amongst the longest continuous serving Ministers in the Western World. They’d make some of the Eastern Bloc waxworks proud with their longevity! (Edwina probably would be proud of that!)
Conference – complacent, stale government does not lend itself to the creation of brave and progressive ideas.
Wales deserves better.
So over the past few months, the team and I in the Assembly have taken the fight to this tired, lazy Labour government.
We are the only party who would freeze council tax and leave over an extra hundred pounds in people’s pockets across Wales.
In the autumn, we launched our vision for the Welsh High Street, backing our small businesses and our local economies.
Napoleon once said of us that we’re a land of small shopkeepers. Welsh Labour wants us to be a land of small boarded up shops.
Our plan puts the focus back on the needs of our small businesses and our local entrepreneurs. Not punishing them for working hard, but backing them with help with their business rates and making access to finance much easier.
We then introduced the most radical localised financing plan of any UK party.
It was so good conference that both Plaid Cymru and Ed Miliband decided to launch the same policy!
The Welsh Government’s response was to put a Welsh Conservative in charge of its banking review. They shouldn’t have gone to the effort, we’ve written the plan for them.
Now why don’t they implement it?
So there we have it conference, we’ve been leading the charge over the past few months.
Putting forward the fresh innovative ideas that Wales needs.
Not tired excuses.
Not blaming others for all the world’s ills. Being Conservatives and getting on with the job.
The people of Wales don’t need us spending the next few years talking about how badly the Welsh Government is doing.
They already know how badly they’re doing!
Our health service has had its budget cut by over half a billion pounds.
We have an education system failing our children and a Minister who has admitted to “taking his eye off the ball.”
An economy dragging on the bottom of every league table…
They’ve now bought an airport!
Where they’re not subsidising our economy, they’re outright nationalising our infrastructure.
Next it’ll be the 5 year plan from our pro-Marxist Business Minister.
Conference, you could not make it up!
They even spend more on being a Government than they do on economic development itself!
The people of Wales aren’t stupid. They can see this, just as clearly as we can see it.
Our communities know they deserve better. We know they deserve better.
But they need to be convinced that we have the answers and at the next Assembly elections we need to take the fight to our communities.
House by House.
Flat by Flat.
Street by Street.
North, South, East and West, we are the ones who can do it.
We know, that sometimes we can get – how shall I put this – a rather brisk response on some doorsteps, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be up to the fight.
Conference, a few weeks ago I said that when politicians get up in the morning, they need to ask what difference they can make today.
Let me tell you…
I am privileged to be able to do the job I do. Each day I get to work alongside some superb colleagues, all of whom want to make Wales a better place.
This party is the party of the individual.
It is the strength of individuals that make up communities.
The party of economic competence.
But I want this party to be the party of real change.
A party that really “gets it”.
We know that sometimes our message can be a difficult message to tell. But we shouldn’t shy away from telling it, if the end result means our country can be better off.
I have 4 children at home. I sit around the breakfast table thinking about them whether they will have the same job opportunities that I had, whether they’ll be able to afford homes the same as every parent across Wales does.
Our young people do face huge challenges.
Whether they have the same life chances. Whether they can get a first class education or go to a first class university.
Whether they can get a job when they leave education.
Whether they can afford homes.
Did you know that the average age of a first time buyer in Wales is now 36?
Did you know that more than 30% of our graduates in Wales leave almost as soon as they graduate. We need our young people to see Wales as a country of real aspiration of entrepreneurial spirit and to have their talents help us plough ahead in the world.
Today our world is more connected than it has ever been. Contact with those as far from these shores as it is possible to go can happen in seconds, yet Wales feels to many more removed than it has ever been.
That must change!
Conference, these are challenges we need to help with.
That’s why we’re bringing forward our vision for Welsh housing. Looking at imaginative ways of using shared equity schemes and right to buy schemes to make the overwhelming challenge of buying a home easier.
I want parents across Wales to look at the Welsh Conservatives and see a party that “gets it” and is doing something about it.
I want young people across Wales to look at the Welsh Conservatives as a party leading the way for aspiration.
So today, I’m pleased to announce that my Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns has set up a Commission to look at how we can provide proper, affordable childcare.
Following on from some of the great work already undertaken by the UK Government in this field, Angela will work with professionals from representational organisations and business to see how we can help parents across Wales to be as aspirational for themselves as they are for their children.
Engagement in real policy development is the only way we can sell ourselves as the party that “gets it”.
Putting forward policies that engage not turn them off.
There are no stauncher critics than the ones I see at the Davies’ breakfast table. I know the challenges as well as any other parent in Wales.
If we ignore it, it’ll be at our peril.
That’s why I’m proud of the work we’re doing. That’s why I’m proud of Welsh Conservatives engaging in real policy development in these areas
That’s why I’m in politics.
Wales is a country rich in community spirit.
Rich in heritage.
Rich in culture
But there is no escaping the fact that Wales is one of the poorest nations of the UK.
The United Kingdom as a whole is too over dependent on the South East of England, but rather than bemoan the success of one part of the country, or blame its success on our failings, let’s reflect on how we can grow, how we can learn from its success.
Walk around the cities and towns of Wales and you see great buildings that decorate the triumphs of our past. Our future success rests on us and our ability to shape the Wales that we want.
But the facts are stark.
The M4 motorway might be just 190 miles long, but the difference from one end to the other make that road, a very long one indeed.
GVA in Wales stands at 75% of the UK average. As if the point needed pushing further, GVA in London stands at 170% of the UK average.
At Junction 1 of the M4 in Chiswick to junction 49 in Carmarthenshire, life expectancy is 15 months shorter at one end to the other.
Even in our own country, in the space of just 20 miles, life expectancy gaps can be as much as 5 years.
But if we’re to even start fixing the problems we have, we need to address the difficulties we face.
Wales doesn’t need economic development, it needs an economy.
Who would have thought that 14 years into devolution, Wales is more dependent on London that it has ever been?
For too long there has been an over reliance on dominant sectors in the Welsh economy.
It began long ago with coal, today it’s an economy not producing enough to pay its way.
A term coined for this problem in the 1970s: the “Dutch Disease” and I’m afraid our patient has caught it.
So what’s the cure?
We need a strategy for growth and a commitment to Wales.
Helping our existing business grow, whilst helping new business to start up.
We need Wales to look attractive to prospective investors.
Everybody knows that you can’t squeeze the productive elements of your economy in order to boost the unproductive and for too long that has been our problem.
So we’re putting our plans in place for real economic strategy.
Delivering for Wales.
But we can’t do this alone. We need to work with our colleagues in the UK Government to help where they can.
That’s why we’re fighting hard to push for an M4 relief road. Infrastructure must play a key role in the development of any economic strategy, and as our most important arterial motorway to our biggest population and economic base, its development is almost as important as the policies we push around it.
But we can’t stop by focussing on South Wales alone.
In our rural areas, the announcement of super-fast broadband offers the chance to be connected to the world. The UK Government has invested £57 million in broadband infrastructure and we need to get on and use it.
And in North Wales we continue our push for an electrified line connecting North Wales to the North West of England and the West Coast mainline. We need key improvements to be made on the A55 and with the new investment from Hitachi in Wylfa on Anglesey, nobody can say that Conservatives in Government are ignoring any part of Wales.
Let us be clear today that we have a battle to fight.
Not just to expose our opponents weak arguments and flawed plans, but for the United Kingdom itself.
There are some in our politics today who want our United Kingdom to be broken up. The debate in Scotland is echoing in Wales too.
We don’t have a vote in Scotland. That is for the Scottish people to decide – and I know that my colleague and friend Ruth Davidson is taking the charge to keep our Union together – Ruth. Thank you for all you’re doing.
But we do have a voice in Wales.
We in this room know the value of our United Kingdom.
The economic arguments are unquestionable.
Together we have a global voice that booms around the planet.
United we have the world’s longest serving and most successful currency union. It’s certainly safe to say that the Euro wasn’t based on our Pound Sterling!
But the United Kingdom goes deeper than any political construct. We’re a family of nations. A social union of families who live in all corners, with friendships that stretch across any political border.
We know that the Union goes deeper than politics – it goes to the heart.
Being proud to be Welsh and British is not mutually exclusive. We know that we’re as proud singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau as we are singing God Save the Queen.
But we have a challenge as a party…
Yes, we must fight for our United Kingdom with all the energy we have, but we must also reflect on where our devolved settlement has arrived.
There are some who are still fighting the battles of the devolution referendum of 1997.
Devolution cannot be simply put back into the bottle.
I believe we have reached our “Clause IV” moment.
We cannot and should not go back to 1997.
I fully understand the concerns of some who think devolution is about moving towards a breakup of the United Kingdom.
These are concerns that I share too, but by ignoring the process and not engaging in it, it will not go away.
Conservatives are about localism. Decisions being made as close to individuals as possible. This is what devolution should be about too.
Not a Welsh version of Whitehall, or a bureaucracy simply moved down the M4, but Welsh decisions being made in Wales by Wales.
We as Conservatives might not like what this Lazy Labour Government is doing in Cardiff Bay, but let us not oppose devolution because of what is being carried out in its name, let’s oppose Labour!
We can do Conservatives things with devolution. Small Government and fighting the cause of the individual can happen with devolution, so let’s make it happen!
But if we want to win in 2016, we need to roll up our sleeves, taking tough decisions and fighting the battles the people of Wales want us to fight, not the fights of 1997.
So this is my message to you today: change doesn’t come without a fight.
Conference, we need to take the fight to this tired Labour Government. Not just because we oppose what they’re doing, but because Wales deserves better.
We need to fight the key battles on the economy against the collective will of the leftist parties…
In Anglesey, we’re standing more candidates than we have before…
And as we gear up to the General Election in 2015, we need to be coordinated in our fight across the whole of Wales.
Wales deserves better and we are the party than can achieve for Wales.
Wales deserves a better health system. Not cuts and reorganisations that do nothing other than stop world class services being available to our constituents.
Wales deserves a better education system. Equipping our children with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the global race, not being held back by political posturing from tired Labour ministers.
Wales deserves a better.
But before we can achieve all of this, we have battles to fight.
A fight to keep our United Kingdom together.
A fight to promote Welsh Conservatives at every level.
A fight to make Wales world beating.
Conference, the challenge is there.
Let’s grasp it.