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Tory leadership candidates willing to talk about governing with other parties

Both candidates in the Welsh Conservative leadership contest say they're prepared to talk to other parties about working together to form a government but say the final decision would be up to party members.

Suzy Davies and Paul Davies made their comments in a special edition of Sharp End in which they debated head-to-head for the first time. You can watch the full programme by clicking here.

The question of different parties working together in the Assembly in order to oust Labour from government has become increasingly significant with several politicians in both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru publicly discussing the possibility.

Suzy Davies, the AM for South Wales West said:

If you're talking formal coalition of course that takes two parties doesn't it, so all I'm prepared to say at this stage is that we should certainly be talking about co-operating [with other parties] in order to get rid of Labour.

– Suzy Davies AM

She said she'd noted that members, 'particularly younger members..are being quite open minded about the prospect of working even quite formally with other parties.'

Her rival for the leadership Paul Davies also said he was comfortable working with politicians from other parties but said the final decision should rest with Welsh Conservative party members.

If there is a coalition deal on the table after the next Assembly election ... I would want to call a special conference to discuss and debate that and a vote would take place at the end of that special conference. But it would be up to us [AMs] if we felt that that was the right thing to do to obviously persuade our membership that it's the right thing to do.

– Paul Davies AM
The two candidates answered a range of questions in the Sharp End special

I asked the two candidates questions on a range of topics including policy areas, dealing with bullying and sexual harassment allegations and their personal backgrounds.

Paul Davies revealed that he hadn't spoken a word of English until he was five because he grew up on a farm 'in the heartlands of West Wales.' He acknowledged it was 'unusual' for someone from his background to join the Conservatives but said he was inspired and motivated by Margaret Thatcher.

Suzy Davies said that she too only spoke Welsh as a small child but lost it when she moved to the South Wales valleys as a youngster, since relearning it.

She had planned to reveal as her surprising fact that she'd been the first female electricity meter reader in Wales but recently discovered that that accolade actually belongs to a member of her own staff who'd also been employed by her (Suzy Davies') father.

'You have to have a heart in politics,' she told me. 'If you're not interested in people don't bother doing this.'

Paul Davies echoed that, adding that 'I believe in freedom of individuals, i believe in choice and I believe in personal responsibility.'

They agreed on a lot of things so for the members choosing a successor to Andrew RT Davies, their decisions may come down to questions of emphasis or personal preference.

One thing is clear: whichever one is elected, the issue of the leader's status won't go away.

Brandon Lewis' comments about the status of Welsh leader caused a stir

It's long been an issue. During his leadership Andrew RT Davies pushed party officials and structures to recognise the post he occupied as leader of the wider Welsh Conservative party.

David Cameron told me in 2012, 'I see Andrew as the leader of the Conservatives in Wales.'

But the ballot paper and party literature is emphatic that whichever of the two AMs is elected the rôle they will be filling is leader of the Welsh Conservative Assembly group, nothing more.

Party chair Brandon Lewis angered those within the party who want to see the group leader formally acknowledged as Welsh leader in his answers to me last week at the Royal Welsh Show.

We've got a party structure that's in place, the party itself is led by its volunteers through our constitution. That is the constitution we work with and I'm very comfortable with that...We do have our Welsh party chairman and that's Byron [Davies, former MP] at the moment. Byron is a brilliant leader for the Conservative party in Wales, great to work with but having that leader on the Welsh Assembly I think will be good for Wales and take things forward, building on the work Andrew RT Davies has done over the last few years.

– Brandon Lewis, Conservative party chairman

Both candidates say that situation needs to change.

I think we need to have that debate and that discussion within the Welsh Conservative party and if I become leader I'll be making sure that that does happen. I think we do need to clear this up. I want to see a Welsh Conservative party leader and I think it makes sense. The Welsh Conservative group leader will be the candidate for First Minister and it makes sense that that person is the Welsh Conservative party leader.

– Paul Davies AM

We've got a party constitution, that is true, but it really needs to catch up with devolution, doesn't it? At the moment if you're talking about somebody who's going to be First Minster of Wales and is backed by the party's own mandate, it seems crazy to me that they haven't got a clearer status within the party's structure at the moment.

– Suzy Davies AM

This may have been the first time the two have debated head-to-head as leadership candidates but they'll be getting used to it soon with a full week of hustings meetings planned across Wales next week.

The winner of the contest will be announced on September 6th.