Learn to speak to non-Tories, urges Welsh leader

Andrew RT Davies will speak to the Conservative conference in Manchester Photo: PA, Peter Byrne

Conservatives have to learn how to speak to voters who are not their traditional supporters, the leader of the Welsh Tories is expected to tell his party’s conference.

Andrew RT Davies is also expected to tell delegates that they must do more to win over young voters or risk seeing Labour take power in Westminster as well as in Cardiff.

And he’ll accuse Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being ‘nothing more than a seductive and destructive lie.’

His speech comes at a conference which is being held in Manchester at a time of turmoil for the Conservative party.

Disappointment in the snap election in June has left Theresa May’s leadership unsettled and party divisions exposed.

In his speech, Andrew RT Davies is expected to refer to the ‘painful losses’ of three of its MPs in June and to say, with understatement, that the result ‘wasn’t what we hoped for.’

But he’ll also remind his party that it ‘made history by receiving 34 per cent of the vote, our highest share of the vote in Wales since the 1930s.’

Despite that, he’ll say that the Conservatives have to learn lessons from the result in Wales.

First and foremost, we need to speak outside our traditional voter base. To defeat the unforgiving socialism of the Labour Party, we need to show that Corbyn is nothing more than a seductive and destructive lie. And we need young people on our side. And that begins by speaking to them – speaking to their needs. If we don’t then false prophets and their falsehoods will flourish.

– Andrew RT Davies AM, Welsh Conservative leader
Theresa May meets Alun Cairns and Andrew RT Davies on a visit to Cardiff Credit: Welsh Conservatives

In his speech, the Welsh Conservative leader will list how his party has helped Wales since being in government at Westminster, including changing the way Wales is funded and planning to scrap the Severn Bridge tolls. He’ll also continue to call for a decision on the Swansea Bay Tidal lagoon.

But he’ll call for unity within his own party. At a time when speculation is rife that senior cabinet members are planning to replace Theresa May he’ll urge them to ‘put personal agendas to one side for the greater good.’ If not, he’ll warn, they risk ‘the frightening prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in 10 Downing Street.’

He's expected to begin his speech by remarking that a year in politics 'can seem like a lifetime.' It is remarkable how different things are for the Conservatives compared with the same time last year.

From a position of strength at last year's conference they find themselves after an unexpected election without a Commons majority, with a leader who may or may not last the course and intense speculation about who might succeed her and faced with criticism from all sides of their handling of negotiations with the EU. Meanwhile their Labour opponents, instead of facing the predicted political oblivion, are reinvigorated and have just enjoyed a celebratory conference rather than a wake.

For the Welsh Conservatives, the questions are also about what sort of party they are and how much say they have over election campaigns, devolved or otherwise as they affect Wales.

Immediately after the election, senior figures complained about being sidelined during the campaign, overruled by a centralised team based in London and pointed at the way the Scottish Tories took a stronger lead over campaigning and manifesto development there.

Andrew RT Davies won't repeat his calls during his speech for a clearer demarcation of the party in Wales and the position of Welsh leader but he's likely to keep calling for it in interviews. He faces considerable opposition from within his own party for such a change but it's a problem that's unlikely to go away.