Adrian Masters: Is the Tory campaign going off the rails in Wales? It depends on who you ask

There are some big questions that everyone involved in or reporting on politics here in Wales is asking at the moment: Is the Conservative campaign going off the rails as events seem to suggest? Was it ever on the rails? Or is it fundamentally sound despite having made a few very public mistakes?

Obviously it matters to the Welsh Conservatives because they want to win as many seats as possible here.

But it also matters to the wider party because the plan to win Boris Johnson a majority of seats in parliament depends on Conservative gains in Wales to a larger extent than any senior Tory is prepared to admit in public.

The prime minister is reliant on gains in Wales in this general election Credit: PA Images

It matters too to the other parties because they are all to a greater or lesser degree basing their campaigns on denying the Conservatives any wins.

So it's no surprise that some of those in other parties are reacting with glee to events of the last twenty-four hours. I've been sent GIFs of champagne bottles and dancing emojis because they can't believe their luck.

Alun Cairns resigned as Welsh Secretary but is still standing as a candidate in the general election Credit: PA Images

More worrying for the Conservative leadership is the reaction of those within their own party.

"Bizarre." "Bonkers." "An absolute shambles." All these things things have been said to me by Conservatives about their party's campaign.

They had been taken aback twice on Tuesday night. First, when the former MP Chris Davies was selected to stand as the party's candidate in Ynys Môn despite losing his Brecon and Radnorshire seat in August in a by-election triggered by a petition which followed his conviction for submitting false invoices in an expenses claim.

The second surprise of the night came just a few hours later when he withdrew from the contest citing "the reaction in the media" to the first announcement.

I gather long-standing friends and colleagues of Chris Davies' in Brecon and Radnorshire had no idea it was coming until the news was reported online. They say they were as shocked and concerned as many party members on Anglesey were also said to be.

Chris Davies was controversially selected as the candidate for Ynys Môn despite losing his Brecon and Radnorshire seat in August. Credit: PA Images

It is not the only thing which appears to be going wrong.

There is no senior politician taking the campaign lead in public, a role the former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns was due to fill before he quit the cabinet last week.

There is no Welsh Secretary for that matter, and seems unlikely to be until after the election. Boris Johnson doesn't need to appoint a new Secretary of State during the election period - any signatures needed for instance can be done by any other member of the Privy Council.

Some constituencies, including those which on paper should be Conservative target seats, still don't have a Conservative candidate. Others with a candidate don't have leaflets in place for door-to-door campaigning.

"There's a growing number of grassroots members who think that the party in Wales needs to be placed in special measures"' said one Tory member to me.

They were referring specifically to the handling of the row engulfing former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns and the decision to allow him to continue as a candidate.

But they added, "Now to make matters worse, the Chris Davies debacle shows how out of their depth the board [which runs the Welsh party] is in Wales. It's an absolute shambles."

Another too is critical of decisions made in Wales, saying that, "I guess those who like to play at being in House of Cards are learning how it ends."

The former AM and MP, Lord Byron Davies, who is the party's chairman in Wales, is frustrated by the sniping from within, as well as by the coverage of the mistakes in public.

He told me he sees a campaign that is fundamentally sound, with good candidates already selected and others waiting in the wings. What's more, he reckons they are pushing at open doors when it comes to winning support from voters.

Alun Cairns was out canvassing following his resignation as Welsh Secretary. Credit: ITV Wales

That feeling was echoed by the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland who said the key messages of "getting Brexit done" was getting through to people in Wales.

"I'm detecting a sense of increase in support for the Conservative message. If I was the Labour party I would be very worried about losing my historic grip upon Wales. There's no good taking Wales for granted. A sense of change is coming and I predict a very good set of results in Wales."

Others see the problem in the party's centralised structure.

"It all stems from London," said one longstanding activist who reported pressure from Conservative Campaign Head Quarters (CCHQ) to choose certain candidates over others.

There is a feeling too that the selection of Chris Davies for Ynys Môn was made by a CCHQ without an awareness of likely sensitivities. It is certainly a fact that the selection of parliamentary candidates is the responsibility of CCHQ not those in charge in Wales.

In 2017, excessive central control and a refusal to adapt to changing circumstances were identified as important reasons why the campaign went wrong.

In 2019 it seems the party could be in danger of repeating that all over again.