Andrew Davies is an old-fashioned kind of conservative: a farmer’s son, in politics to practice what he preaches. He saw something wrong with government in Wales – government not listening to its lobbyists – and went in trying to do something about it. And 15 years later since he first ran for political office, it is hard to argue he has not made some quite substantial changes to how politics is done.
Davies was a partner in his family farming business to begin with, spending many years happily on his own patch and being a Welsh delegate to the National Farmers Union. However, he became involved in politics after becoming increasingly fed up with lobbyists fighting for his farming community failing. He came into politics with a clear goal in mind.
Standing up for local farmers, he first became a politician in 2001 as a parliamentary candidate in Cardiff West. However, after losing that election and the subsequent election in Brecon and Radnorshire in 2005, he was elected to South Wales Central on the regional list and returned to the fourth assembly in 2011.
Focusing his fight on preserving the NHS, farmers’ rights, and education, his conservatism clearly is grounded in a fight against wasting public money and making sure each individual has every opportunity in their community: Davies wants people to have the “opportunity to succeed, get on in life, and strengthen the community they are in to be successful”. Opportunity has to exist in every community, and his goal is to make sure that everyone has the chance to do what they want in life with a good take-home pay packet in a secure and happy home.
Davies wants people to have the “opportunity to succeed”
He makes clear as well his belief in community alongside his belief in the individual, and the way he speaks makes it clear that you cannot have one without the other. Davies is an avid unionist and a strong believer in the family, but because of these things he believes in devolving power to Wales and giving each country in Britain the right to have its own say in how it is run. Perhaps that’s why he said he does not know nor care about Cameron’s Conservative Manifesto: he believes in his own convictions and pledges, not that of somebody else’s.
And his own pledges are very clear: “to break the managed decline caused by Labour [in Wales]” he repeats during the interview, starkly outlining the differences he sees between the Conservatives and the alternative parties. “[Labour] have managed decline in Wales, and if people want to continue with managed decline that’s how we will go forward. But does Corbyn’s labour honestly have the ability to bat hard for Britain?” He refers to the failure of Labour to defend the Welsh NHS by being the only NHS which reduced spending last Parliament, its lack of a Cancer Drugs Fund like England, and the “horrendous” ambulance times in Wales under Labour mismanagement.
However, you can hardly say that the Conservatives have been seen as the party of the NHS. With the constant claims of the privatization of the NHS to the recent junior doctor strikes, the Conservative Party seems to be failing to deliver. When asked about this, though, Davies responded vociferously:
“With the junior doctors struggle, we know that there are 11,000 premature deaths a year. As a government, do we sit back and do nothing, like Mid Staffs, where patients were so dehydrated that they were drinking the water out of flower pots and were left in feces and urine in their beds? No – we need to stand up and do something about that. We will protect the health budgets. We will deliver a decent cancer treatment plan. We will deliver our promise to make sure that no district general hospital will be closed – and we have promised that for the last five years, not the last five months. We need a world-beating NHS Wales treatment.”
“We will protect the health budgets. We will deliver a decent cancer treatment plan.”
Davies attacks the policies of the other parties in Wales, calling the Liberal Democrats unprincipled – their big challenge is to now make clear where they stand in Wales. Against Plaid Cymru he attacks their plans for a huge overhaul of the healthcare system in Wales costing hundreds of millions a year, while being completely unable to identify where they will make savings in order to fund their spending plans.
Ultimately, Andrew Davies argues for an NHS free at the point of need, irrespective of location or wealth, and an NHS where everyone is treated equally at the A&E, everyone has access to a GP, and so on. He has kept the party defending the NHS in opposition at least, and that at least is worthy of distinction. The one weak point, however, of Davies’ defence was his attempts to the Welsh Conservatives’ new plans to scrap tuition fee subsidies.
Davies wants to save money from the budget by getting rid of the subsidy for Welsh students, and give instead a subsidy for half of student rent in Wales. He believes that his plan is ultimately necessary. “Labour’s current policy is unaffordable. In the last two years, the cost has gone up be £110 million from something like £120 million two years ago to £230 million now. No party in politics can afford to continue the current trend.”
“Labour’s current policy is unaffordable”
The big issue students face he argues is high living costs, which hit students as soon as they go through university doors. So we want a point-of-entry payment to all students in England or in Wales, to bring down accommodation cost. This policy, he claims, would only cost £75 million a year, or £400 million over a Parliament. It is a smart policy proposal that helps students save money, puts Welsh students on parity with English ones, but at the same time does not lead students up the garden path.
He also references how he is introducing compressed degrees – 2 years instead of 3 years – so students can spend less time at university, accumulate less debt, and go quicker into high skilled employment. He also points out his party pledge to introduce support for part-time learners and investment in the Further Education sector. To him, “the generosity of the current HE policy is coming at the expense of Further Education”. And with limited resources, we need to act as fairly and efficiently as possible to increase social inclusion.
“the generosity of the current HE policy is coming at the expense of Further Education”
Ultimately, there’s no way around it: he concedes he is taking money away from undergraduate learners to help fund other projects. He argues powerfully that we cannot continue pledging to overspend like the other parties – “I could come out tomorrow and say every university in Wales would be free for students – and it would be very populist, but I’d be lying saying it” – but ultimately he is pushing a hard sell onto students.
However, in true Conservative fashion, he argues that the plan has economic literacy at its heart. He argues that Labour’s policy has doubled in cost since two years ago; taking money away from the NHS and from education. He says he wants to deliver policies to all people, for everyone’s benefit.