As the Senedd drew to a close this week, we saw the three main opposition parties each put a sharper focus on their offering to the Welsh electorate in the next election. First off the blocks was the Brexit Party last Sunday when they became the third small party represented in the Senedd (after UKIP and Abolish the Assembly) to advocate the actual abolition of the institution. Their version does, however, pledge to keep a directly elected First Minister for Wales but, quite frankly, that suggestion doesn’t seem to have a lot of appeal. Voters who want abolition tend to simply want that, nothing else, so it will be a challenge for the Brexit Party not only to set their policy out but to position themselves as the lead party for those tempted by an abolition option. Unless they manage to do that, or to come to some agreement with those in UKIP and Abolish from whom they are estranged by political blood feuds, then the abolitionists may cancel each other out on the list and very few might actually get elected in 2021.
In the middle of the week, Plaid Cymru set out its own tasters for its manifesto offering next year and placed the eradication of child poverty at the heart of its agenda. The £35 a week pledge is one they hope will have traction, along with the charge that Labour has failed to prioritise and protect the most vulnerable, since it had once pledged to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Well, we’re in 2020 and the only thing eradicated in Wales this week was the use of wild animals in circuses. On the same day that the Senedd finally completed that legislation, Plaid also moved a motion to try and secure for the Senedd the power to call for a referendum on Welsh independence. This was a direct assertion of the a central Plaid Cymru ambition in a way they have never attempted before. These two actions combined demonstrate the tone and direction of where Plaid is heading: ambition to deliver on territory that was once Labour’s, ambition to change the parameters of normal debate, and ambition still to become the largest party in the Senedd next year.
Not being left out, the Conservatives have chosen to use today to reshuffle the front bench in the Senedd. With details expected to be dripped out through twitter throughout the morning, the tone has been set by a rather bold first step. Angela Burns, who yesterday announced she would step down from the Senedd next year, has been singled out for a new and bold brief as Shadow Minister for Government Resilience and Efficiency, which also see her head up a new shadow Office of Government Resilience and Efficiency reporting directly to Paul Davies. Described as “experimental” by the leader, this creative move demonstrates one thing very clearly: the delivery of public services will be at the heart of the Conservative campaign for the next ten months. As Angela Burns herself set out this morning, “Time and time again, regardless of the portfolio I have held, I have come up against the same issues – a lack of accountability, sluggish pace, patchy delivery, duplication and waste.” She definitely has a point. The Conservative hope seems to be that the public get that point too and want to see radical change.
Actually, to be fair, the belief that the public want to see radical change is at the heart of what the Brexit Party, Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives are saying. Which of their versions – if any – captures the imagination of the segments of the electorate they are targeting remains to be seen.