As Plaid Cymru hits the online airwaves for its annual conference, the party is in strong voice and proclaiming a series of blunt policies which they believe will address some of the real social and economic challenges in Wales. Under a Plaid government, professional carers would be offered a £10 minimum income guarantee, and care services would be brought back under public ownership. Social Care would be taken from local authorities and commissioned and funded in conjunction with health. Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board would be disbanded. GCSEs would be scrapped and teachers trusted to mark their own students. 50,000 new houses would be built in five years and rent caps would be introduced on private sector landlords. These look to be some of the main Plaid pledges they are rolling out seven months ahead of the Senedd election. Though not all of them are new – the health and social care merger and the boost to house building are seemingly a constant Plaid promise over decades – they are being prioritised as key messages for the electorate. Interestingly, most of them can be seen to be seeking to occupy the same ground as Labour currently dominates. With both parties seemingly fixated on equality, they are battling for the same votes.
In a totally different space are the Welsh Conservatives. On the eve of their own UK virtual conference, Senedd group leader Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire) has once more used an online article to set out an aspect of what his party would do. This time it’s about a ‘boundary review’ between the jurisdictions of Wales of Westminster. Interestingly, this review won’t be another exercise in looking at where the Senedd might accrue more powers, or be preoccupied with the impact of the Internal Market Bill, but will do the precise opposite. The Welsh Conservatives respecting devolution agenda will be all about making sure a future Welsh Government doesn’t stray into non-devolved areas. Policy areas such as foreign and home affairs would be left to Westminster under them and, in Davies’ own words, “A respect agenda will be reinstated between the two governments and it will be adhered to by both sides. And that, of course, means that my Welsh Government won’t be treading on Westminster’s turf either.” Under him, nobody seemingly would replace Eluned Morgan MS (Lab, Mid & West Wales) as Minister for International Relations.
All of which shows the Conservatives and Plaid on very, very different ground and crafting very, very different electoral appeals for May 2021. Adam Price MS (PC, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr) has already ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives several times, and it seems their policy platforms are becoming increasingly incompatible. Without a doubt, the electorate in Wales will be offered some starkly different policy programmes from would be governments in waiting. Darren Millar MS (Con, Clwyd West) was clearly not exaggerating when he wrote in July, “the Welsh Conservative manifesto … won’t be Butskellism with a dragon on it. The days when you could take paragraphs from a Welsh Conservative manifesto and slot them randomly into documents by Plaid or Labour or the Lib Dems are over.” Even though this clearly got under the skin of David Melding MS (Con, South Wales Central), the author of three out of five of the previous Conservative Senedd manifestos, it’s an approach that seems to have got into the heart of many more Conservatives in Wales.
Indeed, the only thing that seems to unite Plaid and the Conservatives right now is some of their rhetoric. They both pledge radicalism. They both pledge a vibrant first hundred days. And they both pledge to actually govern energetically. All of which, they both intend should be a brutal contrast to a Welsh Labour Government in its twenty first year. And all of which Labour will have to try and counter when it begins to set out its stall for the next five years.