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Andrew RT Davies: New Welsh Conservative leader

Politicians often complain about being caricatured, but those caricatures usually contain at least a germ of truth.

Now that the campaigning is over what political portrait will Andrew RT Davies draw of himself? (Photo: National Assembly for Wales)

That’s certainly been the case in the Welsh Conservative leadership campaign where the eventual winner, Andrew RT Davies, was portrayed as a right-wing traditionalist, sceptical about further devolution who had the support of the party’s core vote but not beyond, in contrast with Nick Ramsay who was said to be a devo-enthusiast, a moderniser and a moderate who’d reach out to other parties and non-Tory voters.

The truth is more complicated than those caricatures, but they can still help us understand the result.

Because in the end it was very close: 53.3% against 46.7%, not quite half and half but not far off.

And if the caricatures are even half right and Davies and Ramsay do represent factions or, at least, strands, within the party in Wales, that could mean it’s hopelessly split and will spend the next few years arguing about the way forward.

But more positively for the Conservatives it could tell us that, if the caricature of Nick Ramsay is true, nearly half the active membership in Wales was more than comfortable with a leader so publicly linked with taking the party further down the devolution road and further into the centre-ground of politics.

And more than that, because of course caricatures exaggerate and distort, the reality is that neither man was arguing for less devolution or even abolition of the Assembly. Don’t forget it wasn’t long ago that the party was committed to a ‘preferendum’ on devolution which would have included that option. Nobody was offering that.

As Andrew RT Davies said to me and other interviewers yesterday, ‘Wales runs through my DNA.’ Publicly and privately he’s committed to making sure the Conservatives play a full role in the life of the Assembly.

It’s a difference of tone, emphasis and language. Both men describe themselves as Unionists and Nick Ramsay represents arguably the most Anglicised part of Wales. But when Andrew RT Davies says it, you know that’s in his DNA as well.

He’s also much clearer about where he fits into the Conservative party as a whole. In my Sharp End interview with him, he repeatedly refused to describe himself as leader of all Conservatives in Wales and demurred when I asked him if he were David Cameron’s equal. That may be disconcerting to those who want to put more clear blue water between the party in Wales and the UK leadership, but actually only restates the reality of the party’s structure.

The closeness of the result also means that it’s done Nick Ramsay a lot of good, raising his profile and underlining the support that he has within the party. Logically Andrew RT Davies should make him deputy leader. He’s already publicly offered that job to the man who’s been acting leader for the last two months, Paul Davies. But it was interesting to note that in his victory interviews last night, he was less committal which could suggest that it might still be a possibility.

The caricaturing won’t stop now that the campaign’s over. But it is chance for the new leader to draw his own picture of himself.


About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.


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