Disraeli’s intoxicating One Nation slogan was once a stirring cry that rallied Conservatives together. Now, from ward to ward, the party struggles to maintain a united front.

Local elections in England and Scotland were bad but in Wales they were terrible: down dozens of councillors, a collapse of the vote in the north-east and most dramatically losing control of their only council, Monmouthshire.

Andrew RT Davies confessed it was a “hard night at the office.” Leaderless, confused and irrelevant: Conservatives in Wales had better get used to those.

After all, Welsh Conservatives have only themselves to blame. Senior party figures have pointed to the “national” picture to explain how people placed their vote and in many ways they are right.

But the Welsh Conservative brand is not “very strong”, as Davies insists, rather it has been tarnished by their own volition.

READ MORE: Tory losses in Wales as Labour regain ground

Tying yourself to a nationalist, right-wing ideological parent in London doesn’t go down well with a Welsh base anymore. Nor does opposing “divisive Welsh language demands”, as one election leaflet poster read in Torfaen.

Sycophantic protection of a prime minister, now deeply unpopular in Wales, only convinces people that you have little agency to say something coherent about the issues of the election in question.

By contrast Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the independent candidates all had a good set of results.

‘Labour and Plaid gain as Tories suffer losses’ was a typical ticker from the broadcasters yesterday, and there can be no better summary of the direction of travel in Wales.

It is getting a bit too easy for Mark Drakeford and Adam Price.

So seamlessly they tag team in the Senedd and then carefully campaign to avoid friendly fire.

The Plaid Cymru leader has indeed criticised the failures of Sir Keir Starmer to offer national leadership; the first minister sniffing at nationalists who “run down” communities, too.

But there are no hard feelings for these two consummate politicians, even as opponents. It is a symphonic arrangement where all the parts come together.

The division across the Welsh Conservative party cuts more clearly.

Moderates, like Richard John in Monmouthshire, have been bold enough to call for a One Nation approach in Wales – grounding it strongly in a distinct Welsh party focused on better public services, addressing climate change, innovative approaches to social care and gender equality.

Other sources yesterday sought to blame John for the result in his own county.

He responded by saying that the “only way Conservatives will ever win power in Wales is from the centre ground.” He is right. But who is listening? Nobody, I assume, which spells trouble for Welsh Conservatives. 

READ MORE: 'Welsh Conservatives are the real lightweights in their party'

All roads lead to an election, after all, much bigger than the fight for a local council. If a general election were held tomorrow, a total wipe-out of Welsh Conservatives would be likely.

They are too indistinct, unpragmatic and lifeless to muster a proper fight against the political coalition that is becoming unbreakable between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour.

As time goes on more small ‘c’ conservatives will surely be drawn to support Drakeford and Price, who are not just in the centre ground of Welsh politics but redefining it. Their rule is becoming the accepted and unchallenged norm.

Wales’ centre ground is hard to define: fluid but steady, progressive yet radical, at most appearing as a silhouette during elections.

A lot of it is symbolic; to position yourself there, you have to appear Welsh. Not necessarily by speaking the language but understanding its history, the complexity of devolution yet also the need for change across key policy areas.


Plaid Cymru helps Welsh Labour’s antenna stay alert. Welsh Conservatives have no such friendly opponent.

Their instincts are not framed in the aching struggle of Wales, linguistically or economically, and the nation’s almost Shakespearian history is lost on them. For them it is only about the promotion of the British state and Westminster. David Melding's intellectual rigour has never been so badly missed.

Worse is that there is limited up-and-coming talent in the party – only Sam Kurtz in the Senedd group has an inkling of modern Wales, speaks with an ounce of independent thinking and seems to calibrate the national dynamic – so the next election result is bound to be even worse. 

Nonetheless Welsh Conservatives will go on following the line peddled across the border, robbing Wales of political plurality and a decent contest between the centre-left and the centre-right.

But that is what the party has chosen to do over the last two years: picking meaningless fights that side them with Westminster over Wales, offering no alternatives and solutions to our problems.

Welsh Conservatives may still insist, of course, that they believe in One Nation – it’s just that their idea of that is different to mine. In that, at least, they are right. 

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.