Paul Davies: An understated Tory Senedd leader

By Adrian Browne and David Deans
BBC Wales political reporters

Published
image captionPaul Davies had been preparing to lead his party's Senedd election campaign in the coming months

Paul Davies has been something of an understated figure leading the Welsh Conservative group in Cardiff Bay since he won the race to succeed Andrew RT Davies in September 2018.

The Senedd member for Preseli Pembrokeshire tried to move the party group in the direction of being more sceptical of devolution.

But a row over drinking on Senedd premises ended his ambitions to be the first Conservative first minister of Wales.

Born in 1969, Paul Davies grew up in the village of Pontsian in Ceredigion.

He attended Llandysul Grammar School and Newcastle Emlyn Comprehensive School before working for a bank for 20 years.

Mr Davies entered Cardiff Bay politics in 2007 when he was elected to the then National Assembly for Wales. He was appointed deputy leader of the Welsh Conservative group in 2011 before becoming interim leader and then leader in 2018.

image captionPaul Davies backed Boris Johnson in the UK Conservative leadership campaign in 2019

Presented as a safe pair of hands during his leadership campaign he has, at times, almost appeared to have been overshadowed by his predecessor Andrew RT Davies, who sometimes seems to enjoy media appearances more than his leader.

Faced with the potential rise of the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, Paul Davies attempted to steer the Welsh Tories towards a more devo-sceptic, if not anti-devolution, approach.

He pledged a future Conservative Welsh Government would not "tread on Westminster's turf", and "respect what is not devolved" by "unpicking" the Welsh Government's international relations department.

There were also promises to halve the current number of Welsh ministers to seven, freeze civil servant recruitment and not increase the budget of the body which runs the Senedd if he became first minister.

image copyrightReuters
image captionWelsh political structures need a "dose" of Dominic Cummings, Paul Davies has said

But the coronavirus pandemic has, arguably, made it even harder for opposition party leaders in the Senedd to cut through to the wider electorate.

The crisis has given Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford a much bigger profile, on a Wales and UK stage, making it more difficult for other Welsh party leaders to get onto the news agenda.

Last July, there were raised eyebrows when Paul Davies suggested "a dose of Dom" was needed in Wales to "shake up" its governance.

The reference to the prime minister's now departed chief advisor and brutal political operator Dominic Cummings was interesting, given the criticism heaped on Mr Cummings a couple of months earlier for driving his family 260 miles from his London home to Durham during lockdown, and a subsequent 25-mile trip to check his eyesight before a return trip.

Loyal

Backing Remain at the 2016 referendum on EU membership, Paul Davies aimed to steer a steady course during a fractious period for a Conservative Party dealing with the polarising issue of Brexit.

He has been loyal to the UK party leader of the day, and often stuck to the Westminster line rather than try to carve an independent stance.

Despite this, Mr Davies had wanted the Tory Senedd group leader to be given the title Welsh Conservative leader.

It is something the party has never formally agreed to do despite a review of its Welsh structures.

More on this story