'It was an appalling campaign': Wales' ousted Tories on what went wrong

When defeated Brecon and Radnorshire MP Fay Jones picked up the phone to her former boss, Rishi Sunak, she held back from telling him the home truths she wanted to because "he knows he made mistakes". Despite answering that "sad" phone call, she refused to answer a similar call from the party chairman, RIchard Holden.

In 2019, Ms Jones was elected to represent Brecon and Radnorshire with a majority of 7,131. In the 2024 general election she lost to Liberal Democrat David Chadwick by 1,472 votes, losing 20% of her vote on the previous election.

A former Wales Office minister, her friendship with the defeated Conservative leader means she says she will not criticise him directly but the same cannot be said for "the people around him".

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The former Prime Minister is calling each defeated MP, and has called her. "You do want to deliver a few home truths but what's the point, he knows them. He knows there's 250 colleagues who are very very hurt and I wouldn't have done anything differently. It was always going to be Rishi for me and I don't think trashing the leadership now makes any sense. He knows he made mistakes. It was a sad call because he is a friend of mine, and you feel for him because he's got a hell of a job to do now.

"I don't think anybody could have done a better job at getting us out of the mire caused by Liz Truss, I just wish Rishi had been allowed to play his own game because he was encouraged to chase Reform and that doesn't work".

She however refused to pick up the party chairman's call. "We didn't have a credible offer," she said, explaining how it went so wrong.

The constituency's boundary changed this election, adding a chunk of traditionally Labour supporting area of the south of this vast patch. But that was a small contributory factor, she says. There were no signs in the data that suggested tactical voting came into play. "I just think it's Tories went Reform and Tories stayed at home." For the latest analysis of the biggest stories, sign up to the Wales Matters newsletter here

Much of the theory has been that Conservative voters stayed at home knowing there was inevitable defeat, and or they were unhappy at the party's approach and things like the betting scandal or Rishi Sunak leaving a D-day event early cost them votes.

"We didn't give them a lot to vote for, did we. The election campaign was appallingly bad and those big things like betting and D-day had a huge impact and I think a lot of people thought in this seat 'I won't vote Conservative or I'll stay at home'. I would love to pretend Reform took this seat from me, it was the Conservative Party that lost it."

For her personally, that is a blow. "That's what you sign up for, you're always responsible for stuff that other people do. Being an MP, on the face of it, seems like a powerful position, but you're not. You're subject to what happens in Number 10 and CCHQ. I could box the party chairman's ears about some of the decisions made and you have to question why we went in July."

She had expected a November election which would have "made a lot more sense. We could have neutered the Reform argument about immigration, although I hate that we spent so much time arguing about immigration.

"Interest rates would probably have come down. We could have gone in and said here's what we did rather than what we will do," she said.

The surviving Westminster MPs now have to regroup and to some extent reform. That can't be rushed, she says. "I think we need to take some time to evaluate where we are, but if you look at Starmer's majority it is a mile wide but an inch deep. There are so many seats that were won really narrowly so if we get it right we've every reason to be optimistic for 2029 and beyond but there's a massive task ahead and it won't just be easy but it's not just a conversation about whether we tack to the left or to the right. That's not what this is about, it's about how do we build a party that is ready for government again."

Going into the count, she knew she was ahead on postal votes and was feeling "ok". She said: "The response had been ok throughout the election. Everyone I was talking to was saying 'yes we'll probably vote Conservative and stick with you'. I wasn't finding a lot of people switching and that was the thing I was always looking for as I thought that me being absolutely toast, and that didn't happen, so my great frustration over the last few days is that the Liberal Democrats are cock-a-hoop in my seat in particular because they're trying to portray they've won it, and they absolutely haven't. Their votes went down, it's just mine went down an awful lot more.

"In 2019, the Liberals got something like 14,700 votes, this time round with the constituency 20% larger, it was 13,000".

In Wales, there are already questions about what Reform's boom in this general election could mean at the Senedd elections which are two years away. Westminster may have a full electoral term, but in Wales that's much sooner. "That is a job Labour and the Conservatives have to do together, and recognise that we both have to fight off this populist threat. Reform, although they've five seats, they promised the earth and it's completely undeliverable. I think we, as mainstream political parties, and people who know how the system works, have a responsibility to say 'don't be fooled by these guys'. The are generating support off the back of whipping up fear and that's dangerous. We have to be really honest about our shortcomings in the Conservative Party and the Labour party do too."

For her, the future is unknown. It's not never say never about returning to frontline politics. But the change of pace is already welcome. "The one thing that sticks in my mind from Saturday morning was waking up and instantly my brain going to 'where do I need to go' and then realising 'I don't'. It's nice to be able to ask less of myself. It will all hit me in a few days time."

She will, however, not miss the abuse. "Last Sunday I was knocking on doors and a guy came out of his house and 'said is that Fay Jones' and I shook hands with him and he said 'you're a f***ing ****'. I won't miss that, and I won't miss not being able to say something back. Being able to bite back will be quite nice now"

"I will miss, but there's so much I won't miss. The travelling is insane, the hours are ridiculous, trying to keep everyone happy. I won't miss all of that".

What other Welsh Conservative MPs have said

Virginia Crosbie was elected to Ynys Mon in 2019. She lost in 2024 by 637 to Plaid Cymru's Llinos Medi. She declined an interview, but sent a speech she had written, but did not deliver, at the count on Friday morning.

It was always going to be a tough hill to climb given the polls but I’m proud that we have made it a real fight in this election on Ynys Môn. As one journalist suggested, we did indeed buck the polls but we didn’t quite manage to buck them enough.

I am naturally disappointed in the result but proud that we have taken our message to every corner of the island. I am also particularly proud of the work I have done during the last four and a half years for Ynys Môn. There is much still left to do but real progress has been made. As I congratulate my successor on their win, I wish them well. Ynys Môn deserves a hard-working champion who can deliver real change.

I’d like to thank all those who have made this election - a great experience. To you and your staff, Returning Officer - all those who have been so careful in their counting overnight and all those who were manning the polling stations across the island yesterday, I pay a warm tribute. Your diligent dedication and efficiency mean that we can have confidence in the result and I thank you for that. To officers of North Wales police for their work over the past 24 hours. A healthy democracy depends on public servants like yourselves and we are so fortunate in the officers who work on our island, not just at election time but all the time, keeping our communities safe.

I’d like to thank my fellow candidates. We have enjoyed - and sometimes not enjoyed - a vigorous debate about whose vision is best for the island. We have all contributed to making that debate lively and fair and we have presented our ideas to the voters, allowing them to decide whom they trust to represent them in Westminster. Thank you for making this a fair - and tough - contest.

Finally, I’d like to thank my brilliant team, especially Bethan Davies who has been a rock these last four and half years. I could not have done it without her. I would also like to pay tribute to my family, my husband Ian and my children for their unstinting support in what can often be a tough job but one I have loved.

To those who have helped me look after the island’s citizens throughout the past four and a half years, thank you. You have worked so hard and though it is the MP who gets the credit publicly, the truth is my work would not be possible without you. And to all those volunteers who have helped during this election period, for all your tireless efforts, thank you so much.

Being the island’s MP for the past four and a half years has been a true privilege. To all those who have helped me serve as best I could - all the government officials at every level, all the businesses, all the third sector workers and every ordinary person, thank you. Please give the same support to my successor. They will need it.

Diolch yn fawr iawn i bawb am eu cefnogaeth.

Sarah Atherton, defeated candidate in Wrexham used her concession speech to say it had been a "privilege and an honour" to represent the constituency.

It has been a privilege and an honour and I am truly privileged to be your MP for the last four-and-a-half years. We have come so far, and Wrexham is firmly on the map and I wish Andrew all the best, and I hope he can build on the progress that's been made.

Being the MP for Wrexham is very much a team effort as Andrew will soon find out, and I would like to thank my parliamentary team and constituency team, my agent, who is also my husband and all my supporters because without you guys we wouldn't have delivered so much for Wrexham. Diolch yn fawr, thankyou very much."

Dr James Davies, first elected to Vale of Clwyd but lost in 2017 was re-elected in 2019 before losing his seat again in 2024 in the new Clwyd East constituency, wrote on Facebook: "Bowled over by the supportive messages received since this morning's very disappointing result. Thank you to all who voted for me and congratulations to Becky. Thanks also to the many thousands who have engaged with me during my six and a half years as MP for the Vale of Clwyd - and to my fantastic team. Much has been achieved and this has made all the effort worthwhile. The priority now must be my family, who have put up with a lot."

Stephen Crabb, former secretary of state for Wales, lost the new Mid and South Pembrokeshire seat to Labour's Henry Tufnell. He wrote on Facebook:

Congratulations to Henry Tufnell and his team on their victory in Mid & South Pembrokeshire last night. I wish him the very best as he takes on the enormous privilege of representing this County at Westminster.

A huge thanks to my campaign team who have been at my side throughout this tough campaign. I am incredibly grateful to have had such a fabulous group of Pembrokeshire people working with me over the last 6 weeks.

It’s been a huge honour to represent my home constituency as Member of Parliament over the last 19 years. Every day has been an enormous privilege.

Thank you to everyone in Pembrokeshire who has given me encouragement and support along the way.

David TC Davies, the first Welsh secretary to lose his seat, was defeated to Labour's Catherine Fookes in Monmouthshire, he shared a short update on Facebook but hasn't replied to an interview request.

It has been an honour to represent the people of Monmouthshire since 1999, where I always strove to put you first. A huge thank you to all those who voted for me. I wish our new MP all the best.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan), Simon Baynes (former MP for Clwyd South stood for election in Shropshire North but lost), Simon Hart (Caerfyrddin), Robin Millar (Aberconwy), Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) are yet to issue anything publicly.