If a week is a long time in politics, 10 years is almost an eternity. Monmouth AM is marking his 10th year serving the area in the Assembly this year, and spoke to IAN CRAIG about how he got into politics and some of the biggest challenges facing the area.

SURELY there aren’t many things which embody British culture more than a trip to the pub.

But for one of Gwent’s few Conservative politicians it was a chance encounter in the local boozer which kick-started a career which has lasted ten years – and counting.

Monmouth AM Nick Ramsay grew up in Cwmbran and returned to his hometown after graduating university, still unsure of what he wanted to do with his life.

But it was a fateful trip to the pub that sealed his fate.

“I’m a very keen pub quizzer,” he said. “I host pub quizzes for charity which have raised a fair bit of money for charity.

“I joined the pub quiz team at the Raglan Arms in Llandenny, and that was where I met David Davies (now Monmouth MP), who was AM at the time.

“Months later when the General Election happened in 2001 the Conservative Party knocked on my door and said ‘Will you vote for us?’.

“I’d got to know them a bit before so I said I’d come out and help them campaign.

“The rest is history.”

It wasn’t long until Mr Ramsay got a job working for then-leader of the Welsh Conservatives and Mid and West Wales AM Nick Bourne, now Lord Bourne. Although he unsuccessfully ran for Torfaen in the 2003 Assembly Election, coming second to Labour’s Lynne Neagle, who has held the seat since the Assembly was created in 1999, the following year he was elected to Monmouthshire County Council.

“That was my first experience of elected politics,” he said. “If I hadn’t enjoyed it I probably would have walked out.

“But I thought yeah, this is for me.”

While Labour has long had a foothold in Wales, Mr Ramsay decided to throw his lot in with the Conservative Party, which has traditionally done well in Monmouthshire, but played second fiddle in Wales as a whole.

Reflecting on how he decided to sign up with the Conservatives, Mr Ramsay described himself as “on the left wing of the party”.

“When I was growing up John Major was prime minister,” he said. “The election in 1992, when the choice was John Major or Neil Kinnock, was the first one I really paid a big interest in.

“I thought ok, a lot of things the Labour Party talk about are good – the NHS, adequately funding public services, looking after people who need looking after – that’s all good stuff, but the realist in me said you’ve got to be able to run the economy first before you can spend money on those things.

“I had a natural leaning towards the Conservatives, I just felt they came across as more economically sound.

“Huw Edwards (Labour Monmouth MP from 1991-1992 and 1997-2005) once said to me that his biggest regret was that he didn’t attract me into the Labour Party.”

Among the many issues Mr Ramsay has dealt with during his ten years in office, the tolls on the two Severn bridges has bene one of the most perennial ones. And finally action is being taken, with the UK government announcing charges will be scrapped entirely by the end of next year.

“It’s one of those policies which, on the face of it, is a no-brainer and a win-win,” he said.

“Of course we’ll see what happens, but at this point I think it’s great for the Welsh economy that the tolls are going because, even if you’d reduced them, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t have risen again in the future.

“It’s been a financial bottleneck for the Welsh economy for some time.

“There will be some negative effects for local people with house prices rising because people can now live in Monmouthshire and work in Bristol and there’s no financial cost to crossing the bridges, and young people are already finding it difficult to get on the housing, ladder so everything in the garden is not rosy, but financially, if you look at the hundreds of millions the Welsh economy will benefit, the tolls have got to go.”

Although Mr Ramsay has said he is not in favour of the Welsh Government’s planned black route as a solution to congestion on the M4, which could get worse one the bridge tolls are abolished, he is a big supporter of the planned South Wales Metro, which will see a network of trains, trams and buses connecting communities throughout the area.

“The more people we can get on public transport for local journeys the better,” he said.

“In 1950 you could catch a train from Raglan and you could get to Cardiff at a time when very few people commuted from this village.

“Here we are 67 years on and the only way to commute to Cardiff by train is to drive or get a lift or a bus 10 miles to Abergavenny, find somewhere to park, which isn’t easy, and go from there.

“In many ways we’ve gone backwards public transport-wise and I think we should be looking at really enhancing public transport.

“It’s not the easiest solution – the easiest solution is always to build more roads, but the more people we can get off the roads onto public transport the better.”

Mr Ramsay has also spoken out about how much funding Monmouthshire is given from the Welsh Government on a regular basis. The county has traditionally been given lower amounts of funding than other areas of Wales, in some cases getting significant less than other urban areas.

Mr Ramsay has claimed the current arrangements unfairly favour urban areas such as Cardiff and Newport over rural constituencies, and has called for a reform of the system through which the levels of funding are calculated.

“The current formula for local government has grown up over many years in an ad hoc way,” he said.

“In fact it’s not one formula, it’s lots of smaller formulas which have been added together and it benefits the Valleys areas and urban areas to the detriment of rural areas.

“It is the job of AMs in those urban areas to defend their budgets, but it’s also my job to defend the budget of rural areas.

“There are some very well-off people who live in my constituency, but overall the average wage in Monmouthshire is the average Welsh wage. There are a lot of people earning very low wages, people working in the hospitality industry, in hotels, in tourism, and they seem to fall off the radar when it comes to Welsh Government funding.

“If you go into areas of Chepstow like Bulwark, you go into Lansdowne in Abergavenny, and some parts of Monmouth, there are social problems and there are pockets of deprivation, and in rural areas as well, which seem to be overlooked.”

He added: “I want to see a much better understanding of the expense of delivering services across a bigger rural area, I want to see an acceptance of rural deprivation and poverty.

“Monmouthshire does have some very well-off people, which is understandable, it’s a beautiful area and it’s a great place to live and bring up your family.

“But at the same time there are people who I meet on a daily basis who are really finding it difficult to make ends meet.”

Mr Ramsay, who will mark another milestone next month when he marries his partner Jennifer Davidson, has said he is keen his constituents see him as more than a politician.

“Too often politicians try to create an image which isn’t them and I think the public see through it, and that’s what causes a lot of dissolution,” he said.

“I hope people see me not only as Nick the AM, but also Nick the person who lives in the area, supports local charities and makes mistakes as well as does things which are right.”

He said he believes the way forward for politics is to focus less on political divisions and more on working together for a better society.

“Let’s develop a new form of politics where we oppose when we need to oppose and we support each other when we need to, but a politics that recognises that, at the end of the day, we are all human beings, we all live on the same planet – well, rocket ships haven’t developed to a state yet where we can go to Mars – and we’ve all got to work together and develop what is a very Welsh way of doing things which goes back to community,” he said.

“That is one things we’ve got going for us in Wales – we’ve got communities which a lot stronger than over the border in England and, if we can put that at the heart of a new politics which is inclusive, robust and looks out for everyone and develops people to their full potential, I think it will be a better world.

“And if we can leave the world a little better than it was when we found it, who can fault that.”