By Harry Phibbs
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There is lots of attention being paid to Scotland's future in the United Kingdom (or lack of it) with next year's referendum. But what about Wales?
The Welsh Secretary David Jones made a speech last night which resisted the constant demands from the Labour-led Government in Wales for more powers. In an interview before hand he said:
"It's like a butterfly collector: here's a new one, I'll just pin it up on the board. We need powers for a purpose. Frankly, a lot of the powers they have at the moment are not being used."
"The model we have in Wales is the correct one. It should be a dynamic form of devolution that sees powers flowing backwards and forwards as and when required in a way that best meets changing circumstances."
In the speech itself Mr Jones could not have been more emphatic about his unionist credentials:
I am a proud Welshman, but I am also a Unionist, heart, mind, body and soul. I shall be campaigning vigorously in favour of Scotland remaining part of the Union, and I hope that as many others as possible in Wales’s political and civic life – from the First Minister down – will do the same.
By Tim Montgomerie
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In the forthcoming reshuffle one of the Cabinet ministers likeliest to get the chop is the Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan. Cheryl has been a good fighter for Wales in Cabinet, delivering the referendum on extra powers for the Cardiff Assembly that Labour did not, won railways investment and secured S4C's future. Nonetheless, there has been speculation that Maria Miller MP might replace her. David Cameron is anxious to retain the same number of women at the Government's top table. Ms Miller, like Ms Gillan, represents an English seat (Basingstoke) but was educated in Wales. Don't get me wrong - I think Ms Miller has been an effective minister and is a good TV performer - but it would be a mistake to appoint her to oversee Gwydyr House.
By Tim Montgomerie
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The geographical location of the Tory Cabinet members' seats. Not on the map are the Yorkshire woman Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Strathclyde.
Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer argues that the Tories have a problem with northern voters. The Cabinet, he writes, is "a very southern English affair." This hasn't escaped David Cameron's notice and he sees High Speed Rail as a big part of the Tories' attempt to break through in the north (see Independent on Sunday report). Rawnsley's main focus is the idea that northern England is getting a raw financial deal:
"Looked at from the north of England – or indeed by any fair-minded observer – this is grossly unfair. Income per head in Scotland is 99% of the average for the UK. Income per head in the poorer north-east of England is less than 80% of the national average. Yet Scots receive £507 per person more in government spending. Crunched between well-favoured Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh and a southern coalition in London, the north of England has sound grounds for feeling aggrieved."
The Scottish Tories scored 13.9% of the vote. Despite personal warmth towards Annabel Goldie and a disciplined campaign (supported by the London operation) the party lost five MSPs in total. The defeat of Derek Brownlee is seen as a particularly big setback. Known as the "brainbox" by colleagues he'll leave a big hole in the Tory team. With the SNP winning a majority the Scottish Tories will be less influential than in the last parliament. Goldie secured more police officers, a freeze in council tax and new approaches to drug treatments as part of her support for the budgets of Alex Salmond's previous minority government. Mrs Goldie, sources say, is expected to stay as leader for a few months but will then step down. The Scottish Tories will then have a leadership contest that should be an opportunity for a wider debate about the party's position in Scotland. At repeated General Elections the Scottish Party has won none or just one MP, making it very hard for the party to win a majority at Westminster. ConservativeHome has long recommended a separate Scottish identity for the party with its own manifesto and leadership structure.
By Tim Montgomerie
"Welsh Conservatives are the only party committed to protecting Wales' NHS budget. We have consistently opposed Labour's plans to slash the NHS budget by £1billion over the next three years. Because the NHS is our number one priority, we have taken the tough decisions about where we would save money so we can afford to protect NHS funding. The Assembly has a fixed budget so spending is a question of priorities. We are prioritising spending on our NHS so it can respond more quickly, more effectively and more efficiently to the needs of patients. We will protect NHS staff, invest in new treatments and eliminate postcode lotteries in services across Wales to help improve patient care. We all rely on our NHS in times of greatest need. The NHS is safe in our hands because we all need the security of knowing that we are safe in the hands of the NHS."
VOTE CONSERVATIVE TODAY!
I ask because Andrew Rawnsley posed the question in The Observer yesterday:
"The double nightmare scenario for David Cameron is that the result is swung in Scotland and Wales where there is a higher turn-out because the referendum coincides with the elections to the Edinburgh Parliament and Cardiff Assembly. Elements of the Conservative party will go demented with fury if England says no but a Celtic yes vote wins it for AV. The Thatcherite former Scottish secretary, Michael Forsyth, has already described such a outcome as "rigged", which implies he and other Tories might try to resist the introduction of AV on the grounds that the result was not legitimate. One senior Conservative MP on the right predicts that Tories will go "completely mad" if they lose the referendum – to the extent that they might even jeopardise the coalition."
"Demented fury" is not the kind of language I would use but if Wales and Scotland does vote "Yes" by a large enough margin to overwhelm an English "no" it would certainly vindicate those MPs who said that the referendum should not take place on the same day as the elections to Holyrood and the Cardiff Assembly.
A "Celtic yes vote" is more likely to overwhelm an "English no" if turnout in England is low - vindicating those like Lord Lamont who said there should be a 40% threshold.
Whatever the referendum result - and however it comes about - Ed Miliband will be able to get in the popcorn and enjoy the Coalition fallout. The Coalition will endure (neither party wants to bring the government down and face the voters) but either Clegg or Cameron will face serious internal party unhappiness. What we cannot have is any attempt to overturn the result. The rules for the referendum might not be as some of us would have wished but I can't think of anything more likely to increase disdain for MPs than if they vote to reject the people's decision. Let's leave that kind of thing to Brussels and EU Treaty votes.
By Jonathan Isaby
Until now the Assembly has only been able to make laws in those areas (including education, health, local government and economic development) subject to the agreement of the UK Parliament on a subject-by-subject basis.
The referendum asked the Welsh people whether they wanted the Assembly to have those law-making powers without any reference to Westminster and the result has just been announced as:
Turnout was 35.4% and the only local authority area of the 22 in Wales to vote No was Monmouthshire, by a margin of 320 votes.
The Conservative Party was fornally neutral in the referendum on the basis that there were differing views within the party on the issue, although the Tory Assembly Members were supportive of the Yes campaign.
“I am very pleased at this clear Yes vote. Assembly Members of all parties now need to get down to the job of law-making in the most efficient and effective manner to deliver for the people of Wales. Welsh Conservatives are committed to making the next stage of devolution a success, as we have strived to make it work over the past 12 years.
“Politicians of all parties must now redouble their efforts through innovative and robust policy development and effective scrutiny of the process of making laws for Wales. Turnout was in line with the trend over the past 30 years sending a powerful message to politicians of the need to re-engage with the people of Wales.”
The Labour-Plaid Coalition in Wales has announced its spending plans today and they include real cuts in heath spending.
Shadow Finance Minister Nick Ramsay AM issued this statement with Nick Bourne AM, leader of the Welsh Conservatives:
“This budget represents a cut of hundreds of millions of pounds to our NHS over the coming three years. That is completely unacceptable and puts frontline services at risk. The NHS has already faced cuts of £435 million this year and it has now been confirmed there is much more to come.
The Minister’s hypocritical claims of protecting health fly in the face of Labour-Plaid’s weeks of sustained criticism of the Welsh Conservative pledge to safeguard the health budget.
We will continue to lobby the Assembly Government to protect the NHS from Labour-Plaid cuts. The Welsh Assembly Government has received a fair settlement from Westminster, with cuts of less than two per cent a year and lower than they themselves were planning for.
It is now time for Labour-Plaid to be judged on their harmful plans for the future of our Health Service.”
Labour will, of course, seek to blame Osborne and Cameron for these cuts and Tories are anxious about a 'severed legs' strategy where Labour make headline-grabbing cuts wherever they have power, hoping to inflict maximum damage on the Coalition in Westminster, while Tory councils, for example, make responsible cuts.
Last year I listed four conditions for supporting tax rises. The first was the most important:
"Possibilities for spending cuts have been exhausted."
I've just written a piece for Comment is free arguing that in, at least, four areas of public spending the Government has not cut out the fat:
No taxes should go up until spending issues like the above have been addressed. Britain's fundamental problem is its bloated state. We are not under-taxed.
On CentreRight, Matt Sinclair has set out two additional reasons why an increase in VAT would be wrong. First, it hurts the poor most of all and, second, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said they had "no plans" to increase this tax. At a time when trust in politics is so low we don't need "plans" to emerge tomorrow.
The Conservatives held their one seat in Scotland, and gained none. The SNP will swoop on the Scottish results, claiming that a Cameron Government would have no mandate to govern there, with or without the Liberal Democrats.
But look at the other side of River Tweed. The Tories have a clear majority of seats in England. The Conservative Home calculation gives them 298 seats out of 529. So who will make the mirroring argument that only a Cameron Government has a mandate to govern England?
This very morning, a champion has emerged, grasping in his hands the cross of St George. On his blog, John Redwood declares here that it's "time to speak for England". This is a suggestive political development - especially given the current post-election impasse.
The tensions within the Union are so obvious as not to require restating. Labour's Scottish devolution settlement is manifestly unfair to England. A ConservativeHome survey of the new generation of Tory MPs found that they are "barely Unionist".
During the last Parliament, there were rumblings in the Parliamentary Party about Labour measures being imposed in England by Scottish votes - such as top-up fees - while English taxpayers subsidise Scotland through the Barnett formula.
The Conservative manifesto didn't explicitly pledge "English votes for English laws". Instead, it guardedly pledged that a Tory Government will introduce "new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries".
This cautious tone is in keeping with Cameron's approach to Scotland. He's treated the Calman Commission with respect and the Barnett formula with caution. Evidently, he has no wish to be written into the history books as "the Prime Minister who lost Scotland".
What the English Nationalists on the Conservative benches have lacked to date is a leader. Redwood has been plugging away on the matter for some time. But in a hung Parliament, his view and that of those of like mind acquires a new importance.
As Tim indicated yesterday here, Cameron, given the Commons numbers, will have to mind his internal coalition. Redwood is reminding the leadership of an issue about which he feels strongly, of the new power of the right of the Party, and of his own credentials for government.
He won't be the last newly-elected Tory to "speak for England". He may not even turn out to be the most significant. But whether one agrees with his view or not, there's no doubt that he's touched on an issue of first-rank importance.
Before the election, I explained why it was one of three main institutional problems confronting a Conservative Government, and why the English-votes-for-English laws proposal is only a short-term solution to a longer-term problem here.