There has previously been some speculation that if the Conservatives win the general election and David Cameron becomes Prime Minister, he might combine the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices into a single "Department for the Nations" or such like, with one minister sitting in the Cabinet.
But today, the Conservative leader was challenged on this very matter in an interview with Scotland's Radio Clyde 2 and said in terms that there would be a Scottish Secretary in any Cabinet he forms.
Here's what he said:
“There will certainly be a Scottish Secretary in my Cabinet. I think it’s very, very important that Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland and the UK feels fully represented in the UK Government. I’m passionate about this, to me the UK is like a family and we are better off with England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland together in that family and I don’t ever want us to fall out. And what do families fall out over? They fall out over things like money and they fall out over things like jobs and therefore I think it’s very important Scotland is sitting at the highest table in the land”.
All of which I interpret to mean that a Wales Secretary and Northern Ireland Secretary could expect to be afforded the same status in a Cameron Government. Doubtless he will be asked to make the same commitment when interviewed by the Welsh and Northern Irish media during the course of the campaign.
Dr Marek represented Wrexham in the Commons between 1983 and 2001, and then in the Welsh Assembly between 1999 and 2007 (for the latter four years as an Independent, having been deselected by Labour prior to the 2003 Assembly election and then retained his seat as an Independent).
He said today:
"David Cameron’s social conscience is at the heart of my decision to join the Conservative Party. He understands the difficulties faced by ordinary people and I am convinced that as Prime Minister he will govern for everybody.
“I believe it is only through a Conservative government that we can fix our broken economy, restore our civil liberties, ensure our public services meet the public’s expectations, and tackle the big national and international issues facing our country today.”
In December sitting Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Member Mohammad Asghar defected to the Conservatives.
[With apologies that this is the first General Election Brief since Monday. The Brief was a casualty of a jam-packed few days.]
More progress for Welsh Tories. A YouGov poll last night for ITV Wales had the Tories on 32% and Labour on 35%. That would mean nine more Tory MPs from Wales if translated into a uniform swing on election day. UK Polling Report has more.
Labour plan five new pledges for the General Election campaign. Brown is drafting five reasons to vote Labour and five reasons to reject the Conservatives. Conservatives don't necessarily need a pledge card but we need to sharpen our doorstep message a little.
Cut, cut, cut, cut. Overnight, there were newspaper stories of immediate cuts from the Conservatives, cuts in the arts budget, cuts in the aid budget, cuts in middle class welfare, cuts in defence. [See today's ConHome front page]. But The Economist still wasn't satisfied: "The squeezes [George Osborne] identified amounted to £7 billion ($11.4 billion) a year. In 2009-10 the deficit is £178 billion."
Cameron underperforming at PMQs. The Evening Standard doesn't think Cameron has really won a PMQs for two or three months. I can't disagree but I don't think it really matters. He normally provides enough of a strong soundbite for the news bulletins but it's not helping rock bottom morale in the parliamentary party.
Does Grant Shapps run on Duracell? His hit rate in the media is extraordinary. He had a big splash in yesterday's Sun (and other newspapers) which showed that government spending on propaganda advertising was soaring in this election run-up. Labour ministers, said Mr Shapps, "should not be raiding the taxpayers' pockets to try to keep their own seats."
Nasty Nick. The Liberal Democrat leader told Attitude, a gay lifestyle magazine, that David Cameron was "someone who is “very difficult to trust” on the issue of gay rights". I wonder if he'll play as dirty in the debates?
Watching the media, watching us. One of the most important roles that the blogosphere can play in the election campaign is to keep an eye out for media bias. I knocked The Telegraph yesterday evening for a story that The Mirror would have been proud of (in fact, it was written by an ex-Mirror journalist now working for the Barclay Bros). Iain Dale has a bigger target today. He's got the BBC's One Show in his cross-hairs for an appalling piece of anti-Tory bias last night.
Hat tip to the Left for the mydavidcameron thing. Naughty, but funny, it's got coverage everywhere - online and in print. My favourite is below:
Plaid AM Mohammad Asghar has defected to the Conservatives.
This is the first Member of the Welsh Assembly to cross the floor since the start of devolution.
11.50am: This is how Mr Ashgar is described on the Assembly website:
"Mohammad Asghar, known as ‘Oscar’, became the first Assembly Member from an ethnic minority when he was elected to the Assembly in May 2007. He has stood for Plaid Cymru in previous elections, including the last General Election. Oscar’s political interests include economic development and he feels strongly about combating social exclusion. He is the Plaid Cymru Assembly spokesman on skills and training and is a member of the Finance Committee and Legislation Committee No. 1."
These are good times for the Welsh Conservatives. Earlier this year they topped the poll in the European elections.
This is the second defection in the last 24 hours for the party UK-wide. A Croydon councillor joined the Conservatives yesterday. Labour's advisers on public service reform are joining the Conservatives. Whatever the modest reduction in the Tory opinion poll position, the tide of defections is all in the Tories' favour.
The results are extremely encouraging to say the least, with the parties on the following standings:
Labour - 34%
Conservatives - 31%
Plaid Cymru - 15%
Lib Dems - 12%
At the European election in June the Conservatives beat Labour in the popular vote in Wales for the first time in living memory, and if the findings of this poll were replicated at the general election, it looks like being a close run thing again at the general election.
These figures would represent a Labour to Conservative swing of 9.2% across Wales as compared with the 2005 general election, when the party gained three seats - Monmouth, Preseli Pembrokeshire and Clwyd West.
The Conservative leader was reportedly willing to agree to proportional representation as part of a draft coalition agreement that Welsh Conservatives were seeking to thrash out in the aftermath of the last Cardiff Assembly elections. The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow quotes Vernon Bogdanor's record of what went on:
"There had been serious negotiations between the three non-Labour parties – Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – with a view to forming a "rainbow" coalition. But these negotiations foundered, in part because the Conservatives would not countenance the introduction of proportional representation for local government elections. The Welsh Conservatives were, apparently, prepared to consider this proposal, and David Cameron, the Conservative leader at Westminster, was prepared to allow them to do so, but the shadow cabinet would not hear of it."
Earlier in the week Douglas Carswell MP blogged arguments in favour of an Irish-style PR:
"“Party list” PR would mean that instead of 7 out of 10 MPs having safe seats, it’d be 9 out of 10. Politics would become one giant “A list”. Yet, if we were to have multi-member seats, as in
, combined with open primaries, law makers who didn’t listen to local people would be one term candidates. We’d have citizen law-makers championing the local interest in Ireland Westminster- and fewer professional politicians defending to their constituents. Multi-member seats would retain the constituency link – and produce clear working majorities, not endless coalitions. It’d ensure more choice when deciding who gets to be your next MP. And more competition, not just when opening fetes and holding advice surgeries, but when vying to champion local opinion." Westminster
Still worth reading is William Norton's 'Only losers like PR'.
Bourne AM is pictured with David Cameron on the day after this year's
European Elections when the Conservatives topped the poll across Wales
(Photograph by Mark Jones). Many
factors explain the renaissance of Conservatives in Wales but fomer
Shadow Welsh Secretary Nigel Evans MP told ConservativeHome that Nick
Bourne has "led the decontamination" that means the Tories are now an
acceptable choice for large numbers of voters in Wales.
When he became leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly
Tony Blair was still enjoying his honeymoon and William Hague was the
UK party leader. Nick Bourne AM took up his post ten years ago
yesterday and must be the longest-serving senior Conservative in the
UK. His time is the subject of an review piecein this morning's Western Mail.
A few highlights of his time as Welsh leader:
Most important decision:
To accept devolution. He took over the leadership of the Welsh
Conservatives after devolution had been passed by the narrowest of
margins (50.3% to 49.7%) in the 1997 referendum. He took the decision that there was no going back and that the Conservatives should become supporters of the devolution
settlement. He has since called for more powers to be given to the
Senedd. This decision often brought him into contact with MPs. He had a
rocky relationship with Nigel Evans MP when the latter was the party's
Wales spokesman in Westminster. There are still leading members of the
Welsh Tories who are unhappy with devolution. Preseli Prembrokeshire MP
Stephen Crabb warned two yearsthat devolution experiment was leading to socialism and separatism.
Lowest moment: Criticising
Rhodri Morgan is an uncharacteristically personal way got Bourne into
trouble last year but it was his purchase of an iPod on Welsh Assembly
expenses that almost became the last straw for the many critics he has within the Welsh Conservatives. Mr Bourne now admits to the Western Mail that
"we had slightly stormy weather at Christmas” but the failure of his
opponents to agree on a candidate to challenge him for the leadership
has meant he has remained in post and probably will be safe now until
the 2011 Assembly elections.
Modernising moments: Socially liberal, accepting of devolution, ready to work with other parties in coalition, a fierce critic of the BNP and an early supporter of Barack Obama,
Nick Bourne is an-ahead-of-his-times 'progressive conservative'. His
recent advocacy of selection procedeures for the next round of Assembly
Elections that would see women and ethnic minority candidates get preferential treatment underlined his Cameroonian credentials.
Bravest moment: His recent decision to warn that the Welsh Conservatives would scrap free prescriptions if it gained power in the Cardiff Assembly was definitely a brave 'Truth Telling Moment'.
Nearly moment: Nick Bourne had hoped to lead or at least be part of an anti-Labour coalition in the Cardiff Assembly and almost got his wish in 2007 when a 'Triple Crown' of Tory, LibDem and Plaid AMs looked likely to coalesce. It was said to be 90% likely by Radio 4 at the time but the 10% option prevailed.
Outstanding ambition: To become Finance Minister - if not First Minister - after 2011's Welsh Assembly Elections.
PS Nick Bourne blogs here.
BBC Wales also reports the Tory leader in the Cardiff Assembly, Nick Bourne, as saying that "free prescriptions are not, and never will be, 'free' in the true sense of the word. We are all paying for them by sacrificing money from elsewhere within a health budget stretched to the limit after 10 years of Labour in Wales." He continues: "We currently have a palliative care system which our own health minister admits is 'patchy' and stroke services described by an expert in the field as 'scandalously bad'."
Brave stuff and just the beginning of what is going to be necessary to cure Labour's debt hangover.
5pm Julia Manning addresses this issue over at CentreRight.
Professor John Curtice and many other commentators are pouring cold water on the Conservative Party's electoral performance of recent days. 'Not quite good enough' is the conclusion of talking heads across the media. Tory strategists don't mind. They don't like any complacent talk of victory. They want every Conservative activist and donor to strain every sinew until the last polls have closed on General Election day. This caution comes from two decades of losing elections. Most of the people who advise David Cameron have tasted defeat too many times in the years since 1987 to quite believe that victory is sure. Over recent days their attention has turned to the Norwich North by-election. They are conscious that they are now battling against inflated expectations as much as Labour.
All this aside, Thursday's elections do give the Conservative Party many grounds for optimism.
In the wake of expenses-gate they were relieved that the Conservative Party's share of the vote actually went up in the European Elections. [Pictured on the right is David Cameron in Wales earlier today where the Conservatives topped the poll. Mr Cameron is photographed (by Mark Jones) with Welsh Tory leader Nick Bourne and new MEP, Kay Swinburne].
But if the European Elections were a little messy but Cameron and George Osborne are determined not to be spooked by UKIP. They saw Michael Howard knocked off course by UKIP's success in 2004 but they also saw that it did not translate into anything at the following year's General Election.
What gives the Tory leadership most confidence is the county council results. CCHQ believes that the county council contests are a more accurate indicator of the outcome of the next General Election. Unlike the European Elections they were first-past-the-post contests fought largely between the three established parties. In Bedfordshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire the Conservatives fought Labour head on and won convincingly. Even more encouraging were the head-to-head victories against the Liberal Democrats across the west country. CCHQ believes that it now has the campaign machinery and moderation of message to significantly erode the Liberal Democrats' parliamentary representation. The decline of the Liberal Democrats was hugely under-reported at the weekend. Even their 'victory' in Bristol masked a decline in the percentage of Bristolians voting for Nick Clegg's party.
Tory strategists also know that Labour has ceased to exist as a meaningful campaigning force in large parts of the country. Eric Pickles has a two to one rule. Every lost councillor actually means the loss of that councillor's husband/ wife/ friend too as a party activist. Labour finished fifth in many parts of the country on Thursday, it's poisonously divided at Westminster, up to its neck in debt, and without a policy vision. The Conservatives have a year to go but they have good reason to be cheerful.
In his latest statement on getting better value for money from taxpayers' spending on politics David Cameron has written for the Belfast Telegraph about politicians sitting in two legislatures:
Much of the logic of Mr Cameron's argument could also be applied to MPs with outside interests.
In terms of getting better value for taxpayers' money the most important next step for David Cameron is to strengthen his commitment to reduce the number of MPs. He has currently pledged a 10% reduction but is being outbid by Nick Clegg and today by Polly Toynbee. In today's Guardian she proposes a reduction of more than a third.