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Tory St David's Day campaign stutters

David Cornock | 12:38 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A day is a long time in Welsh politics. Twenty-four hours ago, the Welsh Conservatives launched a manifesto pledge to campaign for St David's Day to be made a bank holiday in Wales.

Today, a Welsh Conservative MP, speaking for the UK government, appeared to errect several large obstacles in the path of his colleagues' campaign.

Wales Office Minister David Jones said: "To have a public holiday on St David's Day - attractive no doubt as it would be - would nevertheless not be at no cost at all.

"In fact it would be at considerable economic cost and that in the current straightened economic climate is something every responsible government needs to bear in mind."

Aberconwy MP Guto Bebb is another Welsh Tory yet to be recruited to his party's campaign - he warned of the cost in terms of social impact of schools being closed on St David's Day and unable to hold eisteddfodau on March 1.

"A very important point," agreed the Minister. "It would be rather sad to see the magic of St David's Day lost."

Another government backbencher, Mark Williams, pointed out that schools, including one attended by his children, celebrate St David's Day on days other than March 1.

Mr Jones said the impact of an extra bank holiday would be £3bn across the UK (think of that at your royal wedding street party). Pro-rata, he said, the cost in Wales would be £138m.

He then warned: "You can't really take Wales in isolation - there will be impact across the border."

That's why, he said, the issue should be decided by parliament, and not the Welsh assembly.

Delyn Labour MP David Hanson raised the position of Airbus, who employ 7,000 people in Flintshire, roughly half of whom live in England - "a dilemma that could be overcome but needs consideration", he said.

David Jones: "For that reason it is a matter that properly resides with this parliament."
Mr Jones did say that the forthcoming UK-wide tourism strategy would be likely to include a proposal to move the early May bank holiday to another point in the year.

"I think the consultation would be an excellent opportunity for the groups within the Welsh make their representation to the department of culture, media and sport."

Despite the obstacles of cost and cross-border issues, Mr Jones had some words of re-assurance for his colleagues in Cardiff: "The government is not closing its mind to the idea of a holiday on St David's Day."

Of course, the Conservative party could decide to take a lead and offer March 1 off to its own employees or indeed to staff in councils it runs, but there is little so far to suggest that it will.

Mr Jones concluded the debate by pointing out that St David was renowned for his ascetic life, living on a simple diet of bread and herbs and never drinking anything but water.

"He is also reputed to be of the habit of standing neck-deep in cold water and reciting from scriptures.

"I think it's very unlikely that St David ever took a day's holiday in his life."


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