Vest Off Day v Face Off Day

  • 20 June 2012
  • From the section Wales
  • comments

On the wall in Committee Room 10 - a huge painting of "Alfred inviting the Saxons to prevent the landing of the Danes".

On the benches below, Labour members of the Welsh Grand Committee inviting their Conservative and Lib Dem colleagues to prevent a policy that would have "a chilling effect" on the Welsh economy - regional, or if you prefer local, market-facing pay. If you're still unclear as to the difference, here's the explanation I got from Nick Clegg last week.

Delyn MP David Hanson doesn't get it. In fact he doubted whether the Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan or her deputy David Jones really get it either. Why not lodge a definition of local, market-facing pay in the Commons library for all to see, he suggested helpfully. Alun Cairns joined in with the helpful hints. Did Labour need reminding that they introduced 'local, market-facing pay' to the court service some years ago? You're both up to your necks in it, called out the equally helpful Plaid MP, Jonathan Edwards.

David Jones came out fighting. Had the members opposite not understood that the aim here was to make the private sector grow, not crush it? Had they not grasped that the coalition is out there getting independent advice about difficult stuff because they are trying to rebuild an economy left in no fit state by Labour. Frankly, they should have worked that out by now.

It was good, knockabout stuff. You could almost be forgiven for forgetting that they were out to give a good going over to a policy that has, if the signals from Downing Street are anything to go by, already been done in. The Tory MPs I spoke to were quietly relieved. Their logic? It's wrong that such a gap exists between public and private sector pay and sorting it out would be a good thing - but politically? Too hard a sell. Waving good-bye to local pay would mean 'happy faces in Wales and sad faces in Bucks" reckoned Chris Ruane. The acoustics in that particular committee room are awful. For a second the press gang present were wondering what box he was referring to.

Then the boot came in, the neat, shiny one that's on the foot of the new Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. This Secretary of State, he said, was in denial about the scale of the damage her government was causing the Welsh economy. While the economy shrank, while 15% of families in Wales hovered on the brink of poverty, she dithered. It was remarkable "just how complacent this Secretary of State remains".

He, she responded, was a "doom and gloom monger" - talking down Wales, harming the image of Wales as a good country in which to do business.

She was sitting on her hands while her government 'demolished jobs', eroded confidence, 'chipped away at the edifice of our communities'.

The interventions were getting personal, "unnecessarily so" said Mrs Gillan. The "uncouth heckling" of Labour members was not on. "Shame!" "Cheek!" They kept going. In the back row behind the Secretary of State sat her own team. There was barely a single - soft, helpful - question from them all morning. I imagine she noticed it too.

Then came an intervention from the Chair. MPs were getting hot under the collar. One or two had taken off their jackets. A brave move, said Dai Havard, given it's not even "vest off day" in Wales yet. Mind you, he thought it was imminent, tomorrow perhaps - even if it might be over by the afternoon.

Vest Off Day? After Face Off Day at the Welsh Grand, I'm all for it.