Tory troubles

  • 14 May 2014
  • From the section Wales
  • comments

Andrew RT Davies, like all of the leaders of the opposition parties, holds a weekly press briefing every Tuesday ahead of First Minister's Questions.

The Conservative briefing is consistently the most entertaining as the leader jokes with the small group of journalists based in Cardiff Bay.

This week was different as he became visibly annoyed by the constant questioning over what he should do about one of his Assembly Members, Byron Davies.

Here's a reminder: Byron Davies is refusing to attend the Enterprise and Business Committee unless the new chair, his fellow Tory AM William Graham, is sacked.

So we have a senior member of the opposition effectively going on strike in part of his job.

To understand why, you need to go back to February when Andrew RT Davies sacked four of his front-bench team: Antoinette Sandbach, Mohammad Asghar, Janet Finch-Saunders and Nick Ramsay.

He sacked them in a disagreement over the devolution of income tax.

The Conservatives in Westminster believe that if income tax is devolved then any changes introduced by the Welsh government would have to be mirrored across all of the tax bands. So you would not be able to isolate higher tax payers for example.

But Andrew RT Davies believes the model is unworkable and Cardiff Bay should have the freedom to change individual bands at will.

The four rebel AMs agreed with the Conservatives in London and not their boss in Cardiff which led to the strange situation whereby they were sacked for agreeing with a Conservative Prime Minister.

Byron Davies believes the decision to sack the four was "ludicrous".

One of the four, Nick Ramsay, was the chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee. His removal from the £12,000 a year committee chair position meant that William Graham was appointed by the leader, even though he wasn't an existing member of the committee.

Byron Davies, who is a member of the enterprise committee, believes William Graham has been parachuted in and in protest he has already missed eight committee meetings and is refusing to show up for any more unless William Graham is removed.

That's the background but back to the here and now. At his press briefing, Andrew RT Davies got irritated by the questions because he says it's not a talking point with the general public outside of the Cardiff Bay bubble.

He then went on to refuse to criticise Byron Davies and refuse to sack William Graham, so the stand-off continues.

Of course Andrew RT Davies is right when he says Byron Davies' actions are not what's being talked about in bars and next to water coolers in offices throughout Wales.

But at the same time it doesn't detract from the fact that he's leading a group which appears to be at loggerheads and one of his members is failing to turn up to the main committee at the assembly which is supposed to hold the Welsh government to account on the economy.

Now Presiding Officer Dame Rosemary Butler has weighed in saying: "As the National Assembly's Presiding Officer I expect all members, who have been elected to serve on committees, to attend meetings and to take a full part in the committee's business.

"The assembly's committee system plays a central role in scrutinising the Welsh government and developing policy, and should be treated with respect. If members are unable to attend meetings , they should ensure that they arrange a substitute in line with Standing Orders.

"If they are unwilling to attend, they should consider their position."

What is clear is that the wounds from sacking four members in February have not healed.

Antoinette Sandbach is openly critical. A tweet from her earlier in the week said: "Andrew RT Davies needs to show he can have a coalition of ideas within the Welsh government before he can credibly suggest he could deliver a coalition of ideas with the Lib Dems and Plaid."

Byron Davies says this is not an issue which is going to go away. He says it's going to get worse unless Andrew RT Davies starts building bridges.

I suspect we won't see any action from the leader this side of the European elections to try to unite his group.