Mystery creases in the Silk road?

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander

I don't know how closely Welsh Government ministers normally watch Welsh Liberal Democrat conferences. Not very, I suspect. A rare day out in the sun with the family - or stay in and watch a succession of speakers attack your alleged complacency and incompetence from the podium? A no-brainer surely.

Over the weekend, though, the Lib Dems gathering in Cardiff certainly sparked more interest than usual in the new open plan offices of Cathays Park - in particular, the speech from chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

In it, Mr Alexander went further than ever before in suggesting that the UK Government will implement the recommendations of the Silk Commission on tax and borrowing powers for Wales in full. In fact his line was so strong he managed to overshadow the Welsh party leader's speech on the same day - though somehow, you doubt she'll be complaining.

Here's the key passage from his speech to the conference:

"We need a new model of devolution for Wales - a model in which additional responsibility for raising revenues strengthens responsibility too.

"A model in which significant income tax powers unlock commensurate borrowing powers for Wales too.

"We are still working through our response to the Silk Commission with the Welsh government but I will not allow a response to Silk that doesn't meet those aspirations."

Those around Mr Alexander at the conference fringes said the speech had been carefully drafted and re-drafted before being delivered, which makes the nuances of that passage even more intriguing, in particular the use of the word "allow". Mr Alexander is a senior Treasury minister, who is directly in charge of the UK Government response to Silk. What, one wonders, is not "allowing" him to deliver what he wants, since he clearly feels so strongly on the issue?

Questioned afterwards, he emphasised the "complexity" of devolving tax powers and wouldn't be pushed any further. But if so, why not just say that in the speech? And his aides emphasised that the message was carefully written and aimed at a number of different people involved in the process.

Paul Silk presents his report to Welsh Secretary David Jones Paul Silk presents his report to Welsh Secretary David Jones

So what's going on here?

First up, Whitehall sources say there's some surprise at the content of the speech, which, it's claimed by some, didn't go through the normal "pre-clearance" procedures. Sources close to Danny Alexander insist it went through exactly the same process as all other political speeches.

They use the word "premature" stressing that discussions are still on-going about how and what will be offered to Wales in terms of tax and borrowing. The Department for Transport, for example, has to be consulted over the devolution of Air Passenger Duty, likewise Environment over the Aggregates Levy. Senior figures within the Wales Office are adamant that there's no blockage from Gwydyr House and point to the frequency of their meetings with Mr Alexander over the issue.

If that's the case, was Danny Alexander looking towards Cathays Park as the source of the logjam, or the possible brakes on his aspirations?

Opposition parties are increasingly sensing what they see as a fracture developing between Welsh Labour AMs and MPs over a number of issues - the spat over the devolution (or not) of policing being the most recent and obvious. One senior opposition figure said they saw a "mega-split" over both Silk I and II developing between the Assembly and Westminster groups within Labour.

At his party's conference in Llandudno, Ed Miliband saw it as a debate that must be and will be had - rather than a more headline-grabbing split. Welsh Labour MPs accept there are differences, big ones on some issues but say they will quite simply have to be thrashed out. That's grown up politics they say, and will lead in the end to an agreed manifesto ahead of the General Election in 2015.

First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones

But it's something that the Welsh Labour leader isn't exactly playing down. Speaking during First Minister's Questions last week, Carwyn Jones made rather an odd off the cuff remark.

In the context of Labour's decisions on the top rate of taxation during their 13 years in Government, he was asked by Plaid Cymru's Llyr Huws Gruffudd: "How can the people of Wales trust a Labour Party that says one thing here and does a very different thing at Westminster?"

To which Mr Jones responded: "We are a different party; this is the Welsh Labour Party. We have different views on devolution to our UK colleagues. That much is that."

Cue raised eyebrows. Why should the Welsh party leader go out of his way to point up splits within his own party? Let alone do it in response to a question from a Plaid AM, in the chamber, with his every word noted for posterity?

So on Silk implementation, are Carwyn Jones and his Cabinet colleagues being held back by their MPs at Westminster? Well, apparently not. There were more raised eyebrows last night at the Welsh Government's unusual decision to rush out a statement responding to Danny Alexander's conference speech:

"The First Minister has made clear that we want to see full implementation of the Silk Commission's recommendations, with legislation in this Parliament.

"This is a position supported unanimously by all parties in the Assembly. So it is good to hear the Chief Secretary setting out the UK Government's intention to implement Silk and we look forward to a formal announcement on the way forward as soon as possible.

"Silk recommends that there would need to be a referendum before powers to vary income tax rates were devolved to Wales. The First Minister agrees. The people of Wales should have the final say."

Not much room for doubt there - the message from Labour, at least in Cardiff Bay is "bring it on". So no blockage there either.

Which makes the Chief Secretary's apparent frustration even more baffling, where everyone involved in the process appears to be one hundred per cent in favour of what he wants - at least in public.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Out of 62 posts on this subject over half have come from Alfsplace/MabionGlyndwr and Woodsey.

    Why all the activity by you three ?

    It looks as though (with your help) Plaid desperation has set in .

    I'm sure many on here wish you three every success, and that before too long you will control this forum.

    Control yes, but alas Plaid will be long gone by then.

    Keep it up the good work lads !


  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    59: So you think my posts are aggressive.You'd be forceful if you witnessed a thing like you actively undermining the very existence of Wales as a political entity just because they want to be pseudo Englishman living in a divided county. Odd, you belittle my wish for a united Wales where you are a unionist with aspirations of retaining this unrighteous kingdom. Hypocrite!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.


    'Bigotry and intolerance, silenced by argument, endeavors to silence by persecution, in old days by fire and sword, in modern days by the tongue.”
    How did you know I was getting paid?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    54: I disagree. We've been mining minerals for millennial, didn't have the money due to political oppression, the lack of man power was due to population not ability. Agreed, no country has the ability to retrieve resources solely without outside help or expertise if it isn't there in numbers.Texan oil companies helped explore for north sea oil & England's wouldn't exist without incomers pal!

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @51 lol! your kind of 'unification' is based on a mystical past that probably never existed as opposed to a present reality! We can all see what sort of a person you are from your fervent, aggresive posts.

    @52/53 are you being paid per posting you make or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    When is the Danny Alexander "I'm sorry" song due to appear on youtube?
    Same time as George Osbourne's 'Crocodile Tears' filmed entirely on location at Maggie's Funeral

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    When is the Danny Alexander "I'm sorry" song due to appear on youtube?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Re the end of the British State? Wales and the rest of the UK is in the slipstream of the Scottish Referendum. The Scottish referendum is different to all previous as it deals with the existence and authority of the constitued British State. Authority is singular and can only exist in one place at one time. This matter and the impact (not yet recognised) has not been debated in Parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    And England had the manpower before the influx of immigrants from Ireland( Irish Speaking) Wales{ Welsh Speaking) and Scotland (Scottish Speaking) The population of England doubled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    #50 "a Union made mess.." Wrong. At the start of the Industrial revolution, Wales had neither the manpower, the technical expertise, the financial resources nor an adequate infrastructure with which to benefit from its rich resources. In the 19C, the poulation in Wales doubled due to an influx of imported (English-speaking) labour from elsewhere in the Uk.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    As a moderate person I'd say Respect works both ways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    49: NO, It’s you who's the dividing influence. I rally for unification not division and rather accepting that your culture was seeded by Anglo Normans and that the true native culture of that part of Pembrokeshire is Welsh rather than embracing a form of prejudice which is emphasising your Anglicisation through a invisible language boundary line called the lansker divide we would be united.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    27: Way back in 1936 Prince Edward VII went to Merthyr, proclaimed “this Poverty must end“ due to the depravation in a valley once coal rich, abdicated nothing was done. Wales is a Union made mess due to poor infrastructure, no control of once rich resources, no fiscal levers making us artificially dependent and is not down to the Assembly's creation. Devolution is our way out of poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Acknowledgement from a fervent Welsh nationalist that South Pembrokeshire is indeed different from the rest of Wales only makes me love this place I've lived all my life even more! but if only you fervent Welsh nats respected us and our differences like you demand the English respect you. Hypocrites the lot of you! I couldnt be more happy to be different from 'the true Welsh'

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The lame posters who spout that Devolution has made Wales a mess take note. The recent heart scandal in Leeds General, The 50M Westminster cock up on the N/W Eng rail franchise, £10M+ on millionaire Thatcher’s funeral by the Con/Dems, £15B on the Olympics “ Are you feeling the legacy?” even though Gold medallist Jessica Ennis stadium’s to closed in March. Some legacy! All in England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Talking of voices of the majority. How much of a majority voice did the No For Wales campaign have. As far as I remember they had to resort to dirty tricks to get publicised,because of so little support. The voice of the majority who voted (which is what counts) in a democratic vote? won the day twice. Three times for a Welsh man or woman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    27: If I put obstacles in your way then expected you to walk in a straight line you’d have problems doing it. Right? The Assembly although it has law making powers compared to most normal functioning nations has a ball & chain around it’s neck and it's doing it’s very best unlike you for Wales. If you want a return to Westminster rule take a train from that backwater S' Pembs and stay there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I find very ironic that all so-called Unionists favour a system that's locked Wales in a circle of poverty even though we're part of the 7th largest economy in the world? Unionism not Devolution continues to make Wales the poor man of the Europe but their thick logic is by Wales having it's nose up against The English window of prosperity it'll rub off on us clap trap. End this falsehood now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    43.John Tyler
    Very naïve to think what is happening in the rest of the UK is irrelevant.

    Wales is a mess? The whole of the UK is a mess and its not down to devolution


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