Welsh Conservatives stage united front over tax powers

Has the season of goodwill arrived in the Welsh Conservative Party?

A joint statement arrives in the names of "the two most senior Conservatives in Wales" - David Jones and Andrew RT Davies. The word "historic" has been used for less, given the recent spat between the two men and their entourages over a fringe appearance at the party's conference in Manchester.

Relations were not improved last week by Mr Jones's suggestion that the Conservatives would campaign for a future Welsh government to take a penny off the 20p, 40p and 45p in the pound tax rates in Wales.

That prompted an unsolicited reminder from the Davies camp that future Welsh tax rates would be set in the National Assembly for Wales and not Westminster. Oh, and cutting the 40p rate was the only "realistic" option, despite the UK government "lockstep" that would prevent changes to one tax band alone. Mr Jones and the UK government believe the "progressivity" of the tax system should be reserved to Westminster.

So today, ahead of the imminent publication of the legislation to give Wales some tax-varying powers, the two men have issued their joint statement.

In it, Mr Jones says: "In October, the UK government announced historic measures meaning that, for the first time, the Welsh government will have real accountability for spending and accompanying borrowing powers.

"Conservatives now want Wales to become a place of low tax, and I urge the Welsh government to hold a referendum on income tax powers as soon as reasonably possible and allow the Welsh people their say. The Conservative party will be campaigning for a "yes" vote and for a lower-tax Wales.

"In the next few days the government will publish the draft Wales Bill which will set out our commitment to improving Welsh democracy and giving the Welsh government the tools it needs to improve the Welsh economy.

"Whether it be the electrification of the Great Western Line, investment at Wylfa and now commitment to allow borrowing for the M4 relief road, the Conservatives are delivering for Wales."

In the same statement, Mr Davies says: ""There can be no doubt that what the UK government announced in Cardiff Bay in October was historic, and the Welsh government must work with all political parties to deliver a referendum to take place on income tax. This would allow a properly accountable and responsible devolved settlement.

"The Welsh economy has for too long lagged too far behind other parts of the UK. I want Wales to be a destination for business and for Welsh business growth. This means having a low tax economy and allowing proper competition.

"I'm proud that a Conservative-led government in Westminster has given such steadfast commitment to allowing Welsh Conservatives to deliver a low-tax Welsh economy. The Welsh Conservative group in the assembly has been committed from day one to Silk Part One [the first report from the commission on devolution in Wales] being implemented and has been working with colleagues across Whitehall to press the case.

"I will be campaigning hard for a 'double yes' vote in the coming years. 'Yes' to a referendum and 'yes' to cutting tax."

So, a united front. Up to a point. The statement makes no mention of the two leaders' differences on tax rates or the UK government's introduction of a "lockstep" that would restrict the Welsh government's room for manoeuvre when it comes to using its new powers.

But they do agree on the "double yes" strategy - a phrase used by the prime minister - of campaigning for an early referendum and a lower tax Wales. They'll be issuing joint Christmas cards next.