Informality breaks out as MPs and AMs talk devolution

Sometimes in Welsh politics a sentence emerges from the lips of a politician that makes the jaw drop.

"People," announced Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, "don't want to talk about the constitution on the doorstep. They don't now, they never have."

Well, not on my doorstep, where any rosette-bearing visitor can be assured of a light grilling on the Barnett formula, the d'Hondt voting system and the merits of dual candidacy.

I sometimes wonder why we don't get more visitors. Mine can't be the only home where bookshelves creak under the weight of works produced by various Welsh commissions on devolution.

But Ms Williams, giving evidence to MPs, added: "The day I knock on a door and somebody talks about constitutional reform I think I'll probably fall over."

If she's right, that does raise the question of why Welsh politicians spend so much of their working lives, in public at least, talking about constitutional reform. Even Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood said: "Generally I think people are much more concerned about bread and butter issues."

Ms Williams and Ms Wood were in Westminster to talk about constitutional reform, as MPs on the Welsh affairs committee continued their inquiry into the UK government's plans to give the Welsh government some responsibility for raising some of the money it spends - and to change (again) the voting system used for the National Assembly for Wales.

They were joined by Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies, who helpfully issued a statement last night announcing he would use the session to call (again) for the assembly to be officially renamed the Welsh parliament.

His statement pointedly praised "the hard work of the previous secretary of state (Cheryl Gillan)" while pointedly not mentioning the current occupant of the job (David Jones). An outsider might conclude that relations in Welsh Tory ranks haven't improved since last autumn's party conference. Committee members tried to highlight differences between Messrs Davies and Jones on tax rates. The former acknowledged: "There's different views in all sorts of parties".

All three leaders agreed they didn't like the UK government's insistence that any control of income tax given to the Welsh government would be accompanied by restrictions on its ability to vary rates in isolation.

Politics aside, the Welsh Lib Dem leader found the formality of Westminster a little off-putting, telling committee chair David Davies: "David, you keep calling me Miss Williams, it's making me feel very strange indeed. Kirsty would be fine."

David Davies: "I know things are done differently up here, Kirsty, but I'm trying to maintain the parliamentary traditions."

Kirsty Williams: "Maybe you just could rebel a little bit, David."

David Davies: "I don't want to end up like any members of their lordships being over-familiar but if that's an invitation to go for first names I will."

And so informality broke out, reflected in the arrival of the public seats of Tory MP Michael "My Mam's from Aberavon" Fabricant, dressed down for the occasion. Perhaps he was hoping to remain inconspicuous as he did some secret homework for his next appearance on Any Questions.