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Welcome to Wales ...

Betsan Powys | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 30 September 2010

"Welcome to Wales" said the man in the audience in Cardiff's city hall "and greetings from my mother who voted for you ... to keep out the Tories".

Nick Clegg's relaxed smile turned into, well, a pretty relaxed grimace. He's clearly used to it. The audience in Cardiff's City Hall weren't hostile. They were pretty anxious though and passionate about the effect "your cuts" would have on "thousands of Welsh workers." The teacher was worried about her own job and her husband's, a police officer. The many students who'd come to listen to the Deputy Prime Minister were worried too. Quite a few had voted for his party in Cardiff Central and now wanted him to convince them that he'd "hold his own" against the Tories.

His message? That cuts to public spending were necessary, would hurt and that yes, it's a time of anxiety but that people should "keep the cuts in perspective. Even after all the decisions that we have to take which are difficult ones, we'll still be spending more money at the end of the period than we are now."

He wouldn't be drawn on the plans for St Athan and whether there is a 'Plan B' should the largest public investment in Wales, as it was once dubbed, is scaled down as has been suggested.

"We think we need to sort this out over the next four, five years - do it in as fair a way as possible - and on October 20th we will publish how we think we can do this.

Earlier Mr Clegg had been shown around the Assembly chamber. As he and Cheryl Gillan looked up, around, impressed, Kirsty Williams popped over to her seat to show him where she sits. There are no opposition benches in the chamber, of course but the boss' deal with David Cameron won't have done much to help her get out of that particular seat and into government.

Was it fair to say that Mr Clegg has a "blind spot for Wales"?

Not at all, he said. At least he was in the Assembly on an official visit which was more than Gordon Brown had managed when he was PM. The coalition in London was very supportive of this Assembly he said, and Wales as a whole.

How relaxed would he be, I asked the Lib Dem leader, if his party in Wales distanced themselves every so slightly from the coalition cuts over the coming months? Would he be accommodating, to give them a chance of striking a deal with Labour after May's elections?

"The assembly is its own master. Its not for politicians such as myself or Ed Milliband or David Cameron in Westminster to point a long finger at our party leaders here."

Pretty relaxed I thought. I wonder whether the party in Wales will think the same.


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