Stake offer a huge moment in steel drama

Steel making

The offer of a 25% stake by the UK government in a rescue package for Tata's operations is a huge moment in the unfolding drama that is the steel industry.

We haven't seen state intervention like this in heavy industry since the 1970s and it's surely the clearest sign yet that the argument that steel is too strategically important to fail is winning at the highest level of government.

Throw into the mix the possibility of one of Wales' richest men, Sir Terry Matthews, throwing his lot in, and of course some of his money, into a management buy-out and I'm struggling to think of a bigger Welsh business story in recent years.

Sir Terry has already brought the Ryder Cup to Wales, could helping to save the Welsh steel industry be added to his CV as well?

Now we've had confirmation of the 25% stake, it will be fascinating to see who else can be flushed out.

I spent countless hours outside the Port Talbot plant as a business correspondent during the shake-out of steel in the recession eight years ago.

There were dramatic moments then but nothing quite like this.

The opposition parties aren't happy, but it is dominating the assembly campaign.

No-one should be surprised. Of all places in the UK, the potential end of heavy industry was always going to strike a nerve in Wales because of the demise of coal.

'Deeply unhappy'

The 25% offer will provide some relief to the Welsh Conservatives, who believe the emergence of steel is letting Carwyn Jones off the hook in defending Labour's record in power.

Their hope is that it will blunt criticism that the Tories have been slow to respond, and in effect cancel the issue out in the minds of voters.

On the subject of the Conservatives, the EU referendum is another external event that is posing problems.

I'm told David Cameron is deeply unhappy about Andrew RT Davies' support for an exit.

He wasn't at the Welsh Conservatives' manifesto launch, and it begs the question of whether we'll see the prime minister at all in the campaign.

He may not be here in person but he's still being used in their direct marketing.

I live in the highly marginal constituency of Cardiff North and am one of the thousands to have received a letter signed by David Cameron urging me not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party in order to protect the NHS in Wales.


In the meantime, Welsh Labour are unashamedly trying to copy David Cameron's general election result last year by focusing on the personality of the leaders.

They believe Cameron won because people simply couldn't envisage Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, and they're trying to do the same.

And, by the way, I'm not letting you in on some dark secret here, Carwyn Jones outlined the strategy to me during a Wales Today interview.

Labour are running a safe and totally Welsh campaign, in stark contrast to 2011 when there was a major focus on Westminster, and having to deal with "Tory cuts", which incidentally delivered their joint-best ever result.

The inevitable question is always whether Labour will be hurt by problems in the NHS?

Party officials believe the criticism peaked more than a year ago and the worst is gone, but anyone who's been listening to the Radio Wales outside broadcasts in Wrexham and Haverfordwest this week will be fully aware of how scathing many still are.


Turnout could be low, as Andrew RT Davies has warned, and that could help Plaid Cymru because historically they've been the most effective in getting their core vote out for the assembly.

Plaid don't have the challenge of defending 17 years in power, like Labour, or infighting over Europe, like the Conservatives, to have to contend with.

The latest YouGov poll put them as the second biggest party in Wales ahead of the Conservatives, which would be of huge symbolic importance if it becomes reality.

Kirsty Williams is showing her, and her party's resilience, with some solid performances in the various debates that have been held so far.

They will need all that resilience in the final stretch of the campaign to maintain a Lib Dem presence.

And then there's UKIP. Despite the chaotic infighting behind the scenes, the manifesto was above all an attempt to show they are serious about devolution, and Mark Reckless's near 50-page document largely achieved that.


A final question which I've touched on in previous blogs. Is the assembly campaign cutting through? I'm writing this from Wrexham where I've joined BBC Wales' election tour.

Virtually everyone I speak to says that having an assembly campaign running parallel with an EU referendum is a headache.

Local campaigns are more important in the assembly than in the general election because of the lower turnout, and this time round it's more important than ever before with the media spotlight so firmly set on Europe.

It's hackneyed to say that the most successful party will be the one running the best on-the-ground campaign but truer now than ever before.