Bullish talk of 'pure Welsh beef'

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies's weekly press briefings are often entertaining.

He didn't disappoint this week.

When he was asked whether the Welsh Secretary David Jones was trying to destabilise him, he said: "There is 19 stone of pure Welsh beef in front of you.

"That will take a lot of destabilising."

It all followed developments at the Welsh Affairs Select Committee last week.

It started when Mr Davies expressed opposition to some aspects of the UK government's plans to devolve powers to vary income tax, in particular the so-called "lockstep" which restricts the assembly's powers to vary the gaps between tax bands.

It means if you lower the rate for the higher rate band, you have to do it for the lower rate band as well.

The view of many is that the "lockstep" makes it too crude a device to work effectively.

In his evidence to the Committee, the Welsh Secretary claimed that the evidence given by Mr Davies was his personal view.

That was then contradicted by the Conservative group in the assembly which wrote to members of the Select Committee to complain about Mr Jones.

In his evidence to the Committee, the Welsh Secretary claimed that the evidence given by Andrew RT Davies was his personal view.

That was then contradicted by a letter from Mr Davies to members of the Select Committee in which he insisted that he was representing the view of the Assembly Group.

In his briefing this week, Mr Davies was typically bullish, saying that even though the disagreement over the "lockstep" was a flashpoint, he said you can't get a cigarette paper between the two of them on other issues.

But it's pretty remarkable how a disagreement was played out so publicly last week between a cabinet member and the leader of the main opposition group at the assembly.

And compare these comments on the issue. This is what Andrew RT Davies said at the assembly at this week's briefing on income tax policy:

"What's important is that we don't come up with mirages that don't stand up to any scrutiny at all.

"We've already had one party come up in this assembly and say that they would cut the base rate of income tax by two pence and if you actually do the sums on that it would cost you nearly £400m.

"On a Welsh budget there's no way in the world that you can afford to do such things.

"I would love to cut tax as aggressively as much as the next man or woman but you have to be sensible or the whole debate will run away and God only knows this place has had enough false starts and we don't want to make a mess of these powers should they come to Cardiff Bay."

And then compare those comments with those of David Jones in front of the committee last week when he said:

"I disagree entirely with the suggestion that the powers proposed are unusable. I think that the powers proposed are extremely desirable.

"I think it's quite possible for the Welsh government to be brave and to decide to go for a modest reduction in the rate of income tax.

"I think that would be thoroughly good for the Welsh economy, it would give Wales that little competitive advantage and I think that is what they should do."

Andrew RT Davies may describe it as a bit of political argy-bargy but it seems the two men are miles apart on this one.

Maybe some time campaigning together ahead of the general election will bring them closer together.