Jobs on the menu as Welsh Lib Dems gather

"Jobs, jobs, jobs" was the answer I got from a Liberal Democrat adviser after asking about the theme of the spring conference in Newport this weekend.

It coincides with the increase this weekend of the income tax personal allowance to the symbolic £10,000 mark.

It has become a totemic issue for the party and a reflection, it claims, of the influence it has wielded as part of the UK coalition government with the Conservatives.

After this week's bruising encounter with the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will inevitably be promoting the importance of Europe to the Welsh economy.

The party has never had an MEP elected from Wales but I was told the recent debates have helped re-energise party members as they try to build support ahead of the Euros.

Even though he was considered to have lost, some in the party believe it was a masterstroke to have taken him on and give the Lib Dems such wide coverage over Europe.

Bidding war

Party activists see themselves as the most pro-European of the parties and, as a result, there's a point of principle with the Lib Dems on Europe that maybe you don't see elsewhere.

On devolution, we're likely to hear some of the most positive responses yet from a party leader to the recommendations made in the second part of the Silk report.

It called for the devolution of policing, some parts of the criminal justice system, and consent over large energy projects.

The spring conferences in Wales are starting to have the feel of a bidding war in the way they are responding to the Silk commission.

Last week Labour went further than it has in the past, saying that if certain conditions were met a Welsh government could have control over 15 pence in the pound of income tax, and the ability to raise the top rate.

We'll have to wait to see what the Conservatives come up with in Llangollen next week but there is something of a phoney war going on here as so much will depend on what happens in the Scottish referendum.

Disaffected supporters

But the more the parties mention the second Silk report, the less likely it is to be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

It will also be interesting to see what morale is among the troops at the University of South Wales in Newport this weekend.

There has been much talk of Labour being boosted in the general election by Lib Dem supporters who are disaffected by the party's coalition with the Conservatives.

It has three seats in Wales: Cardiff Central, Ceredigion and Brecon and Radnorshire.

Cardiff Central seems to be the most vulnerable at this stage.


In fact, in our St David's Day poll, the Liberal Democrats saw a drop of 11 points to 9%, which means it could see a majority of 13% being overturned in Cardiff Central.

The leader in Wales, Kirsty Williams, will be speaking on Sunday.

Among the areas which she is likely to touch on is the recent high-profile criticism of the Welsh government by the Conservatives and some of the London-based press.

She is uneasy with the tone of much of the coverage but accepts that on some of the key indicators on health and education, the criticism is valid.

In fact, I've just been looking at the speech she gave at the party conference in Glasgow in September.

She said: "For anyone who needs a reminder to see what Britain would look like under Labour, come to Wales. We can show you what it's like to have Labour in charge."

I think we can expect more of the same this weekend.