The 'War on Wales' - news from the trenches

Greetings from the frontline of what Labour has designated the "war on Wales", which probably makes me a war correspondent.

Here's a despatch from last night's House of Lords battle, sorry debate. The "war on Wales" phrase is now routinely dropped in to Labour press releases, speeches, statements and possibly everyday conversations in Welsh Labour circles. Alliteration has a lot to answer for.

Labour peer Baroness (Eluned) Morgan of Ely used a short debate on the Welsh economy to accuse the Conservatives of - you guessed it - "declaring war on Wales".

Her on-message slogan was challenged by Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford: "What does the noble Baroness mean by a war on Wales? Who is supposed to be waging a war on Wales?"

Lady Morgan gave her defence: "It is pretty clear that there have been attacks and noises coming from Ministers, such as Grant Shapps, for example, who visited Wales and said that the Government are using Wales as a battering ram ready for the next general election."

She asked Wales Office Minister Lady Randerson "to stop the war on Wales and engage in more constructive politics with the Welsh Government. England could learn from Wales on the economy; and, yes, on aspects of education and health, Wales could and should learn from England".

Lady Randerson told her: "Scrutiny is not war, nor is criticism. With government comes responsibility—the responsibility to deliver. One must not confuse wanting the best for Wales, pointing out where there are problems, with talking Wales down. It is important that the Labour government in Wales take that scrutiny on the chin, if I may put it that way, and accept that they have to take responsibility."

Lord Thomas of Gresford raised criticisms of the Welsh government's record on health and education: "What was the first minister's answer to these criticisms? To declare that any criticism of his government was the work of a Tory elite waging war on Wales. Labour, he said, was on the front line of the war on Wales. How pathetic is that, and how disappointing to hear that empty rhetoric, that newspaper headline, being used in this House? I have to say that it causes me great dismay."

Former Welsh Tory leader Lord Bourne pitched in: "It has not been a question of waging war on Wales; I do not recognise that. That is certainly not the way in which the prime minister and the chancellor have approached Welsh issues."

The phrase, first coined by shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, appears to have galvanised party activists. Labour is not the first party to have tried to win votes by claiming Wales is being victimised by cruel London governments. It may work as rhetoric, but how do we know when the war is over, when one side has won?

Cross-bench peer Lord Rowe-Beddoe said: "War has a few outcomes: victory or defeat. Do we want to have war? Would it not be better to have a truce and move towards real partnership—partnership between Cardiff and London?"

You can read last night's debate here. Flak jackets optional.