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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Wales@Westminster weblog

It's Wales@Westminster weblog, BBC Wales' Parliamentary correspondent David Cornock's diary on political life.

Friday, 22 July

Unclear blue water

posted by David | 1235 BST |

Phrases such as "huge row" are normally found in newspaper headlines. So it was something of a surprise to hear a Conservative politician volunteer those words to describe the current relationship between the party's AMs and MPs.

The Tory leader in the Welsh assembly, Nick Bourne, has been trying to ditch his party's devo-scepticism (he led the "No" campaign in the devolution referendum 8 years ago).

He has warned those who favour abolition to "stop fighting old battles". He didn't name names, but MPs David Davies and Bill Wiggin can justifiably be paranoid.

Neither Clwyd West MP David Jones nor Preseli Pembs MP Stephen Crabb is a fan of the assembly, but the MPs do not see arguments about devolution as necessarily a debate about party policy.

So what is Nick Bourne up to, creating an internal row so soon after the general election?

His strategy has raised eyebrows in Westminster and among his colleagues in Cardiff Bay. An election that saw the return of Welsh MPs to Westminster, despite the party's vote increasing by less than half a per cent across Wales.

A visit to party activists in Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire or Clwyd West is unlikely to reveal enthusiasm for the institution in Cardiff Bay.

For almost five years, Mr Bourne has been making speeches on the need for the party to become more Welsh - something of a challenge when half your general election candidates live in England.

He wants to put "clear blue water" between the Welsh Tories and their counterparts in Westminster, where the party instinctively favours cutting taxes and spending.

Mr Bourne has his eye on the Welsh assembly elections in less than two years. His theory is presumably that it is better to get internal arguments over now rather than nearer to polling day in May 2007.

He and his sidekick Jonathan Morgan hope the party will ditch its commitment to offer the people of Wales the option of abolishing the assembly through a referendum. Some of their colleagues accuse the assembly leadership of trying to tear up party policy without consulting MPs.

For all the Welsh party's think tanks, policy reviews and commissions, Conservative policy-making is something of a mystery. But it is a fair bet that the referendum promise will disappear into the ether. The approach may depend on the party's new leader, to be chosen by MPs - AMs may be consulted but no longer have a vote.

The three Welsh Conservative MPs are expected to back David Davis when Michael Howard steps down later this year. Mr Bourne has traditionally been a Kenneth Clarke supporter. That clear blue water could get choppy, particularly if the skipper in the assembly is keen to rock his own boat.


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