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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Wales@Westminster
David Cornock in the Commons
by BBC Wales's Parliamentary Correspondent David Cornock

Now that is what I call joined-up government.

Within 48 hours of the Liberal Democrats issuing a press release to announce that one of their AMs was with child, Tony Blair unveiled plans to mark the new arrival with a baby bond worth up to 500.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair baby bond vision

Conspiracy theorists may wonder if the pregnancy was part of the Lib-Lab coalition deal struck last autumn.

Such synchronicity can be rare in Welsh politics.

Events of the past week have made it clear that the relationship between the UK Government and the National Assembly for Wales will dominate the general election campaign in Wales.

First, we had the deputy prime minister calling for a review of the Barnett formula, which decides how much money the Assembly gets (18% per head more than the Government spends in England, if you believe the Treasury).

John Prescott warned that this could lead to "blood on the carpet" - although any blood spilled is likely to be his.

Twenty-four hours later, Labour MPs, with few exceptions, voted to outlaw car number plates bearing the Welsh flag.

One of John Prescott's junior Ministers, Keith Hill, told the Commons the National Assembly had been consulted.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
John Prescott issued a bloody warning

First Minister Rhodri Morgan says the government's letter was lost before the assembly could object.

This incompetence did not stop Finance Minister Edwina Hart attacking the decision endorsed by members of her own party.

So what's going on here, then?

Welsh MPs suspect Mr Prescott's agenda is to find himself a role after the general election when his huge Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is expected to be broken up.

This son of Prestatyn apparently sees his future as Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions if the Scotland and Wales Offices are merged.

Paul Murphy
Poor Paul: Mr Murphy's future in doubt

He sees his political legacy, so legend has it, as delivering devolution to the English regions - and how much easier will it be to persuade their voters to back the plans in referenda if there are financial spin-offs for these areas, largely at the expense of Scotland.

Mr Prescott's comments provoked consternation from the usual suspects.

One of the curiosities of Welsh politics is that the party that demands the greatest political autonomy, Plaid Cymru, is the one that seeks the least financial autonomy.

Plaid argue that Wales is so poor it needs more money from the British taxpayer (85% of whom live in England) but simultaneously insist that Wales breaks even financially when public spending and tax revenues are balanced.

Alas, not only did Mr Prescott not tell the Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, who was unusually left floundering in a Radio Wales interview, he also failed to tell Downing Street or the Chancellor.

And as long as Gordon Brown remains Chancellor, it is difficult to see him cutting public spending in his own Scottish constituency to increase it in Tony Blair's in the North-East of England.

Protester against GM crop trial
The assembly failed to keep Wales GM-free

Relations between John Prescott's department and the assembly have been poor for a while, particularly over GM crops.

Mr Prescott's department failed to tell the assembly in advance - although it was not required to do so - of plans to sow seeds on three Welsh sites.

The assembly, rather like those "nuclear-free" local authorities of the 1980s, has proudly voted for Wales to be GM-free.

This is rather like a mother-of-six trying to reclaim her virginity.

The first Welsh GM crops were harvested in Monmouthshire in September 1988, when Ron Davies, now an outspoken opponent of all things genetically-modified, was Secretary of State.

Clearly, losing our GM-free status was an event and not a process.

e-mail:david.cornock@bbc.co.uk

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See also:

26 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Baby bond part of new economy
26 Apr 01 | UK
Papers praise baby bonds
27 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Blair banks on baby savings scheme
24 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Review of nations' subsidies denied
24 Apr 01 | Wales
Prescott prompts funding fears
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