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David Cameron, Politics, Welsh Government

Cameron, Council Tax and Cardiff Bay

David Cameron made his thoughts clear when I interviewed him earlier: the Welsh Government ‘should’ freeze council tax.

But that was his second answer. He first said, ‘I hope they will.’

And that hesitation gets to the heart of this row which is that, whatever the Prime Minister says, devolution means that it’s up to the Welsh Government to decide how it’ll spend the money it gets as a result of today’s English council tax move.

Welsh Finance minister Jane Hutt said she would look at how much money was going to Cardiff and would take soundings from local government colleagues, but underlined the fact that it was up to ministers in Cardiff to decide.

Privately Welsh Government sources are more angry, particularly because the move was announced here at the Tory conference without any official confirmation about how much money would be passed to Wales.

One source hinted that that might be a breach of the ministerial code.

None of that stopped the PM and Welsh Conservative leaders making it a political issue today.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, her deputy David Jones and the leader of the Assembly group, Andrew RT Davies all said the freeze should happen in Wales.

And they made it part of an overarching narrative summed up when David Cameron talked to me about what he called ‘baffling’ decisions by Labour in Wales, citing health spending and a decision not to introduce the so-called pupil premium in Wales.

That narrative portrays a Labour Government reluctant to introduce or refusing to adopt reasonable policies for political reasons.

It’s what Andrew RT Davies warned could cause a crisis of devolution if it persisted.

As you’d expect the Labour version of events is completely different. As we heard in Liverpool last week, Labour insists that in government in Wales it’s showing that there is a different way of doing things.

But I wonder if we should see attacks from both the big UK parties as forming another narrative.

I think that, if you take away the anger and talk of regret at a lack of promised respect between the two governments it rather suits the Conservatives and Labour to be seen as such stark alternatives when it comes to Wales.

Since last May a number of people in those parties have said to me privately that Wales is ‘returning’ to two-party politics.

That may be their hope but there are four parties active in Wales and the checks and balances brought by the pluralism Welsh politics has seen over the last twelve years have been considered by many to be one of its strengths.

And Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats may have been weakened after May’s election but you can guarantee they will do all they can to make sure four-party politics remains in Cardiff Bay.

And that means they have to make sure the narratives of the Big Two don’t become the only stories in Welsh politics.

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About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.

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