"Unforeseeable" event puts spoke in ministerial visit

As ministerial assignments go, it could have been a lot worse.

Wales Office Minister Stephen Crabb was due to spend tomorrow promoting tourism by visiting BikePark Wales and The Welsh Whisky Company.

Sadly, we are told that due to "unforeseeable parliamentary business" those visits have been cancelled. So what could this "unforeseeable parliamentary business" be? Angela Merkel's visit, perhaps? No, that had been in the diary for some time.

The "unforeseeable parliamentary business" is apparently the annual meeting between Conservative members of the National Assembly for Wales and the prime minister. "Unforeseeable?" That, too, had been arranged some time ago for the assembly half-term recess and is an annual event.

What may (arguably) have been less "foreseeable" was the recent Welsh Tory strife over devolution. MPs do not normally attend the AMs' away day with the PM but both Mr Crabb and Secretary of State David Jones will be at the meeting. With European elections in May, Welsh Tory MEP Kay Swimburne has also been invited.

At a wild guess, they won't spend the whole meeting discussing the finer details of European policy. The advance choreography for the meeting suggests there's some concern inside Downing Street about the loss of four AMs on an issue that has little resonance with voters. Apparently, there's also puzzlement that relations among the Welsh Tories appear to be so much worse than among their Scottish counterparts, despite the former having enjoyed rather more electoral success in recent years.

The tensions shouldn't be news to Downing Street. Last year, one senior prime ministerial aide had to spend the eve of the prime minister's party conference speech sorting out a Welsh dispute over seating and speaking arrangements at what turned out to be a sparsely-attended fringe meeting.

All sides will be hoping to find a direction in which the Welsh Tories, in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay, can unite, although with some of the tensions down more to personality clashes than differences over fiscal devolution that may prove a challenge.

But you never know. If the Tories can put their differences behind them for the duration of the European election campaign, Mr Crabb may be able to reschedule his tourism-boasting visit for the Whitsun half-term break.