Politicians, percentages and making the sums add up

Politicians love numbers. The bigger the better, the more zeros the more dramatic. It helps them present increases as "massive boosts" and reductions as "savage cuts".

So if you think the Welsh government is under-funded, you will probably state the deficit as £300m rather than (the slightly less dramatic) two per cent of its £15bn budget. You will probably avoid suggesting the deficit is one per cent of overall public spending in Wales last year - almost £30bn.

If you're making a case for fairness, you'd probably stick with the numbers from the Holtham commission rather than look for updated figures that take account of public spending reductions across the UK (which means today's under-funding may well be rather less than £300m).

So the arguments raging over Welsh under-funding are - at their strongest - over one per cent of public spending in Wales - a lot of money but not a huge slice of the cake. (The NHS in Wales spends more than £6bn a year, by the way, which may be why the Welsh government chose to announce its recent increase as £425m over two years rather than in percentage terms).

All political parties in Wales argue that the Welsh government is under-funded. One of the lessons of this conference season is that no UK party is prepared - seven months before the general election - to write a cheque for what is in UK terms a trivial sum of money despite their "vow" to keep a funding formula that is generous to Scotland.

Ed Miliband told me during a conference that ruled out unfunded promises: "We'll look at the difficulties that Wales faces". First Minister Carwyn Jones said where the money comes from is "a secondary issue".

Nick Clegg told me: "We need to come up with a bespoke Wales-specific solution" and that where the money would come from is an issue that has yet to be resolved. The Lib Dem manifesto will commit the party to updating Holtham's work.

And David Cameron told my colleague Nick Servini: "There aren't plans for some huge change in the formula distribution."

It's worth reflecting on those quotes the next time you hear a politician throw warm words along the lines of "we will seeking to address" an issue.

Perhaps they're saving up their promises for grand gestures nearer polling day. Or perhaps there's no money left.