Only four months to go

The result of the general election may be unpredictable but the themes have been unsurprising in the opening days of a marathon campaign. The economy and health have dominated.

The Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb made his first set-piece speech of the year to business leaders in Cardiff.

He'd obviously been reading up on his history during the Christmas break as it was peppered with historical references.

He dismissed the "Dickensian" way that Labour "paint a picture of low pay, of unstable and short-term work, of repressive and irresponsible bosses running abusive workplaces".

He conjured up the ghost of the Rebecca riots as the "manifestation of the strong sense of economic and social justice that is hard-wired into the Welsh psyche."

And he delved into the more recent past of a decade ago by claiming that it was the Labour governments of the Blair Brown years that set the template for a British economy that sucked the talent and investment out of places like Wales and into London and the south east of England.

Economic legacies

Mr Crabb obviously feels confident about his party's economic credentials in Wales as he's prepared to talk about economic legacies.

This has been classic Labour territory in the past as it inevitably ends up with a discussion about the Conservative pit and steel plant closures of the eighties and nineties.

In terms of the future, he says it's only the Conservatives who can realign the economy, pointing to their support for a new nuclear power station on Anglesey, a new prison in Wrexham and something that will clearly be the poster boy for the Tories in the campaign: the electrification of the south Wales valleys rail network.

Labour's shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith responded by claiming that wealth doesn't trickle down under the Conservatives, and Wales will continue to fall behind if David Cameron is re-elected.

And speaking of the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron kept up his criticisms of the NHS in Wales this week.

The big difference now is that he's doing it at a time when he's facing unprecedented criticism of his running of health services in England.

Newspaper headlines

The raft of newspaper headlines about waits in accident and emergency departments in England was reminiscent of some of the recent coverage of the state of Welsh services.

In the light of both of these factors, I travelled to the minor injuries unit at Neath Port Talbot Hospital to interview the Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford.

As I travelled there I wondered how he'd respond. Would he be triumphalist? Would he at the very least be saying "I told you so"?

Behind the scenes there must surely have been a quiet satisfaction, bearing in mind the central defence of the Welsh government is that there are problems in the NHS everywhere, and not just in Wales.

As it turned out, there was nothing of the kind.

His response was a refusal to play the political game in reverse, instead admitting that the pressure on A&E units in Wales was "very real and sustained" and the problems in England could happen in Wales.

Rules of engagement

His most revealing answer came when I asked him whether the problems in the English NHS had changed the rules of engagement in the debate.

He said: "They would like to shape the debate as England being some land of milk and honey where the NHS is powering into a better future, whereas here in Wales we are trapped in some sort of backward looking model where nothing ever gets better.

"What this demonstrates is that all health services are under huge pressure."

I can think of other Labour ministers would have reacted in a more tribal way.

It could be said that doing it this way makes him look more mature and at the very least it protects him from making a comment that could blow up his face if casualty units in Wales start experiencing the kind of difficulties they are in England.

At the moment that is not happening.

One interesting question is whether the problems in England will mean that Conservative ministers at Westminster will be more reluctant to criticise the Welsh NHS over the next four months.

If this week is anything to go by then that's unlikely.