Lib Dem Welsh election pledge: read all about it

With 84 days to go, you're probably wondering when election manifestos will be replacing Valentine's Day cards and Easter eggs on the shelves of your local supermarket.

Image copyright Liberal Democrats
Image caption The cover of the Welsh Liberal Democrats' 2015 manifesto

The official election campaign may still be some weeks away, but the Liberal Democrats have today tried to fill the void in your life by publishing the front page of their manifesto.

The front page is significant because it contains policies that may be considered "red lines" for post-poll coalition negotiations. The Welsh version, which I reproduce here, is slightly different from the UK version. You will notice the addition of the pledge of "A Stronger Wales" and to "Deliver Home Rule for Wales with further powers and fair funding".

What is "home rule"? It can mean different things to different parties. First Minister Carwyn Jones has called for "home rule for all" but I sense he isn't as keen on the devolution of welfare as some home rule advocates are.

On home rule, the Lib Dems say they are "the only party to make a manifesto commitment that the proposals in the Silk commission should be implemented in full".

Some might argue that "home rule" goes beyond the Silk commission's proposals and the Lib Dems say they will have "an added section consisting of a substantial list of further powers we want for Wales".

It is fair to say that the Lib Dems appear to be the only party so far to be campaigning for an increase in the number of politicians in Cardiff Bay - Silk suggested there were not enough AMs.

'Top-up' funding

What, then is "fair funding" beyond an alliterative campaign phrase (can you imagine a political party overtly campaigning for unfair funding?)

This is what the Lib Dems say: "The Liberal Democrats recognise the findings of the Holtham Commission that the current Barnett formula underfunds Wales; therefore in government the party would commission work to update the Holtham Commission's analysis.

"The party will then seek, over a parliament, to increase the Welsh block grant to an equitable level. This 'top-up' would ensure Wales receives Wales funding."

The Lib Dems - who have been in the Treasury for nearly five years - "will also immediately entrench a Barnett 'floor' so the underfunding gap could not increase". Given the Lib Dems are committed to overall spending cuts, the "Barnett floor" policy is probably a symbolic one in the short-term.

Today's publication left me nostalgic for those heady days of 2010 and sent me scurrying for my bookshelves and the 2010 version of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

You may recall this pledge: "Replace the current Barnett formula for allocating funding to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments with a new needs-based formula, to be agreed by a Finance Commission of the Nations and Regions."

Or this: "In the medium-term, our proposed Barnett formula reform is likely to increase the Welsh block grant by several hundred million pounds...."

You may also have noticed how, in government, the Liberal Democrats defended the Barnett formula in the House of Lords this week.

As with all election manifestos, do check against delivery.

MPs are about to depart for a half-term break - and so am I. They - and I - return to Westminster on February 23.

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