Hard words

I'm interviewing all of the main party leaders this week for Wales Today in a variety of cafes across Wales.

I kicked things off with Labour's shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith in the baking sunshine at Barry Island.

He gave some interesting answers when I asked him whether he'd be prepared to criticise the Welsh government publicly on the delivery of public services if he felt he needed to.

Mr Smith told me: "Where there needs to be hard words there will be hard words."

The context here is important. We are coming to the end of the first parliamentary term in which there has been a Conservative-led coalition at Westminster and a Labour Welsh government in Cardiff since the start of devolution.

The relationship has at times been hostile.

Scrutiny

The Conservatives have long maintained that the criticism has brought much-needed scrutiny that was lacking when there were Labour governments on either side of the M4.

Labour of course insist the best relationship for the good of public services is one of "critical friendship" rather than "divide and rule", and that was the tone Owen Smith struck when I spoke with him although he did say those hard words would be made publicly if needs be.

Labour are also juggling with two narratives on the Welsh economy that at times appear to compete with each other.

Today was a classic example. Owen Smith was accompanied by the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves at a food bank in Barry to campaign against what they call the bedroom tax and and what they also call an explosion of zero hours contracts.

The tone and content seem very different to what Labour's First Minister Carwyn Jones talks about when he says the Welsh economy is benefiting from a devolution dividend that has resulted in record levels of inward investment.

I've put this point to both senior Labour figures and they're response is that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Inward investment

Carwyn Jones says his efforts have come despite the UK government while Owen Smith says inward investment operates against a broader environment of low wages and insecure employment.

In the sunshine of Barry Island, there were lots of smiley faces but Labour are banking on those smiles being skin-deep, while underneath it all there rests deep disquiet about the direction of the economy.

In other words, are people feeling the economic recovery? The central question of this election campaign.

Next up the Lib Dems.

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