Manifesto muddies the clear blue water over funding

David Cameron and Nick Clegg
Image caption David Cameron and Nick Clegg in happier times.

It left their Liberal Democrat coalition partners spluttering on their home-made muesli.

Tuesday's Conservative manifesto promise on Welsh funding will have surprised a few Conservatives too.

Can it really be less than two months since David Cameron and Nick Clegg played the Millennium Stadium to announce the St David's Day agreement.?

You'll remember the St David's Day agreement, the one that said there would be an "expectation" (but not a requirement) that the Welsh government would hold a referendum to gain income tax powers. You may also remember some of the negotiations in the week leading up to it.

Tuesday's manifesto said this: "We will introduce a 'funding floor' to protect Welsh relative funding and provide certainty for the Welsh government to plan for the future,

Once? Once? You don't need a degree in linguistics to spot the difference. It looked to be a pretty explicit requirement that Wales would not get "fair funding" until the Welsh government called a vote it doesn't want to hold any time soon.

Apparently, "inexact" language was to blame. A Welsh Conservatives spokesperson said: "The funding floor for Wales is not contingent on an income tax referendum. Our UK manifesto makes clear our expectation that the Welsh assembly will hold a referendum on income tax raising powers early in the next parliament."

That explanation appears to be the political equivalent of the argument over whether that dress is blue and black or white and gold.

The Tories let Craig Williams explain things further on Radio Wales: "It has always been an expectation...there was an expectation when introducing the funding floor to work with the Welsh government.

"I think once the Welsh Conservative manifesto is out it will be clear but it is great to see a major party talking about fair funding for Wales."

As I may have mentioned before, the three main UK-wide parties are all in favour of "fair funding" - they just disagree over its definition.

George Osborne has suggested his definition of "fair funding" would be a maximum 116% of spending per head in England - the Tories say it's currently 115%.

So if the manifesto is to be taken at face value, the Welsh government are being offered a maximum one percentage point increase in spending relative to England - if they hold a referendum.

If the Welsh government seizes that offer with gratitude, I'll probably choke on my own porridge.

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