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Clegg turns his fire on Welsh Labour

The Western Mail reports that Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg came to Cardiff today and launched a strong attack on the Labour Welsh Government, accusing it of indulging in “the politics of grievance, blame and finger-pointing”.

Mr. Clegg said that Carwyn Jones’ administration was putting further devolution in danger by blaming Westminster for all of Wales’ ills while refusing to take any responsibility itself:

He told his audience: “My concern is that the process of further devolution within the United Kingdom is at risk of getting bogged down in the politics of grievance, of blame and of finger-pointing and an increasingly shrill and narrow and ungenerous approach to how the spoils are divided within a increasingly devolved union.

“If I look at the political debate here in Cardiff – and I will go a little bit party-political here – I just sometimes think, how on earth are we going to move forward in a spirit of partnership – because it has to one of partnership between Cardiff and London – if remorselessly, day in day out the sort of Pavlovian political reflex in the building [the Senedd] across there is to say ‘everything is the fault of London, we have no responsibility for anything, we should shoulder no blame for anything that occurs within Wales, and our remedy is a blank cheque from London.

“’We don’t even want to assume the powers of accountability and responsibility, tax-raising powers, which would make us accountable to the Welsh people’.

“Well, that is a grotesquely unfair caricature of persons that are held, but it’s not that unfair.

“And the reason I feel so strongly about it is that I am a federalist who believes in further devolution to Wales.”

Mr Clegg stressed he supported further powers for the National Assembly, but said that as Deputy Prime Minister and UK leader of the Liberal Democrats it was also his responsibility to sell the idea to the English.

“You can’t allow for that further experiment of devolution, that further step towards devolution, unless you maintain broad support for further devolution, not just here in Wales but also in the rest of the United Kingdom as well,” he said.

“And that is extremely difficult if it is the politics of grievance that dominates the political discourse every single term.

“And so when I consider some of the nuts and bolts – the financial issues particularly, where’s the money going, how’s the money distributed, what formula is used, what further autonomies might be delivered – and the basic opening proposition from the current Welsh administration is ‘we will only consider assuming more responsibility onto our own shoulders once we’ve first had more cheques written out to us in London’, I think, how on earth are we going to make any progress on that premise?

“Because with greater freedom and autonomy comes more accountability and responsibility. You can’t say ‘we want the cash first, write out the cheques and then we might consider whether we’ll make ourselves accountable to the Welsh people for how money is raised and spent subsequently.

“You’ve got to bring these things together. You can’t have more devolution without more accountability.

“You cannot have more freedom and identity without more responsibility. One cannot go along without the other.”

That was why, Mr Clegg said, he remained “a staunch opponent of further fiscal devolution to Wales”.

He added: “I would like to see over time Wales assume more tax-raising powers and more borrowing powers too. I think that is the inevitable destination for Wales.

“But I need to be able to make that case, and we all need to be able to make that case, not just because it’s the right thing for Wales but because it is part of a wider journey of devolution which we all believe in across the United Kingdom.

“And that is going to be difficult, as I say, if we allow the politics of blame, grievance and finger-pointing to be the prism which every single political interaction is seen.

“And I’m struck by this combination of blame being one of the key idioms in the political debate which then manifests itself in very technocratic argument, which I think leaves the public completely cold.

“So because blame and the absence of responsibility appears to be the dominant political idiom, the political class retreats into impenetrable debates about funding formulas and floors and so on which exercise the political and media class here but leave, I’d have thought, the Welsh people completely cold.”

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