New Welsh secretary a self-confessed ‘devo-sceptic’

New team, same old and tired views.

New team, same old and tired views

There will be few tears shed in Cardiff this morning at the news that the secretary of state for Wales, David Jones, has been shuffled out of the UK government.

Upon taking office in 2012, Jones declared in no uncertain terms that he was extending the Wales Office’s “fullest cooperation” with the devolved administration in Cardiff Bay “in working to improve the lives of people in Wales”.

Despite the warm words, however, David Cameron’s weekly grenades lobbed at Cardiff over the NHS, Michael Gove’s stinging attacks on the Welsh education system, as well as the spats over who would pay for an upgrade to south Wales’ railway lines, have all acted as signs that relations between London and Cardiff have been strained in recent years.

In appointing a new Welsh secretary, Cameron has the potential this morning to signal that the ‘respect’ agenda between Westminster and the devolved administrations can become a reality, however close we might now be to the general election. But the signs do not look good.

If, as is being widely reported, Jones’ deputy, the Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, takes over the top job at Gwydyr House, the respect agenda will have been all but blown out of the water given Crabb’s sceptical views on devolution as an idea.

Declaring himself an outright “devo-sceptic”, in 2007 Crabb wrote for the grassroots Conservative website,

“Over the last ten years my opposition to devolution in Scotland and Wales has been driven by a belief that, far from satisfying the nationalist tendencies in these countries, devolution would foster and feed an increasingly separatist and socialist discourse in which sensible Conservative policies that could promote national cohesion, economic liberalism and smaller government would find little oxygen for survival.

“Although other colleagues in the party have reversed their previous opposition to devolution, I maintain that the devolution experience so far has proved rather than disproved my original concerns. By giving institutional expression to the forces of separatism, devolution has given these a new lease of life.”

He continued:

“Together with uncontrolled immigration and relentless European integration, devolution has the potential to cause huge and permanent damage to our country. The United Kingdom is being slowly dismembered and hollowed-out in full view, and with the tacit consent, of the political classes.”

As David Cameron seeks to refresh and renew his top team today, such views expressed by the man now representing Wales shows that there remains widespread and ongoing concerns within Conservative circles not just about the nature but also the principle of devolution.

New team then, but same old and tired views. Perhaps that’s the best summary of today’s reshuffling.

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