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Monday, February 21, 2011

Labour hypocrisy on Barnett

This morning's Western Mail carries a damning report of Labour's hypocrisy and cant on reform of the Barnett formula, the mechanism by which it is determined how much money comes to the Welsh Assembly.

Labour AMs and MPs have been very vocal since the General Election in condemning the Coalition Government for not immediately reforming this formula so that it is based on need rather than the current population-based method. This is despite the fact that in the 13 years they were in power Labour showed no inclination whatsoever to reform the formula themselves, even in the last two years when the Holtham Commission identified that Wales was losing between £300 million and £400 million a year.

After Holtham reported key Labour figures, including Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne in February 2011, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling were still coming to Cardiff to proclaim that the Barnett formula was going to stay and that Wales benefited from it. These assertions put subsequent claims by opposition Labour politicians into context and underline the sheer opportunism of people such as Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain on this issue.

What is new is the David Laws book on the coalition discussions. He published the negotiating document that Labour tabled in the abortive talks between them and the Liberal Democrats. Those talks were abandoned when it became clear very early on that Labour were just going through the motions and were not really interested in a deal. But what is instructive is that there is no reference in the Labour offer to Barnett reform. In fact their document is almost identical to the final coalition agreement in its wording.

This is surprising in light of the claim by Peter Hain in today's paper that Barnett reform was in the Labour manifesto, except that it was not and he is misleading people. As I reported back in June 2010, the Labour manifesto commitment was not a review or even an acceptance of the Holtham Commission's conclusions, but a continuation of the vague promise of a floor that was floated by Peter Hain a year earlier and which his Government did not act on.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Labour failed to reform Barnett, they had no intention of reforming it after the General Election and that all their talk of change after they lost power is meaningless and opportunistic hot air.

Labour is out of power at Westminster, and what it says it would have done had it won power is largely irrelevant.

The Lib Dems, on the other hand, are in power at Westminster and can, with the agreement of their coalition partners, amend the Barnett Formula. As I understand it, is longstanding Lib Dem policy.

So, by all means, attempt to expose what you believe to be Labour "meaningless and opportunistic hot air". Than, once that's done I personally would be far more interested in learning what, if any plans your government has to enact your party's policy.
Adam, it is relevant when they use spurious claims of what they might have done as the basis of criticism for the coalition government.

As for what plans the government have to enact Lib Dem policy, I wish I knew.

It is not a Lib Dem government of course so that is one mitigating factor but their attitude towards Barnett reform is clearly the same Treasury-led gridlock that bedevilled Labour.

We'll have to wait and see, then. However, in the absence of a commitment to reform the formula we may be left with the slightly unedifying spectacle of Labour resisting reform while in government and advocating it while in opposition, and the Lib Dems pressing for reform while in opposition and declining to press while in government.

I doubt that the actions of either party in this area will win the approval of the voters.
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