The significance of Crabb’s speech.

Daran Hill offers his analysis of the speech made by the Secretary of State for Wales today in Cardiff.

The group of people gathered to hear new Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb MP address the Institute of Welsh Affairs this morning were certainly known to each other. Many of us have spent over a decade in rooms like that discussing ideas like Barnett Reform, increasing the size of the Assembly, or a reserved powers model. Even those of us with proper day jobs are getting a bit bored of being in such gatherings.

Today on ClickonWales

This morning Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb MP, made a significant speech at an IWA event in Cardiff. The speech set out his long term vision for devolution in Wales.

To listen to IWA Director, Lee Waters’ analysis you can visit our audioboom page or click the link below.


So when Crabb said he wanted to stabilise devolution and end the preoccupation of the commentariat with process then you might have expected a sharp intake of breath from some, or a loss of personal rationale for their own existence from others. Far from it. Because in seeking to stabilise devolution and try to draw an end to the debates on process, the Secretary of State actually articulated what most of the Bay Bubble had been thinking for far too long: that a better and more stable constitutional settlement is both possible and long overdue.

In his podcast on the lecture, IWA director Lee Waters pointed to three elements of the Crabb speech which merit attention. I will confine my observations to the same three strands.

Firstly, and firmly, Crabb set out a new tone and approach to Welsh politics from his party. His four months in post have been more realistic, articulate and progressive than the four years which preceded it and, in that, struck a real chord. Reading the speech you see a pragmatic thread shine through. The use of language is careful and meaningful, as are the examples of settling issues which he cites.

In accepting the reserved powers model as a natural way forward he thereby completely rejected the unblinking dogmatism of his predecessor David Jones. Those of us who sat through Jones’ speech to the Wales Governance Centre as Secretary of State for Wales eighteen months ago, where he rejected a reserved powers model on the flimsiest of grounds ever before Silk had completed its work on the matter, noted the contrast.

Because, as Lee said in examining the content of the speech, the second stand out feature was that it marked a firm and radical direction for the Welsh Conservatives. He analysed that it was all part of a new detoxification of the brand and that “you can tell there is now a political project going on”. He was right to point back to the Nick Bourne days as being the start of this process. But there is more to it than that. Bourne undertook a revolution within his Assembly group that only partially cut through to Westminster MPs. Crabb has led the change from the front at the London and, arguably for the first time, ensured the whole party is now at all levels of representation is united in a new consensus. That consensus is not just that the Assembly is here to stay but that the Assembly’s powers should actually grow.

Indeed, consensus was the keyword in Crabb’s approach, and Lee is also right in singling out the third essential aspect of the speech as the bold attempt to forge a cross party consensus over which powers should now be devolved. It was, notwithstanding an ambitious timetable which peaks at March 1st 2015, an attempt to create what the Secretary of State himself saw as a “clear, robust and lasting devolution settlement for Wales.”

The fact that it is a Conservative Secretary of State that is seeking this consensus, leading his own party forward, and framing it in the most progressive terms is spectacularly noteworthy. The first fifteen years of devolution have been characterised as Labour’s fixes to the constitutional bandwagon.

Under Stephen Crabb we see for the first time a non-Labour figure at Westminster who is able, willing and ready not just to articulate where the end of the journey should be but who is prepared to drive speedily and purposefully but carefully to get there.

It was the change of colours of the driver of the devolution process that was perhaps the most significant thing that happened in a room of people who perhaps left today feeling a lot less tired, jaded and cynical than when they arrived.

Daran Hill is MD of Positif. Lee Waters is Director of the IWA.

16 thoughts on “The significance of Crabb’s speech.

  1. Another extremely significant aspect of this speech (or the response to questions after it to be more precise) is the exclusion of policing, legal jurisdiction and criminal justice from the March 1st negotiation process. There can be no hope of a settlement ‘to last a generation’ with that elephant still lurking about at the back of the room.

    It may well be too big a beast to tame at this time, but let’s not delude ourselves therefore with premature, congratulatory, rhetoric of ‘closure’ and ‘end of the line’ settlements whilst that question remains unresolved. Unless, of course, there are still people out there who believe a unitary England & Wales legal system will be a feasible proposition in say 5 or 10 years? Or that the Supreme Court ruling that criminal law is, in fact, not currently ‘reserved’ in its entirety to Westminster can be neatly ‘undone’ during the process of establishing the reserved powers model? I have no doubt whatsoever that the Wales Office’s Damascene conversion to reserved powers has an awful lot to do with the latter, but I do hope they don’t think that their ‘tidying up’ exercise over the next few months will take away the question for good…

  2. The tone of Stephen Crabb’s address is certainly a welcome change to that of his predecessor. But bear in mind that the ground is shifting under his feet. The Scottish referendum means that Unionist politicians can no longer dig their heels in and resist the tide of history.

    The proposals of the Smith Commission to be published in the New Year will mark an attempt to persuade Scots to stay in the Union in the face of the wishes of a majority of those under 55 to become an independent country. It will try to deliver what Gordon Brown termed real home rule. Events in Scotland are creating facts on the ground which render much of the work of the Silk Commission outdated.

    I doubt whether even now Tory and Labour MPs realise it, but in the long run Wales will not settle for second best. Any attempt to fob us off with less than Scotland is certain to backfire.

  3. Politics can certainly wear you down.

    Stephen Crabb clearly belongs to the old one nation Tory tradition which doesn’t have too bad a record in Wales. Peter Walker pursued a one nation agenda, being as he was a founder member of the Tory Reform Group, when he was Secretary of State for Wales between 1987 and 1990. Having succeeded the arch-Thatcherite Nicholas Edwards, I believe I’m right in saying that Walker was seen as a bit of a relief from the relentless Thatcherite policies that his predecessor stood for and carried out. Any comparison between David Jones and Stephen Crabb is, of course, purely coincidental.

    Whether Stephen Crabb succeeds in his aim, we wait to see. But the space created in which such a dialogue can take place has come about because of the implosion taking place at Westminster and in Home Counties politics, exacerbated by the Scottish referendum result. For all the talk about parity with Scotland, the comparison between the SNP seeking to establish a social democratic nation and a Welsh all-party agreement where we can agree on the next step is stark. It shows up what little leverage we have that further powers are not really a hotly debated topic. The only argument we are likely to witness is between Stephen Crabb and Carwyn Jones over £300m, though Jenny Randerson has recently stated that that particular fox has since been shot.

    That said, it is now time to move on and address the poor economic performance of Wales despite our having had control over economic development for the last 15 years, it is time to address the issue of what responsibility the Assembly will have for taxation and paying for what we spend and it is also time to address the issue of how an independent judiciary will develop in Wales, independent of the legislature of course, but there are also questions of the degree of independence from the English judiciary, though undoubtedly it will come under the Supreme Court in London.

    But before all of that, we can still linger a little longer as we watch events unfold on the night of 7th May 2015 when I believe we will finally see the death of Westminster as we know it. How many seats will the SNP win, how many seats will UKIP win, will the two major parties manage to get above 60% of the vote between them? There is a great deal to be enjoyed still before we start to seriously confront the issues that have troubled Wales for decades and continue to do so.

    Whether we can come up with solutions that are better than those previously offered by Westminster remains to be seen. Current economic performance indicates that we are not much further on than pre-Assembly days. All of this depends on the issue of what kind of society we want to have in Wales. I’m not sure that that debate has even begun.

  4. Hail Stephen Crabb and the Tories, I say. Nice to see some conversion, but it also highlights Labour’s lack of real progress, and ambition. The Tories have always been far more pragmatic British nationalists than Labour. They understand that to preserve the Union, and uphold British nationalist ideology, you have to move once you get to the tipping point. Labour don’t get that, and it is evident that their Unionism and British nationalism is far less flexible, and more sectarian in nature. Good on you Stephen for this address. Now let us see some real action towards treating Wales like a grown-up nation.

  5. Yes, a welcome tone from Mr Crabb (he himself is a far more rounded and interesting person than the habitual anti-Tories would think) but there isn’t much new here is there.

    No policing, legal jurisdiction and criminal justice from the March 1st negotiation process means no significant developments. So, again Wales is just a ‘part of Realme of England’ as the 1536 Acts of Wales state.

    Yet another poll (which BBC Wales refused to report) this time last week, point to a majority wanting (or at least willing if someone what’s to give a less pro-active spin to it) on more powers for Wales. From other polling these include things like Police and Judiciary.

    So, this ‘family of nations’ thing isn’t real is it? Wales isn’t seen nor treated as a nation only a little child who can’t be trusted without Westminister as Nanny.

  6. With all due respect Lee, Welsh devolution journey to ‘More Devolution’ is a hobby horse of a vociferous minority with the Celtic roots (including their language) and related mind-set.

    The vast majority of us ‘Mongrels’ in Wales see the last 15 years as an utter and absolute disaster and the majority is being denied a voice in the Welsh media – The media that appears afraid of voicing alternative vision or is singularly committed to hiding the real truth what the last 15 years was and is about!?

  7. To argue that we should all get excited because Crabb is an improvement on David Jones ain’t saying much. A few comments have already drawn attention to Scotland, so let me do the same.

    One commentator I read said the theme running through Alex Salmond’s farewell speech in Perth was taken from W B Yeats’ poem ‘Easter 1916’, which of course contains the famous lines, ‘All changed, changed utterly; A terrible beauty is born’. Apt, even though Scotland is heading for the same destination as Ireland by a different route.

    The politics of the UK is in a state of unprecedented flux, the established Westminster parties are discredited and distrusted as never before, England is moving inexorably to the Right, Scotland will, by one route or another, be independent within a decade . . . so Wales must be secured.

    Put into that context, there’s little to applaud in Crabb’s speech It can be viewed as nothing more than a desperate attempt by the Westminster establishment to hang on to something when it’s all falling apart. Probably no more than David Jones would have said in the circumstances.

  8. Any indication of how many fewer MPs the Conservatives wish Wales to send to Westminster as the quid pro quo for them granting this increase in powers to the Welsh Assembly?

  9. I wonder what the members/voters who support the Conservative Party think of this further ‘drift’ to the margins of UK,particularly as the ‘costs’ have not yet been explained in any detail. The welsh nationalists have been very clever in using ‘polling’ to push its agenda forward,particularly as the questions are ‘loaded’ in one direction. There is no doubt that the UK as in institution is under great threat from a)European integrationists,b)Scottish/welsh nationalists,and media in latter region!!.A full and frank discussion is needed as to the real costs/benefit of further devolution,particularly as the English aint going to let us have a)over representation in Parliament,b)English money to fund lifestyle we do not earn in near future.There can be no doubt that the a)welsh speaking ‘elite’,b)average welsh politicians,c)welshmedia and in particular BBC Wales have benefitted from ‘devolution’,however can any one inform me where the ‘average’ person like myself has benefitted in any way shape or form.The huge sums of public money from a)Westminster,b)Europe,funded mainly by german/English/dutch taxpayers has been ‘wasted’ on pet schemes,and now cuts to public services only starting to affect ordinary people.

  10. “Scotland will, by one route or another, be independent within a decade ”

    this website is descending into cloud cuckoo land! A hangout for the deluded.

    Would you be willing to place a large bet on that Mr Jones? or are you all mouth and no trousers like most Welsh nationalists.

  11. Click on wales comments section appears to be some sort of parallel universe in which Scotland won the independence referendum and Plaid Cymru aren’t the pitiful 3rd most voted for party in Wales.

    I mean honestly… 3rd most popular! Behind even the dreaded Welsh Conservatives!! and the fervent here speak as though we’re on the cusp of a revolution. Coming behind the conservatives in Wales is like polling less than the Republicans in 1960’s San Francisco… irrelevant

  12. @ SeaMôr Bytts

    One of the purposes of political analysis is to determine the dynamics at work at any given time in any given situation. So let’s agree on one thing, the Yes campaign lost the referendum vote. What makes this a paradox is the fact that a recent Ipsos Mori poll, i.e. post-referendum, showed support for the SNP on 52% and Labour on 23%. Another recent poll, this time conducted by YouGov shows the SNP on 43% and Labour on 27%. It is difficult to know how to explain the disparity between the polls. But both show a substantial lead for the SNP over Labour which could lead to a considerable loss of seats for Labour at the next general election; there is talk of Labour losing some 20 seats.

    In addition, SNP membership has tripled to 80,000 in the space of two months.

    So given you think that we live in a parallel universe, what is your interpretation of the data?

  13. I am fascinated by SMB’s remarks. I was under the impression that Crabb is our Minister and therefore a Conservative. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  14. Every poll and every pollster on matters Scotland will confirm that the popularity of the SNP is due to its policies on council tax increases or lack thereof.

    Rhobat Bryn Jones should advise the folks in Plaid Cymru to do likewise. It might make all the difference.

  15. You flatter me, Karen. I am not a member of Plaid Cymru and therefore have no influence with that party or any other.

  16. Sadly Plaid squandered the opportunity the electorate gave the Party at the Assembly’s inception, when they gained 17 AMs. In my opinion, there were two factors at play. Second rate leadership, lacking charisma, under IWJ, and the strategic error of coalition with Labour, with little gain, as the law-making powers have proved to be weak. Plaid hasn’t yet managed to recover from those mistakes.

    Furthermore the party has still not distanced itself sufficiently from Labour, which it has to defeat electorally sooner or later.

    Support for Labour has proved to be the most damaging in the history of modern Wales, as the party has no self-interest in improving the lot of the population, since their electoral support depends of Wales’ weaknesses rather than its strengths. The consensual politics of the Assembly only results in marginal benefits for Wales. There have been three Commissions in its short history, whose fundamental recommendations have largely been ignored. Even Silk 2’s firm recommendation of devolving policing is not being seriously considered. At that pace it will take a century for Wales to reach parity with the Scottish Parliament of 1999.

    Yet without real powers Wales’ decline into poverty will continue. Labour has no interest in devolving those powers as it would be damaging to its electoral interests at Westminster. Only a resurgent Plaid Cymru can force the issue. Regrettably I haven’t yet seen sufficient resolve among its leaders to drive the party forward.

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