My former office in the Commons, perched above St Stephen’s entrance, was placed next door to a larger room – nicely decorated with Derry Irvine-style wallpaper. For reasons best known to the whips, they put the then three Conservative MPs from Wales in it, together with Daniel Kawczynski (who writes on this site this morning), presumably on the ground that his Shrewsbury constituency was as near the land of my fathers as to make no difference.
David T.C Davies was energetic, right-wing and, splendidly, a special constable. David Jones was quietly Christian, witty (he is well worth a follow on Twitter) and magnificently sceptical about devolution. The third Welsh MP was Stephen Crabb.
Crabb succeeded Jones as Welsh Secretary at the last reshuffle. He has a big day today: the Government is announcing more powers and money for Wales, whose Conservative MPs are very sensitive to the way in which the Barnett Formula better provides for Scotland (see Guto Bebb’s piece for this site on the matter).
The announcement, like George Osborne’s bold health initiative in Manchester, raises new questions about the post-Scottish referendum constitutional settlement throughout the UK. But it also draws attention to Crabb’s rise as a force in Wales and, to some degree, within Cabinet and the wider Party too.
Unusually in senior Conservative ranks, Crabb was brought up on a council estate by a single mother – and is prepared to talk about the experience, as a interview with him by Paul Waugh for the latest edition of the House Magazine shows. And he has evidently decided to bring an accessible, open door, man-of-the-people style to the post he now occupies.
He swiftly dispensed with the official car that comes with it. He let it be known that he was open to greater powers for the Welsh Assembly – part of the reason why he won a Welsh Politician Of The Year award in 2014. This is the consensus view within the Conservative group that makes the Assembly up.
The group has had its troubles and differences, but David Cameron tends to be guided by its pro-devolution sentiment, rather than the devolution-sceptic view of some of the Welsh Tory MPs. For this reason and others, Crabb is the man for him. The newish Welsh Secretary works closely with Downing Street.
Crabb must thus balance keeping MPs and Assembly members onside at once, and attacking Labour’s dire record in Wales, particularly on health and education, without being seen to criticise Wales itself – which Labour accuse Conservatives of doing (by way of their counter-attack).
This is a charge to which Crabb is sensitive, and one of his duties, as he sees it, is to head off his English colleagues from attacks on Labour that run a real risk of being twisted into counter-Tory propaganda. And all the while he must strive to ensure that the Conservatives at least hold on to their eight Westminster seats in Wales – if not improve on that total.
But while Crabb is trusted in Downing Street, he is no catspaw. Like Jones, he voted against same-sex marriage, though he clearly didn’t have his card marked in consequence. Like his predecessor, he is a Christian, and from the social justice wing of the party – the ideal comes up in the interview.
“The Conservative movement is a movement for social renewal,” he tells Waugh, citing Thatcher’s Right to Buy, Shaftesbury’s factory reforms and Wilberforce abolishing slavery. Crabb also led Project Umubano for many years – the main Conservative social action project abroad – writing about it repeatedly on this site.
It is claimed this morning that the Welsh Secretary “overcame Whitehall resistance” to get more money for Wales, and that he “turned to a leading Tory statesman, William Hague, for advice and support to help crush any Whitehall barriers put in his path”.
What can certainly be said is that Crabb won’t be displeased to read such reports – and that Hague, along with many of his predecessors as Welsh Secretary, is praised by him in the interview (John Redwood being a notable exception). His Pemrokeshire seat is not super-safe, but if he survives the election, as he is expected to, he may eventually gain a non-Welsh Cabinet post.
This would be unusual for a Cabinet-level Conservative politician with a Welsh constituency – indeed, unknown in recent years. I suspect that, given his emphatic support for the 0.7 per cent target, Crabb would fancy a pop at international development.