Davies goes on the attack as Jones faces formal inquiry over bullying allegations

ITV Wales reports that a formal inquiry into “historical allegations of Welsh Government bullying” has come a step closer this week.

A debate and vote has been scheduled to be held in the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday 29th on a motion tabled by the Welsh Conservatives, who launched their push for an inquiry a week ago. They want it to be comprised of members of the Assembly. Plaid Cymru have apparently backed earlier Tory calls for an independent figure to conduct an investigation.

Carwyn Jones has come under mounting pressure since Carl Sargeant, a former minister in his administration, hanged himself after being suspended over sexual misconduct allegations – allegations which Sargeant’s family and allies accuse the First Minister of badly mishandling, as we reported last week.

Now he faces two challenges: allegations that a ‘toxic bullying culture’ prevailed in his Government and led to ministers being bullied, and suspicions that he misled AMs when he was previously questioned about it in the Assembly chamber.

Andrew RT Davies, writing for the Institute of Welsh Affairs, sets out the case against Jones in detail as well as highlighting some of the Tories’ proposed solutions. Key to these is reform of the ministerial code so that the First Minister is no longer its ‘sole arbiter’ – a situation which, the Welsh Conservative leader rightly points out, allows him to simply ignore it.

Hammond tries to induce Stormont to reform with, you guessed it, more powers

One might not think, given the lamentable performance record of Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions, that a sober and cautious custodian of the nation’s finances would be keen to install more economic levers therein.

But if the Budget is any indication then, in this at least, Philip Hammond is a gambling man. The Times reports that the Chancellor has offered Ulster the prospect of slashing Corporation Tax to parity with the Republic of Ireland… “if a reformed executive could demonstrate sustainable finances.”

In his determination to tape the Northern Ireland Executive back together the Chancellor is at least of a mind with the Northern Irish Secretary, but he might pay more care to the more sceptical voices in Ulster itself.

Scepticism about the institutions tends to be confined to those who live under them, so it’s easy for Westminster politicians not to pick up on it, but likely due to both being owned by Johnston Press the News Letter’s Sam McBride now writes for mainland audiences in the i.

He makes a strong case that the cash-for-ash scandal suggests that there are some policy areas where the default instinct of devolved politicians to grasp for more power is fundamentally counter-productive because their smaller institutions don’t have the capacity to wield those powers effectively.

Corporation tax, McBride moots, is just such a power. Hammond, like some of the Scottish Conservatives, should be wary of tinkering with the constitution in pursuit of short-term expedients at the expense of big long-term risks.

Scottish Tories highlight positive contribution to the Budget

Ruth Davidson won the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives with fierce opposition to proposals to split it off from the national Party, and today’s Budget stories highlight the dividends of this approach.

As the Daily Telegraph notes, the Chancellor went out of his way during his speech to highlight the role the Tories’ 13 Scottish MPs had bent his ear on a range of issues and directly influenced the final proposals.

This will serve both Davidson’s interests and the Governments. Highlighting the role of Scottish MPs not only allows Davidson to illustrate how positive engagement with British institutions is the most productive way to ‘stand up for Scotland’, it’s also a handy way of putting the Government’s policies front and centre in Scottish press coverage.

Davidson enjoyed another boost this week too when she won the Herald’s Scottish Politician of the Year award for the second time for her revival of Tory fortunes north of the border. She remains the only Conservative ever to win the devolution-era prize.

Labour MP criticises the Tories for Sinn Fein not taking their seats

Since the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) lost their last seats in June’s general election, the Commons chamber has been without any formally-designated Irish nationalists.

In a long tradition, therefore, a Labour MP has stepped into the breach. Ulster-born Conor McGinn has charged the Government with failing to adequately represent Irish nationalist opinion in Parliamentary debates over the Budget.

Although he focused his fire on ministers, as if the Conservative and Unionist Party could lay its hands on many Irish nationalist MPs even if it wanted to, Sinn Fein were quick to rebuke his claim that their abstentionist stance creates a ‘democratic deficit’.

Conor Murphy, an MLA and former MP, argued that the republicans represent their constituents in other ways. He might also have told McGinn – as might the Tories – that Irish nationalists voted for Sinn Fein in full knowledge of the level of service they were getting. Or not getting, as the case may be.

What’s inexplicable is why Sinn Fein recieve a special form of Short Money, available to nobody else, for extra-Parliamentary duties. If the Chancellor is looking for ways to induce the republicans to return to Stormont, he could start by cutting that.

If you’re looking for an explanation as to why Northern Irish voters seem to be coalescing around hard-line parties I recommend this excellent piece by Newton Emerson. He sets out how Gerry Adams, with his self-exculpatory justifications for IRA violence, has hugely deepened the mental distance between Northern Ireland’s communities and sown the seeds for the next conflict.

In other Northern Irish news Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist leader and former First Minister, has attacked the Irish prime minister for ‘playing around’ with Ulster over Brexit, according to the BBC, whilst her Sinn Fein counterpart Michelle O’Neill has taken to the Guardian to revive the idea that the Tory-DUP pact jeopardises the Good Friday Agreement.