Yesterday, the Western Mail's splendid David Williamson rang me to ask what I thought of Carwyn Jones' speech as he makes his move towards the 'Unionist' wing of the Labour Party. At the time, my mobile was off. I was dressed up as Santa Claus, racing around Newtown with little Ffion. No harm in ringing him back thought I. I would have said that I thought it was an acceptance by Carwyn that Huw Lewis is his greatest threat, and he was shoring up one of his vulnerable flanks. But by the time I'd returned David's call, he had interviewed Nick Bourne about the leadership of the Conservative group in the National Assembly, and asked my opinion on that instead. Now it was time for me to tread carefully, very carefully indeed.
First question was whether I thought Nick should remain leader of the group. No beating about the bush. On reflection, my answer, accurately reported in today's Western Mail is ridiculous. I said that I hoped that Nick would remain as leader until 2011. This does not make sense. No leader can fight an election on the basis that he is going to stand down after it. No, my answer must mean 'until at least 2011.' I also said that when it eventually reaches time to hold a leadership election, it would be healthy for the party if the very talented Conservative AMs elected in 2007 had greater experience, giving more choice to party members. Hopefully, reputation for safe hands intact.
And then David asked me what I thought of the furore over AMs expenses. An absolute b****y disaster is what I think. OK, so its causing some discomfort to my party at the moment, but its a cross party issue and has dealt a long-term crushing blow to the public's perception of the National Assembly. Its a personal opinion, but I thought the decision to publish the expenses on the day after the AMs had left Cardiff Bay on recess was a monumental mistake. As was the decision not to face the media to justify claims on taxpayer's money when the expenses were released. Transparency is a difficult and temperamental lady to manage - but manage her we must. Welsh democracy has paid a heavy price for not trying.
This was a general all-party point. But David wasn't letting me slip the hook so easily. He wanted to know how I thought the Conservative Party should respond to the focus there has been on us. Perhaps I'm wearing my partisan spectacles, but I do think this has lacked a bit of balance. Again I'm not at all sure that others share my view of this, but I do think there should be serious conference of senior party figures to develop a rebuttal strategy in an attempt to counter the current depressing negativity. The most damaging of issues fade over time, and its a long time until AMs are back. Personally, the idea of returning to these issues in the New Year is a depressing prospect.