This morning, the Barnett Formula was the subject of an hour and a half's debate in Westminster Hall. I'd wanted to speak myself, but unfortunately was just not well enough to attend. Cannot shake off a bug, which includes a throat 'tickle' that stops me sleeping - and a soreness which stops me eating. The Christmas fat is falling off. But back to something more interesting - the Barnett Formula, the system by which the treasury distributes public money to the four nations which make up the UK.
The debate was secured by Andrew Selous MP, a very 'English' Englishman, and a really good man. We're used to dissatisfaction with the Barnett formula being voiced by Welsh politicians, claiming Wales to be unfairly penalised when the Treasury spending cake is being carved up. What we had today was an Engish politician pointing out that both Wales and England are penalised when this cake is divided - and that Scotland is allowed to eat too big a slice. And Andrew was being realistic about what can be achieved. We all accept that Barnett is a fairly ridiculous formula, which no longer has any credible base. We also know that it will be very difficult to come up with an acceptable successor - and that the Coalition Government will be reluctant to venture in this hornet's nest until there's some order to our public finances. So he limited himself to suggesting a start to the research work, ensuring its availability when its needed. Pragmatic and focused on delivery.
I began by referring to Andrew's 'Englishness' - for a reason. Ex-Eton, military, city and Conservative Christian fellowship. Presses all the buttons. But wait a sec.. Today, he was talking about 'need' and 'fairness' in the distribution of public money across the UK - which could benefit England and Wales, while reducing the money going to Scotland. The research would inform about the best way to change the system - in the interests of England and Wales. I know andrew and you could not meet a 'fairer' man. But this does not quite fit the normal media template in Wales. So how does BBC Wales Online report the debate. Under the headline "Devolved public spending formula 'not fair to England'. Now that's better. Fits the old template much more comfortably.