Top Tories fall out over TV debate

Party leaders took part in the ITV Wales election debate earlier this month Photo: ITV Cymru Wales

TV election debates often create headlines and parties often accuse each other of running scared if they don't take part, but it seems the latest debate for Wales has led to tensions at the top of the Conservative party here in Wales.

Neither the leader of the Welsh Tories in the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies, nor the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns will represent the party in tonight's BBC Wales debate. Instead the party's Education Spokesperson in the Assembly, Darren Millar will face questions at the event in Cardiff.

Mr Davies was the Conservative representative in the ITV Wales debate while Mr Cairns fielded questions for a BBC 'Ask the Leader' programme.

It's no surprise that their opponents have had a field day at the expense of the Conservatives but tensions have become clear within the party as differing explanations are offered.

Alun Cairns told BBC Radio 2 that he was never going to be involved in the debate, while a source close to the Welsh Secretary insisted that it was always the plan for Mr Millar to represent the Conservatives because Mr Davies was not available. The source highlighted the fact that the Labour representative is not the Shadow Secretary of State, Christina Rees, but Carwyn Jones who's not standing in this UK General Election.

However, a spokesperson for the Welsh Tory leader had a very different take on the situation:

With the Secretary of State unwilling to take part in the General Election debates, Andrew was more than happy to fill in – but that agreement was reached on the basis that it would be best for the party to put forward one candidate for all of the programmes.

Given that Alun was willing to take part in the Ask the Leader programmes Andrew felt that it was no longer necessary to return from celebrating his wedding anniversary to do the debate. It’s a bit of a surprise that Alun isn’t taking part tonight, but our Policy Director Darren will do a brilliant job.

– Spokesperson for Andrew RT Davies

Darren Millar can expect to face questions on the row when the BBC Wales debate takes place at 8.30 this evening.

Also involved in the debate are Labour's Carwyn Jones, Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood, UKIP's Neil Hamilton and Mark Williams for the Liberal Democrats.