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Welsh Labour leadership contest Monday, 15 February, 1999, 17:20 GMT
Union backs Welsh secretary
Alun Michael (left) and Rhodri Morgan: Tense battle
The Welsh Secretary, Alun Michael, has won the support of giant the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) - a boost to his bid to become the Labour leader of the National Assembly for Wales.

At a conference in Swansea, 60% of the 72 union delegates backed Mr Michael compared to 40% for his rival, Cardiff West MP Rhodri Morgan.

Mr Michael's victory may prove a crucial pointer to the final result in the contest on 20 February when Labour's 25,000 members in Wales, unions, MPs and selected assembly candidates will make their choice.

After the result came through Mr Morgan hinted that Downing Street put pressure on the union to back Mr Michael, Tony Blair's favoured candidate.

Welsh labour leadership contest
"The establishment obviously wants Alun and the grassroots want me. It's as simple as that. So those 72 people today had to balance those two pressure out. The balance went against me," Mr Morgan told BBC News 24.

He said that he never expected to win this vote and is relying on the support of MPs and other unions.

'New energy to Wales'

Earlier, the Welsh secretary told delegates he had proven leadership skills which would deliver more to the assembly.

"I think I can claim to be a leader," he said. "By doing so I believe I am bringing new energy to politics in Wales."

Morgan: Failed bid
Mr Morgan stressed his commitment to the Welsh assembly, and said people were responding to that.

"They know that I am 100% committed," he said. "I am transferring my political career, subject to the electors of Cardiff West, to Wales from Westminster."

"I think things have changed over the last few months," a confident Mr Michael told BBC Radio 4's Today programme hours before the vote.

"As we enter a New Year, people are looking around and asking the question that really matters - who will be the best person to lead the assembly?"

Mr Morgan complained that the full weight of the government had swung behind his rival, who he said had more to lose from the AEEU vote.

"I think Alun is probably more dependent on the trade union votes than I am because my lead is massive, as far as we can tell, amongst the ordinary party members."

AEEU leader Ken Jackson, who did not advise members which way to vote, nevertheless hinted that he would back Mr Michael.

"I think they should elect the person who is in the best interests of Wales, the best interests of the Labour party, and they shouldn't use this as a protest vote. It's far too important."

Postal hope

With the AEEU behind Mr Michael, Mr Morgan will pin his hopes on Unison, the public services union which is sending its entire 53,000-strong Welsh membership voting papers on Monday.

Unison is the biggest union in Wales to back a ballot rather than merely "consult'' its membership and then cast a block vote.

Unison's Welsh regional secretary, Derek Gregory, said the contest was still open.

"Clearly, in the next two weeks, what the two candidates say publicly regarding public services would be quite crucial to the way our members will decide to vote."

Leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union are expected to back Mr Michael, as they backed former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies.

The TGWU's Welsh leader George Wright has defended his union's decision not to hold a one-member-one-vote ballot, insisting there would be widespread consultation.

He pointed out that this was a second contest, and - without naming him - criticised Mr Morgan for wanting to change the rules.

A full ballot would cost 32,000, a figure which Mr Wright said would represent "putting your hands into the workers' pockets and taking their money".

BBC's Vaughan Roderick: The Welsh secretary needs the support of union block votes
BBC Wales correspondent Wyre Davies talks to BBC Radio 5 Live
Alun Michael says he has proven leadership skills
BBC Wales correspondent Wyre Davis: "As it is, Mr Michael's victory very much keeps the battle alive"
Rhodri Morgan says he has grass roots support
BBC Wales correspondent Wyre Davis talks to BBC News 24 about what Mr Michael and Mr Morgan have said
Rhodri Morgan talks to Wyre Davis about the vote result
See also:

14 Dec 98 | UK Politics
15 Jan 99 | UK Politics
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