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EDITIONS
Welsh Labour leadership contest Monday, 15 February, 1999, 17:24 GMT
Blair back in Wales, backing Michael
Tony Blair: "Alun Michael does a very good job"
Tony Blair has used a trip cross the border to Wales - his third visit in recent months - to once again reiterate his support for Alun Michael in the race to become Labour's Welsh leader.

But the prime minister has denied his trip was another attempt to boost the chances of Welsh Secretary Mr Michael - who has been trailing in the polls - in the leadership race.

Alun Michael: Not benefitting from Blair's backing
While visiting Duffryn High School, in Newport, Mr Blair said: "I have never hidden the fact that I believe Alun Michael does a very good job.

"The person who is going to be the leader of the Labour Party in Wales and in all likelihood will be the first minister in Wales, is the person who will be doing the job the secretary of state used to do.

"It makes perfect sense for Alun to run."

Welsh labour leadership contest
Despite Downing Street's backing, Mr Michael has failed to make a serious dent in support for backbencher Rhodri Morgan in the contest to lead the Labour group in the Welsh Assembly.

Speaking to The Western Mail on the eve of his trip, the prime minister rejected the charge that his repeat visits smacked of desperation.

Rhodri Morgan: Maintaining grassroots support
"We have the assembly elections coming up," he said. "I'm going to Scotland just as many times as I'm going to Wales.

"I'm still Wales' prime minister. I'm going to be talking about the key issues - jobs, health, education and running Wales well. I will come to Wales as often as I can."

The vote for Welsh Labour leader on 20 February will be decided on a three-way split between party members, affiliated trade unions and a group composed of prospective Welsh Assembly candidates, Welsh MEPs and MPs.

Mr Michael has won the block-vote support of a number of unions following ballots restricted to union delegates, and is thought likely to enjoy the support of the majority of assembly candidates.

But among Labour's grassroots he continues to be perceived as a relative outsider, despite his Welsh roots, being foisted on the local party by London.

As such, the prime minister has to toe a delicate line on his visits to Wales: supporting his declared choice while not appearing to be ushering him in to the job.

The site of the Welsh Assembly - as yet unfinished
During his last trip on 15 January, Mr Blair said he could not "duck the fact" that he chose Mr Michael as Welsh secretary after Ron Davies quit following a mysterious incident on London's Clapham Common.

"The person who becomes leader of the Welsh Assembly will do much the same job as he is doing now," the prime minister told a gathering of the party faithful on that occasion, with Mr Michael at his side on the podium.

This time round too Mr Michael was at his leader's side for visits to schools, a hospital, and for the unveiling of a new poster at the site of the Welsh Assembly.

See also:

15 Jan 99 | UK Politics
15 Feb 99 | UK Politics
15 Feb 99 | UK Politics
15 Feb 99 | UK Politics
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