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Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Published at 19:34 GMT

UK Politics

Davies' political career in tatters

Ron Davies: The end of a highly successful career

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

The political career of former Welsh secretary Ron Davies is in tatters after he confessed to a serious "error of judgement" with a stranger on London's infamous Clapham Common.

His cabinet ambitions are finished, almost certainly for good, and his hopes of becoming the first-ever First Minister for Wales have been dashed.

The government has adamantly denied that Mr Davies had been looking for gay sex, but the incident has deeply embarrassed the prime minister who immediately accepted the resignation.

It has also landed him with the major problem of finding a replacement candidate for the job as First Minister for Wales in the elections to the assembly next year.

Mr Davies has refused to be drawn into questions about his position as Labour's chosen candidate for the post, insisting his resignation from the cabinet was "enough for one day". But it is inconceivable that he will hang on.

The Welsh Labour party is now left in utter shambles in the run up to next summer's historic elections to its first assembly.

There is not a single candidate in place to fight the poll - thanks to problems surrounding the "twinning" system which is aimed ensuring an equal number of men and women contest seats.

And with Mr Davies' resignation, the leadership will have to scramble around to find another suitable candidate.

[ image: Rhodri Morgan: Lost candidacy battle]
Rhodri Morgan: Lost candidacy battle
Many admirers

Mr Davies faced a serious challenge from backbencher Rhodri Morgan during the internal Labour selection for the job earlier this year and Mr Blair will have to find an equally high-profile candidate to supersede him.

Mr Davies was credited with winning the day for the government during the knife-edge referendum on the creation of the Welsh assembly.

He won many admirers, even from opposition parties, for the way he handled himself and piloted through Welsh devolution in the face of fierce opposition.

The speculation in Westminster was that the entire selection procedure would now have to be held again, opening up the prospect of another serious challenge to the "chosen" candidate.

Mr Blair moved instantly to tackle the crisis by appointing Home Office minister Alun Michael to the job of Welsh Secretary.

Sufficiently grievous

But Mr Davies' admission that his error of judgement was "sufficiently grievous" to warrant instant resignation has left many questions unanswered and it is inconceivable that the matter will simply go away.

MPs on all sides were astonished by the revelation about the behaviour of the front bencher.

One said: "What on earth would anyone, let alone a cabinet minister, be thinking of to be engaged by a strange man on Clapham Common at that time of night - let alone allowing him into his car?"

And the whole of Westminster was buzzing with rumours and gossip about the incident.

Most agreed that his official statement about the incident appeared "bizarre" and that simply being the victim of a crime was not normally enough to warrant resignation.

Mr Morgan said he was left "reeling" by the shock announcement and was not even considering his position with regard to the assembly.

The Tories, who were embroiled in sleaze allegations before the election, were careful not to stoke up the speculation surrounding the incident.

Tory spokesman Liam Fox said "we should not be in the business of condemning individuals because of what they do in their private lives."

But he also called on the prime minister to clarify the details surrounding the incident.

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