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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 15:11 GMT

UK Politics

Battle on for Welsh Labour leadership

Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan keep their distance

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

New Welsh Secretary Alun Michael is to run in the contest to become the principality's first Labour "prime minister".

Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan face each other on Newsnight
But he has failed to unite the party behind his leadership and faces a bruising battle for the job, with at least two other Labour candidates.

The election, forced on the party by the resignation of ousted minister Ron Davies, now threatens to turn into a bitter civil war within Labour.

And it could end with an embarrassing snub to the prime minister if the notoriously independent party in Wales refuses to back his candidate, Mr Michael, who had to be persuaded to stand.

Prospective Welsh Assembly Leader Alun Michael: "Let's work together"
The Welsh secretary announced his candidacy by offering an olive branch to his rivals - former contender Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Euro MP Wayne David - by suggesting they should stand as his deputies on a "team ticket."

Speaking on the site of the new assembly in Cardiff Bay, he said: "I welcome the suggestion that those of us who aspire to offer leadership should do so together.

Unity of Wales

BBC Wales Correspondent Wyre Davis assesses the current state of play in the election
"I am prepared to work with Rhodri Morgan and Wayne David if they will work with me in order to put the Labour Party's principles into practice in the assembly.

"I believe it is in the interests of the Labour Party and the unity of Wales," he said. And he described as "ridiculous" the suggestion he had been "parachuted" into the job by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

[ image: Rhodri Morgan: Rejected dream ticket]
Rhodri Morgan: Rejected dream ticket
However, he admitted that Mr Blair had encouraged him to apply for the post.

"I told him that I intended to run for the leadership of the Welsh Labour party and he gave me encouragement," Mr Michael told BBC2's Newsnight.

Mr Michael's offer of a "team ticket" was instantly rejected by Mr Morgan, who put up a stiff fight against Mr Davies in the first election for the job.

Mr Morgan made it plain he would stand again, and warned that any attempt by Downing Street to lean on people to vote for Mr Michael would be disastrous in next May's elections to the assembly.

"Any suggestion in Wales that Alun is being imposed by Downing Street would be fatal to his candidacy.

Rhodri Morgan: "It is important that this decision is made in Wales"
"Also, if he won and it was perceived he had been imposed by Downing Street, it would be fatal to Labour's chances of winning an outright majority next May."

Earlier he had underlined his determination to stand, declaring: "I wasn't a jersey warmer for Ron Davies and I am not a jersey warmer for Alun Michael."

Not enthusiastic

He also pointed out that latest opinion polls had put him on 36%, compared to just 4% for Mr Michael.

[ image: Ron Davies: Resigned as Labour's candidate for the leadership]
Ron Davies: Resigned as Labour's candidate for the leadership
There is no doubt that there is resistance in Wales to Mr Michael who was perceived not to be a natural or enthusiastic contender.

And Mr Morgan is a popular local candidate whose chances may be boosted by Mr Blair's determination not to have him at any price.

Mr Morgan is an independent-spirited maverick and it is claimed the prime minister does not trust his political judgement.

Much now hangs on the decision by a "task force" of Welsh Labour members on exactly what sort of selection procedure to adopt for the contest.

Most likely is either a straight forward, one-member-one-vote election, which could favour Mr Morgan, or a re-run of the previous system using an electoral college.

The group would be made up of local party members and trade unions and may be more susceptible to persuasion from party bosses.

The task force is due to meet on Friday to consider its options but, whatever it decides, Mr Blair is in for a rough ride during the following election.

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