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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 13:55 GMT

UK Politics

GMB backs Michael

The union's support could be crucial

The last big union to declare in the Welsh Labour leadership contest has backed Welsh Secretary Alun Michael.

Welsh labour leadership contest
The General and Municipal and Boilermakers announced the result of a branch consultation ballot a day ahead of the overall result.

Mr Michael was backed by 59 branches while 43 backed his challenger Rhodri Morgan, with one abstention.

Wyre Davies in Cardiff: "An increasingly divisive battle"
The vote was verified by a team of solicitors based in Cardiff.

Speaking after the announcement Mr Michael said he was "very pleased".

He added: "I am quietly confident about tomorrow, but I'm not taking anything for granted."

Mr Morgan's campaign team say they are still expecting their man to win.

Campaign manager Kevin Brennan said: "We are predicting a photo finish with Rhodri winning by a short head."

The GMB result is a significant boost to the Welsh secretary who has already won the support of other large unions who made their decisions among only a small number of top officials.

But unions that have balloted all of their members have come out in favour of Mr Morgan, reinforcing the view he is the people's candidate.

[ image: Alun Michael: The prime minister's pick]
Alun Michael: The prime minister's pick
Despite this, Mr Michael - the preferred choice of Prime Minister Tony Blair - remains the favourite to win.

The final, overall result - declared on Saturday - will be made by an electoral college composed of politicians, unions and party members.

Mr Michael should have the votes of the majority of Welsh Labour MPs, Euro-MPs and prospective assembly candidates, plus the union block votes.

On the other side, Mr Morgan is set to clinch the overwhelming support of the 25,000 party faithful who are irked by Downing Street's apparent determination to thrust the Welsh secretary upon them.

[ image: Rhodri Morgan: Left wing of the party]
Rhodri Morgan: Left wing of the party
The Manufacturing, Science and Finance workers union voted on Thursday to support Mr Morgan in the Welsh Labour leadership bout with three-quarters of members backing the left-wing backbencher.

The individual ballot followed the three to one pattern in Mr Morgan's favour in opinion polls and full union ballots since the contest begun.

The MSF union voted 75% for Mr Morgan, with 25% for Tony Blair's preferred candidate to lead the Labour group in the Welsh Assembly.

But the GMB's decision is far more significant as it holds a 6.2% share of the overall vote.

The successful candidate would to go on to become first secretary of the Welsh Assembly if Labour wins elections to the assembly later this year.

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