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Saturday, February 20, 1999 Published at 09:53 GMT


UK Politics

Welsh contest down to the wire

Michael's election could spark bitterness


To watch the BBC's live coverage of the ballot result, select a link below.

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By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Despite Tony Blair's best efforts, the race for the Labour leader of the Welsh assembly is still likely to be a close run contest.

The outcome of the ballot, sparked by the resignation of Ron Davies last year, will be announced at 1100 GMT on Saturday.

Welsh labour leadership contest
The powerful GMB union handed Mr Blair's chosen candidate, Welsh Secretary Alun Michael, an 11th hour boost by throwing its weight behind him.

But even with all the big unions now on message, contender Rhodri Morgan is still going to put up a strong fight.

He is far and away the most popular contender with the grass roots members, and can expect to win the majority of their votes in the crucial contest.

But his task is still a giant one. He will have to win around 80% of the votes of ordinary members to hand him the prize.

Bad taste


Wales correspondent Wyre Davies: "It'll be a very close race"
If Mr Michael does win, as has always been predicted, the contest is going to leave a bad taste in the mouth of many Welsh Labour party members.

They were furious that Mr Michael was apparently parachuted into the contest after former Welsh secretary and favourite candidate Ron Davies was forced to quit over his incident on Clapham Common.

Mr Michael, who took over the job of Welsh secretary from Mr Davies, had shown no previous enthusiasm for the Welsh assembly job.


[ image: Morgan: The people's choice]
Morgan: The people's choice
But Tony Blair pledged his personal backing for his candidate and effectively turned the contest into a loyalty test with Mr Morgan cast as a troublemaker.

But many are deeply concerned at the way the contest has been run, in particular the use of the union block vote.

Tony Blair came to power vowing to continue the work started by his predecessor John Smith in abolishing the block vote in favour of one-member-one-vote for party elections.

Denied choice

Mr Blair was himself elected by a system of OMOV and ordinary party members are angry they have been denied the same opportunity when choosing their Welsh leader.

The believe the contest has been a fix, with Mr Blair ready to use Old Labour tactics to get his own way.

One local member clashed with the prime minister over the issue during one of his many visits to Wales in support of his candidate.

He slapped her down, insisting he had been elected by an electoral college similar to the one being used to elect the Welsh leader.

Whispering campaign

In fact, the delegates to the electoral college had been instructed to ballot their members on the issue - something that has been denied to most union members in Wales.

They are also angry at what many have seen as a whispering campaign against Mr Morgan. The issue has also raised more widespread concerns over Mr Blair's handling of his party.

Highly-popular but rebellious candidates for the Scottish Parliament, most notably Falkirk West MP Dennis Canavan, failed to win selection for the body.

He is now pledged to stand as an independent against the official Labour candidate and could hugely embarrass Mr Blair by winning - while getting himself thrown out of the party at the same time.

And in London, the frantic campaign to stop "Red" Ken Livingstone becoming Labour's candidate for mayor has also seen accusations of control freakery by the Labour leadership.

The first signs of the backlash against this tendency may now be seen in Wales. If Mr Morgan pulls of a sensational coup and wins, it will represent a massive snub to Mr Blair and his tactics.

More likely, Mr Michael will win and the assembly will be launched amid some bitter recriminations and with much of the initial euphoria blown away.


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UK Politics Contents

A-Z of Parliament
Talking Politics
Vote 2001

Relevant Stories

19 Feb 99 | UK Politics
GMB backs Michael

17 Feb 99 | Welsh Labour leadership contest
Who now for Welsh Labour?

15 Feb 99 | Welsh Labour leadership contest
Head-to-head: Morgan vs Michael

15 Feb 99 | Welsh Labour leadership contest
Ron Davies makes defiant comeback





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