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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

The state of politics in Wales

BBC Wales Parliamentary Correspondent David Cornock examines the new state of politics in Wales.

New Labour, new Wales? Our political map changed at the General Election and for the first time since 1906 there are no Welsh Tory MPs at Westminster.

This has created a new style of politics which shelters under the umbrella of "inclusive", a label favoured by the three pro-devolution parties who hold the 40 parliamentary seats in Wales.

[ image: The Welsh Grand Committee]
The Welsh Grand Committee
Nothing is more "inclusive" than the new-look Welsh Grand Committee, which includes all Welsh MPs. Something of a talking shop, this is the nearest thing we currently have to an all-Wales assembly.

Now more often than not a Tory-free zone, sittings once rescued from somnolence only by yah-boo exchanges between the front benches have become love-ins between the three Welsh parties represented at Westminster - although there have been signs of the consensus breaking down recently.

Davies's balancing act

Ron Davies has survived as Welsh Secretary despite (hotly-denied) accusations from one of his own backbenchers (Blaenau Gwent MP Llew Smith) that he was threatened with expulsion over his opposition to devolution.

Mr Davies's career has also survived the close referendum result, a critical press (slightly improved recently), and a farcical internal dispute over the siting of the National Assembly.

Seen as Old Labour in Westminster, and New Labour in Wales, his difficult balancing act - the professed "inclusive" approach - sometimes leaves him with more friends outside his party than within.

Politicians on the rise

Sitting in the Cabinet waiting room, should Mr Davies fall under the proverbial bus (probably driven by the Minister Without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson), are rising stars Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) and Paul Murphy (Torfaen), ministers of state at the Home and Northern Ireland offices respectively.

[ image: Peter Hain - on the up?]
Peter Hain - on the up?
Among junior ministers tipped for promotion, Peter Hain's performance at the Welsh Office is attracting the attention of a wider audience in the media.

Although from the Left of the party, he has loyally adjusted to New Labour with some style.

Other Welsh figures include John Morris, Welsh Secretary in the last Labour Government, who is now Attorney-General.

Alan Howarth, who defected from the Tories and replaced Roy Hughes (now Lord Islwyn) at Newport East, is a junior minister at Education and Employment alongside Kim Howells (Pontypridd), Minister for Lifelong Learning.

The new leader of the Opposition, former Welsh Secretary William Hague, decided not to appoint a Shadow Welsh Secretary.

Instead, the blue-blooded former Scottish and Northern Ireland Office Minister Michael Ancram acts as Constitutional Affairs spokesman with a seat in the Shadow Cabinet.

Heading for the Assembly

Only a handful of Welsh MPs see their future in the National Assembly rather than at Westminster. They are headed by the Secretary of State himself, Ron Davies.

[ image: Dafydd Wigley]
Dafydd Wigley
Other Assembly hopefuls on the Labour benches are Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff West) and Gareth Thomas (Clwyd West). Two of the four Plaid Cymru MPs (Dafydd Wigley and Ieuan Wyn Jones) hope to follow them.

It is currently unclear how the Welsh aspects of parliamentary life will change after devolution.

The post of Secretary of State stays, although the role will change. There are question marks over the futures of the two junior Welsh Office Ministers, Welsh Questions in the Commons and the Welsh Select Committee.

Restoring the gender balance

Devolution aside, perhaps the most historic shift on May 1, 1997, saw the biggest change in the gender balance at Westminster since women got the vote more than 75 years ago.

Until last year, Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) was only the fourth woman elected as a Welsh MP.

She has now been joined by Jackie Lawrence (Preseli, Pembrokeshire). Julie (wife of Rhodri Morgan MP) Morgan (Cardiff North) and Betty Williams (Conwy).

A small step for woman, a giant leap for Welsh parliamentary politics.

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