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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 16:45 GMT
Labour keeps it Welsh - and quiet
Vaughan Roderick
By Vaughan Roderick
BBC Welsh affairs editor

Gordon Brown
Chancellor Gordon Brown arrived in Swansea fresh from the Budget
There was a time, not so long ago, when Welsh Labour conferences could easily descend into bear pit politics.

Delegates would knock lumps out of each other over some hot policy issue or arcane internal argument.

Until the late 1990s issues such as positive discrimination in favour of women candidates could spark demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, bitter debate and personal attacks.

Those days are gone: this week, Swansea will be a new-model conference.

It promises to be sober, disciplined and very possibly terminally boring for journalists in search of a story.

Public divisions cost the party dear in the 1999 assembly elections and its leaders are determined not to make the same mistake twice
In place of public debate, the bulk of the delegates' time will be spent in policy forums with the media pointedly excluded.

In private sessions the members will discuss broad themes like child poverty and full employment rather than traditional motions and amendments.

The reason for the change isn't hard to guess. Public divisions cost the party dear in the 1999 assembly elections and its leaders are determined not to make the same mistake twice.

The closed forums also allow the party to keep its policy powders dry so that new ideas and new initiatives can be launched in the run-up to next year's assembly elections.

The 2207 conference is likely to be a more traditional affair putting the final touches to the Welsh manifesto,

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan emphasises the Welsh dimension to his government
The nuances of the assembly electoral system mean that relatively small numbers of votes in key constituencies and regions can have a disproportionate effect on the overall result.

Key battlegrounds

A few tens of thousands of votes in the right places could mean the difference between electoral disappointment and a working majority for Labour.

The choice of speakers and subjects at the conference gives a strong indication of just where Labour expects the key battlegrounds to be.

Labour needs only to hold what it has and gain a seat to achieve an assembly majority. The decision to showcase its Blaenau Gwent constituency and Mid and West Wales regional candidates is a clear indication of where the party thinks that one seat might come from.

The conference is notable too for its emphasis on the party's Welsh leadership.

Apart from Thursday's opening night visit by Labour's heir apparent, Gordon Brown, the spotlight will remain firmly on Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain and First Minister Rhodri Morgan and his team of ministers.

With the scandals and problems currently surrounding Tony Blair's government, Mr Morgan is keener than ever on the idea of putting clear red water between Welsh Labour and its UK parent.

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