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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 23:41 GMT
New Labour 'attack' under fire
Rhodri Morgan, Assembly First Minister
Rhodri Morgan distanced Wales from Blairite reforms
First Minister Rhodri Morgan has come under fire from opposition politicians over a keynote speech for "attacking" Tony Blair's plans for modernising public services.

Mr Morgan outlined the fundamental differences between the Welsh Assembly Government and New Labour in his address at Swansea University on Wednesday evening.

The first minister was anxious to stress the administration's distinctive direction on the way forward for health and education in Wales.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid Cymru leader
Ieuan Wyn Jones: Critical
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain entered the debate by backing Mr Morgan's stand against Mr Blair's reforms.

Mr Hain said: "Having had the opportunity to have an advance look at the text he is delivering tonight in Swansea I very much endorse that speech and commend it be read by every member of this Assembly."

But Tory assembly group leader Nick Bourne accused Mr Morgan of making an "astonishing attack" on New Labour while Plaid Cymru said Mr Morgan was "harking back to a golden era".

Mr Morgan outlined his belief that New Labour policies for greater choice are not as important as providing universal services.

But Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said Mr Morgan should not be looking back to the past, but towards a better future for Wales.

In welfare markets, producer choice, rather than consumer choice, is too likely to be the outcome

Rhodri Morgan

"It is harking back to a golden era, but it fails to address issues on the health service, such as waiting lists, and he has failed to deliver on the economy," said Mr Jones.

"He said the people of Wales will judge him next May - his record has been one of total failure."

Mr Bourne was also highly critical of the content of the speech.

"If ever there was any doubt that there is a fundamental and angry split between Labour at Westminster and Labour in the National Assembly, then Rhodri Morgan's comments cements this theory as truth."

The first minister talked of the "clear red water" which divides policy in Wales and Westminster.

Mr Morgan contested the argument that standards in public services are driven up by individuals exercising choice.

He also criticised plans to introduce foundation hospitals - where institutions opt out of government control and are allowed to raise their own finances - which is one of Prime Minister Tony Blair's favoured schemes.

Nick Bourne, Tory Assembly group leader
Nick Bourne: 'Astonishing attack'

Mr Morgan said: "My objection to foundation hospitals is not simply that they will be used by those individuals who are already the most articulate and advantaged, but that the experiment will end, not with patients choosing hospitals, but with hospitals choosing patients.

"In other words, in welfare markets, producer choice, rather than consumer choice, is too likely to be the outcome."

He gave the same rationale for rejecting the end of comprehensive schools in Wales and say: "Selection of pupils by schools is not the path we intend to encourage.

"It fails a test which we try to apply to all our policy development at the Welsh Assembly Government, of meeting the wider public interest."

Citizens

The speech was designed to give "ideological coherence" to the achievements his government claims to have delivered over the last few months.

Mr Morgan said people in Wales should be treated as citizens, not consumers.

His audience heard that the accent is on innovative policies rather than a reliance on trying to imitate those coming out of Westminster.

Mr Morgan's team denied it was an electioneering speech, but it is clearly intended for an audience in Wales, five months ahead of the assembly polls.

The first minister will make another speech, on the economy, early in the New Year.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales' David Williams
"He'll be flying a very socialist red flag of justice and equality."
See also:

28 Nov 02 | Wales
05 Dec 02 | Wales
09 Dec 02 | Politics
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