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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Blair warns of 'nationalist misery'
Tony Blair in Rhondda
Thirsty work: Tony Blair spoke at a converted chapel
Tony Blair has used his first visit of the Welsh Assembly election to claim that anything but a Labour victory would be "a disaster for the people of Wales".

The prime minister, speaking in the key constituency of Rhondda, stressed the importance of a Labour government in Westminster working in partnership with Labour in the assembly.

He said that Labour pledges such as free breakfasts for primary schoolchildren were the result of policies made by Labour both at Westminster and in Wales.

Mr Blair addressed party activists in a converted chapel in the Rhondda town of Penygraig.

Protestors

The seat was won by Plaid Cymru in the first assembly election, and Labour strategists regard it as crucial to steal back.

His visit can do nothing to gloss over Labour's mediocrity of vision for Wales
Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones

Hours after the prime minister's visit, an opinion poll suggested that Labour could retain the Caerphilly seat formerly held by ex-Welsh Secretary Ron Davies.

The NOP survey for HTV puts Labour on 44%, Plaid Cymru on 34% and the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on 7% each.

Mr Davies, who stood down as Labour's Caerphilly candidate several weeks ago after newspaper allegations about his private life, had a majority of 10.1% in 1999.

The prime minister was greeted by about 20 anti-war protesters when he arrived in Rhondda at lunchtime on Thursday, but there was an equal number of Labour supporters who cheered him in.

He said no Conservative government would have made the effort Labour has done to pay some 300m in miners' compensation. He admitted it had been "slow and difficult" but said there had been progress.

He also claimed that voting for Plaid Cymru would put at risk Labour's achievements.

"When the people of Wales wake up next Friday morning there will be one of two results, they will either have Labour or a nationalist administration with the wrangling and squabbling that every time they have ever been tried has resulted in misery for people."
Tony Blair
The Prime Minister urged Labour supporters to vote on 1 May

Heartland

Mr Blair was accompanied by First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who described Rhondda as "the heartland of Labour", and said his party was committed to "rebuild society from the ravages of 15 - 20 years ago."

At the same time, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was only a few miles away from Mr Blair in the neighbouring Cynon Valley.

Mr Kennedy was in Aberdare promoting free bus passes for elderly and disabled people in Wales - a policy which the Lib Dems described as one of the few partnership assembly government achievements credited to Labour.

But Mr Kennedy said most of the changes delivered by the assembly government, such as student grants and free school milk, were directly attributable to his party.

Interviewed on BBC Radio's Good Morning Wales, Mike German, leader of the Lib Dems in the assembly, said his party accepted its share of responsibility for the assembly government's failures, such as the length of NHS waiting lists.

Pay packet

But he said "the ship couldn't be turned around" in the two and a half years in which the Lib Dems had been in coalition with Labour.

Rhodri Morgan and Mike German
Mike German accepts some blame for Morgan government's failings

Nick Bourne, leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, challenged Mr German to explain why he had dropped proposals to introduce performance-related pay for assembly ministers.

Mr Bourne said the idea had been in the Lib Dems' 1999 manifesto, but the party had "reneged" on its promise.

"Is it because his personal pay packet would have been massively reduced if his performance as Minister for Rural Affairs was judged purely on results?" said Mr Bourne.

'Disgusted'

Conservative Nigel Evans said a leaked report from the Lib Dems favoured a two-tier NHS which would allow patients to buy higher-quality services.

Mr Evans, the shadow Welsh secretary, said: "I was disgusted when the Lib Dems lied to the Welsh electorate by claiming that the Conservatives wanted to privatise the NHS. Now we see that the NHS is in danger if it is ever trusted in their hands."

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said it was "a sign of Labour's desperation in Wales that they are having to drag Tony Blair to the Rhondda".

Mr Jones said: "But his visit can do nothing to gloss over Labour's mediocrity of vision for Wales or its incompetence in government over the past four years.




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