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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 14:22 GMT
June brought D-Day for Morgan
David Williams
By David Williams
BBC Wales political editor

D-day
Welsh veterans were in Normandy, unlike Rhodri Morgan
Dawn on 6 June, 2004 and a group of old soldiers gathered on a beach in Normandy.

They were together again to remember the day 60 years ago at the start of the great Allied invasion of Europe.

This year's anniversary commemorations of that bloody day were attended by hundreds of Welsh veterans and their families.

It was a poignant affair and it is unlikely that there will be another like it.

Missing among the political dignitaries who attended that day was First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

Improbably, he was discussing the prospect of Wales hosting golf's Ryder Cup. That decision was almost certainly his biggest mistake of the year, if not in his time in office.

At a stroke, Mr Morgan succeeded in placing himself in a political bunker. There would be no campaign to save 'Private Morgan.'

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan was criticised for not attending the D-Day anniversary

Instead he would have to save himself and issue an unreserved apology to those wounded by his decision to dispatch cabinet colleague Edwina Hart to Normandy, instead of going himself.

Even Labour Party members were surprised at the decision and some felt that it cost them dear at the local government elections which saw Labour lose three crown jewels: Cardiff, Swansea, and Bridgend.

The former Labour leader of Cardiff council Russell Goodway was in no doubt that the D-Day "fiasco" was one of the main factors in contributing to the party's demise.

The fall-out from that incident and the political retreat which followed has reverberated ever since. It may well extend to the new year, manifesting itself again when Labour least wants it - at the time of a general election. Old soldiers do not forget.

Mr Morgan and his generals will dismiss this as nonsense. They will argue that there were other, less emotional, but equally important moments for the Welsh Assembly Government in 2004. They may have been subsumed by D-Day, but they were significant, nonetheless.

Of course, I had forgotten that other small explosion earlier in the year when the Richard Commission detonated its own constitutional device.

Rhodri Morgan and Lord Richard of Ammanford
Lord Richard of Ammanford handed in his report in March

It took Lord Richard and his team two years to consider the arguments before recommending full law making powers for the Welsh assembly.

It then took the Labour Party another six months to consult its members and just one day to decide to say yes to powers, but not just now, thank you.

That decision was taken at a special conference which managed an enforced display of unity worthy of an eastern bloc committee meeting.

Labour members also showed considerable powers of understanding in accepting Rhodri Morgan's alternative proposal - the Einstein-challenging formula 13.2+!

'Plus what, exactly?' you may ask. The details are too tortuous to try and explain here but, as I understand it, 13.2+ would grant the assembly government legislation-altering powers of the kind first granted to a Tudor monarch to change laws he did not like. Confused? So are the rest of us.

In reality, the Morgan alternative to Richard was widely regarded as a good old political fudge in order to delay decisions until after next year's general election.

It did not go down well with the chattering classes, who began whispering that Rhodri had lost his nerve and, after the D-Day decision, had lost the plot.

So, what to do?

Quangos
Rhodri Morgan announced the end of three quangos in July

Get rid of all those enemy tanks parked on your lawn. That's what you do. That is when we heard the sound of several simultaneous explosions in Wales.

Without warning - surprise is always an advantage when attacking - the first minister fired up the long-talked of bonfire of the quangos.

Three big publicly-sponsored bodies - the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and Elwa, the post-16 training and education body - went up in flames.

More would follow; sucked into the assembly government vortex as Labour realised its long-held dream of shrinking the unaccountable state.

It was a master stroke at a time of political adversity, but it was not long before there were critical voices to be heard. Far from de-centralisation they argued, the bonfire of the quangos represented the Stalinisation of Welsh civic society.

The problem for many of Mr Morgan's political opponents, however, was that they privately agreed with his decision to start the conflagration. It was just the way he did it that they objected too. In the circumstances, Mr Morgan could afford to smile at their impotence in the matter.

Interesting year ahead

However, in the new year he may have more difficulty in repelling his opponent's attacks in a more vulnerable area - his government's continuing difficulty in bringing down hospital waiting lists.

All three opposition parties in the assembly feel they can coalesce around health in attacking Mr Morgan and his beleaguered Health Minister Jane Hutt. There is much talk of a grand coalition to bring down a Labour government which currently rules with a majority of just one.

That one may disappear if the Labour AM for Blaenau Gwent, Peter Law, decides to stand as an independent at the next general election.

We could see a test of Old Labour versus New Labour in one of the safest seats in the country. Not only that, the landscape in the assembly would be transformed as a consequence.

Suddenly, politics in Wales in 2005 is looking very interesting indeed. Rhodri Morgan, though, will be hoping that the year ahead does not prove to be his Dunkirk.




SEE ALSO:
Poignant journey to Normandy
04 Jun 04 |  Wales
A year at the Welsh assembly
27 Dec 03 |  Wales



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