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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 12:40 GMT
Power games leave Morgan in place
Adrian Masters
BBC Wales political reporter on 2005 in the Welsh assembly

Rhodri Morgan
Still in charge: Rhodri Morgan
The year in Cardiff Bay has been dominated by one question: who runs this place?

The answer is still Labour under Rhodri Morgan. But even he says he's surprised that that's still the case.

However, it was questions of health rather than questions of power that took precedence in the first part of the year.

The first minister's first political

act of 2005 was to move the much-criticised Jane Hutt from her role as health minister.

She was replaced by Brian Gibbons, who had barely set up family photos on his desk before being hit by a critical report into the running of the NHS from the auditor-general. That set the tone for the next few months.

There was the sight of ambulances queuing outside casualty departments and a bitter row with consultants over their new contract that ended in March in a vote of no confidence by the British Medical Association.

Council tax rebanding and revaluation came back to haunt the assembly government

The new health minister said he'd devote a day a week to reducing waiting times and persuaded cabinet colleagues to give him an extra 32m to do just that.

Later in the year, Labour set itself tough new targets for cutting waiting times and an ambitious 10-year strategy aimed at transforming the way the health service is run. It's a strategy will force ministers and health professionals to make tough decisions in the coming years.

Tough new targets

March saw tensions rise between the assembly government and local councils, with Finance Minister Sue Essex concerned that the controversial rebanding exercise would be used as an excuse for big council tax increases.

She started the process that would have led to councils' budgets being capped, but in the end local authorities toed the line and the threat of capping receded.

New assembly building
The new assembly building will open in 2006

But council tax rebanding and revaluation came back to haunt the assembly government later in the year when the UK government decided to abandon the scheme in England until after the next general election.

Assembly politics took a back seat during April and May as the general election came to the fore - but that vote had a serious impact in Cardiff Bay.

Blaenau Gwent Labour AM Peter Law ended months of speculation by deciding to stand as an Independent candidate following a row over all-women shortlists.

Veteran Plaid Cymru members tried and failed to persuade their party to prepare for power sharing

Dramatically, he withdrew after being diagnosed with a brain tumour but after treatment changed his mind again and won the seat.

But he remained an AM and as he joined the opposition in the assembly, Labour lost its majority and there was much talk about coalition.

Veteran Plaid Cymru members tried and failed to persuade their party to prepare for power sharing. In a series of speeches and lectures, senior Conservatives openly considered the options. And in their first show of strength all three opposition parties and the independent members overcame disagreements to force Labour to rule out tuition fees for students in Wales.

Late-night talks

That was merely a taster for the discomfort that Rhodri Morgan's government would undergo and in the autumn opposition parties and the independent members succeeded in uniting to defeat the government week after week.

They voted down business timetables, took away the powers to set up an E.coli inquiry and interfered with the government's takeover of the Welsh Language Board.

In their biggest effort they came together to reject Labour's spending plans, uniting to defeat the draft budget until several changes were made.

Conservative AM William Graham invited Motorhead singer Lemmy to the assembly and to everyone's surprise turned up

Two months of late-night talks between Mr Morgan and his opposition counterparts eventually produced a deal.

There wasn't a great deal of change in the spending plans and nothing that Mr Morgan couldn't live with; in fact he called it "our real Labour budget".

But the opposition parties had signalled that they expect to be involved in major decisions. To misquote the Terminator, their message was: 'We'll be back.'

There was a moment of light relief from a heavy metal star. In November, the Conservative AM William Graham invited Motorhead singer Lemmy to the assembly and to everyone's surprise turned up.

I understand that he even arranged and paid for his own taxi, such was his eagerness to have his say. The visit had been arranged after Mr Graham discovered the singer shared his contempt for heroin.

What they didn't agree on was the solution to the problem: Lemmy departed from the script and called for the drug to be legalised.

At the end of the year came the long-awaited details of what's been described as the biggest transfer of power from Westminster to Wales since the assembly was set up in 1999.

The Government of Wales Bill will give AMs more say in framing legislation, which should then go through parliament more quickly. It also paves the way for full law-making powers to be transferred to Cardiff Bay after a referendum.

A controversial change that the bill will create is a new rule preventing would be AMs standing in the constituency vote and on regional lists. So what's on the cards for 2006?

More difficulties for Rhodri Morgan's minority government; a long build-up to the 2007 election; new powers and a new debating chamber.



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