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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 12:43 GMT
Alun Michael: from safety to controversy

Alun Michael in optimistic mood First Secretary Alun Michael in optimistic mood

The man at the centre of the Welsh constitutional crisis had at one time enjoyed an relatively uneventful career as an MP and junior minister.

Now with a no-confidence vote and debate on his future as First Secretary looming, the mild-mannered former social worker finds himself facing the most crucial week of his political life.

It is a far cry from his "safe pair of hands" reputation in Westminster where he had won respect for being thoughtful and undemonstrative.

The son of a shopkeeper, Mr Michael was born on 22 August 1943 at Bryngwran on Anglesey in north Wales.

He was educated at Colwyn Bay Grammar School and then at Keele University in Staffordshire.

Mr Mirchael and the Queen at the Assembly opening in May 1999 Mr Michael and the Queen at the Assembly opening in May 1999
Shortly after graduating, he moved to Cardiff where he worked for five years as a reporter on the South Wales Echo newspaper.

Then in 1971, he changed his career - moving into social work, spending the next 16 years as a youth and community worker.

In 1973, Mr Michael - already a magistrate - embarked on a 16-year term as a Cardiff City Labour councillor, becoming chief whip.

It was in 1987 that former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan stood down from his Parliamentary seat in Cardiff, signalling Alun Michael's chance to move from local to central government.

In June of that year, he retained the Cardiff South and Penarth seat - doubling Labour's majority.

Unlike his predecessor as Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, Mr Michael had been a long-time advocate of Welsh devolution and supported a Welsh Assembly in 1979.

Ron Davies resigned as Welsh Secretary in October 1998 Ron Davies resigned as Welsh Secretary in October 1998
In 1988, he was promoted to front-bench spokesman on Welsh Affairs.

Increasingly referred to as "something of a workaholic", he became Tony Blair's junior as Opposition spokesman on Home Affairs in 1992.

Between 1992 to 1997, he was given added responsibility for the voluntary sector and was appointed a Home Office minister under Jack Straw after Labour's election landslide win in May 1997.

A long-distance runner and opera fan with a happy marriage, five children and a burgeoning career in Westminster, Mr Michael looked set for further advancement in Westminster.

But on October 27, 1998, the then Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was to change all that.

Following his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common, Mr Davies - regarded as the architect of Welsh devolution - resigned from the Cabinet.

Within minutes, Tony Blair had appointed Alun Michael - the safe pair of hands - as his successor.

Critics branded Alun Michael 'Blair's poodle' Critics branded Alun Michael 'Blair's poodle'
However, there was immediate criticism that he had been "parachuted" into the job by London.

That was only the rumblings of what was to eventually become the crisis currently facing the Assembly.

Within months, Mr Michael had to fight a bitter battle with Cardiff West MP Rhodri Morgan to become the prospective Labour leader in the Assembly.

He won, albeit narrowly, thanks to the use of union block votes in his favour.

But Mr Morgan had won the overwhelming support of grass-roots Labour members, leaving Mr Michael open to Plaid Cymru's taunt that he was "Blair's poodle".

Further trouble loomed for Alun Michael during the subsequent Assembly election in May 1999.

Assembly latecomer

As a latecomer to the list of Assembly candidates, he had difficulty finding a seat.

He eventually succeeded in winning a Mid and West Wales regional list seat, but only thanks to the proportional representation voting system, where a strong showing by Plaid Cymru paradoxically ensured his election.

Plaid's surge in support also robbed Labour of its expected majority in the Assembly. Labour won only 28 of the 60 seats, but Mr Michael decided to press on and form a minority administration.

His efforts to govern Wales under those circumstances have been dogged by controversy over the Objective One issue - the 1.3bn payout of European Aid for which parts of Wales have recently qualified.

The EU money needs to be matched by UK government funding, and there has been uncertainty over how and when this will happen.

This has left Mr Michael facing the threat of political ruin in Wales.

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See also:
06 Apr 99 |  The Welsh Assembly
CV: Alun Michael
25 Jan 00 |  Wales
Labour AMs back Alun Michael
18 Jan 00 |  Wales
Make or break time for Michael
23 Nov 99 |  Wales
Michael sets out devolution vision
02 Nov 99 |  Wales
Michael survives no-confidence vote
29 Jul 99 |  Wales
Alun Michael's inevitable exit
28 Jul 99 |  Wales
Michael blamed for drug strategy setback
26 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
Welsh Assembly leader to quit Westminster
15 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
First secretary addresses state of nation
11 May 99 |  UK Politics
Michael rules out coalition
07 May 99 |  News
Michael's difficult road to victory

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