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Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2007, 19:32 GMT
Tough task after Blair's farewell
By Bethan Lewis
BBC Wales political reporter

Tony Blair arriving in Llandudno on Thursday night

A rainy weekend in Llandudno is not perhaps the ideal backdrop for a motivational break.

But the Wales Labour conference is the last chance for members to get together before what promises to be their toughest challenge since the first assembly elections eight years ago.

This seaside town is a favourite location for annual party get-togethers.

Llandudno is in the new Aberconwy constituency, likely to be one of the main battlegrounds ahead of May's vote.

Changes to the Conwy constituency's boundaries mean that sitting Labour AM Denise Idris Jones is facing a strong challenge from Plaid Cymru for the new seat.

In Llanelli too it will be a close contest between Labour and Plaid, although delegates in Llandudno are confident that they will hold on to the seat.

But it is clear who Labour see as their main enemy in the battle for assembly seats.

Whether it is attacking their Westminster leader David Cameron for never having a proper job or raising the spectre of the Thatcher years, Labour is focusing its fire on the Conservatives.

He was obviously saying farewell to the party in Wales but he did emphasise to the electorate that they have a very stark choice
Labour candidate Lesley Griffiths

In Cardiff North and Clwyd West, the Tories say they are confident of victory.

In the north Wales seat Culture Minister Alun Pugh will be contemplating the possibility of life after Cardiff Bay, while Preseli Pembrokeshire is another seat where the Conservatives will put up a tough fight.

Labour think they could pick up a seat or two, possibly in Wrexham, the new Arfon constituency or on the Mid and West Wales regional list.

But overall, many activists are resigned to having fewer than their 29 AMs after 3 May. Many in the party would be relieved if losses are limited to no more than a couple.

A final tally of less than 25 would be a disaster.

'Rag-bag coalition'

The warning to the Welsh electorate, repeated constantly in the conference is that a vote for anyone other than Labour will lead to a Tory-led coalition.

Plaid Cymru deny they would join such a grouping and call Labour's claim "lies".

But the message has been heard loud and clear and often in Llandudno.

In his speech to delegates, Tony Blair repeated the favoured phrase of Rhodri Morgan, Peter Hain and other leading lights of the Welsh party.

He talked of a "rag-bag" coalition threatening the prosperity and social justice being delivered by Labour.

It was Mr Blair's final address to a Welsh party conference.

That announcement was made following pressure from some of his parliamentary party, including Caerphilly MP Wayne David.

But Mr David said the prime minister had achieved a great deal during his decade in office.

He added: "I thought it was a fine speech. Tony Blair is justifiably proud of the work he has done as prime minister and what Labour has achieved here."

Labour's Ynys Mon prospective assembly candidate Jonathan Austin said Mr Blair had not made "a tub-thumping speech".

"It was a very workmanlike speech and it did the job the prime minister set out to do which was to remind the voters of Wales of the choice they had to make on 3 May," said Mr Austin.

"What he was saying is we need to get out the Labour vote and make that choice between forward-looking policies attacking the current problems that we have, or backward-looking policies that aren't going to take us on."

Wrexham prospective assembly candidate Lesley Griffiths said: "I thought it started a bit flat but it certainly picked up.

"He was obviously saying farewell to the party in Wales but he did emphasise to the electorate that they have a very stark choice.

"But he did say that we can't rest on our laurels - that we have to present a radical, progressive manifesto to the electorate."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch an extract from Tony Blair's speech



SEE ALSO
Conference cuppa dissent brewing
23 Feb 07 |  Wales politics
Labour keeps it Welsh - and quiet
23 Mar 06 |  Wales politics

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