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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Blair waves last goodbye to Wales
By David Cornock
BBC Wales Parliamentary correspondent

Tony Blair on a boat in Pembrokeshire
Bailing out - Mr Blair on his last visit to Wales
As Ali G might have said, were he from Swansea and not Staines: "Is it 'cos we is Welsh?"

Tony Blair may have a Welsh stepmother (not a lot of people know that) but his relationship with the nation has been at times ambivalent during the last decade.

He is the prime minister who gave Wales devolution, although that sort of constitutional reform was never a personal priority for someone who came to power promising to focus on "education, education, education".

He insisted on holding a referendum before setting up the Welsh assembly, a vote that was only narrowly won. Having notionally given away power, he then tried to ensure that his preferred candidate, Alun Michael, ran the show.

Their differences are now behind them, despite Morgan's attempts to put "clear red water" between his government and Blair's

It ended in political tears and Rhodri Morgan, the man Blair rejected for even a junior ministerial role at Westminster, took over as first minister. Morgan says Blair told him he couldn't have a junior job because he was too old and the prime minister expected his junior ministers to be of cabinet ability.

Morgan, to this day, says he doesn't believe either reason, so why did Tony Blair reject someone he'd worked closely with (fighting energy privatisation) in opposition?

Blair once stayed chez Morgan and was spotted in the kitchen by Morgan's mother-in-law. "I know who you are," she said. "You're that Lionel Blair".

That story is true (although possibly not the reason for Blair's initial failure to recognise the talents of the former Cardiff West MP). Earlier this year, when his mother-in-law passed away, Morgan received a personal letter from the prime minister.

Their differences are now behind them, despite Morgan's attempts to put "clear red water" between his government and Blair's. The prime minister visited Wales only once during last month's election campaign - he visited Scotland five times.

Blair initially struggled to understand that devolution did mean doing things differently in different parts of the UK.

Tony Blair at the Welsh Labour conference
Welsh Labour showed an 'independent spirit' after devolution

Morgan's Welsh Assembly Government rejected much of the public service reform agenda Blair introduced in England. Longer hospital waiting times in Wales - the consequences he thought of an unreformed NHS - were said to be one reason why Blair pursued that agenda so vigorously.

Tony Blair is Labour's most electorally successful leader, but the Welsh displayed an independence of spirit during assembly elections. Lance Price, a former Downing Street spin doctor, reported "TB effing and blinding about the whole thing" during the first elections when Alun Michael failed to win a majority.

Doomed

Price later recalled: "I wrote he was effing and blinding about the Welsh, but my assessment of it looking back is that he was talking about the Welsh party rather than Welsh people having made a democratic choice.

"He didn't have a general downer on the Welsh, I have never heard him express any malign sentiments about the Welsh or criticise the Welsh in general."

That didn't stop a doomed police inquiry into Blair's alleged comments.

So what has Tony Blair ever done for us? He'd argue lower mortgage rates, low unemployment, a national miniumum wage, greater maternity and paternity rights, much higher investment in public spending, reduced crime. Devolution in Wales, Scotland - and Northern Ireland.

But Iraq split his party - British soldiers, and many Iraqis, continue to die there - and cash-for-peerages allegations may yet be tested in court.

Even critics acknowledge his political successes, winning three general elections for a party that once looked dead on its feet. He has been a supreme performer and communicator, whether in the House of Commons or on the party conference platform.

But many of his own MPs came to conclude he was an electoral liability, a vote-loser.

Last autumn, some who were among his most loyal backbenchers during his first two terms saw the imminence of the Welsh assembly (and Scottish parliament) elections as disasters waiting to happen and signed up to the "coup" that ultimately forced him out.

Enoch Powell said that all political careers end in failure.

TB may no longer be "effing and blinding" about the Welsh, but he leaves office with more of us effing and blinding about the prime minister.


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