Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 18:54 UK

When our politicians get personal

By Adrian Browne
BBC Wales political reporter

William Hague
William Hague's baseball cap was a gift for his political opponents

The rather personal criticism of First Minister Rhodri Morgan by the Welsh Conservatives and their leader Nick Bourne is on a different level to those we've seen before in Wales.

E-mails listing every conceivable alleged error an opponent has made are something journalists have become used to receiving from Tory HQ in London.

But this is something of a first from the opposition party in this neck of the woods.

The Tories issued a 39-page dossier listing not only Mr Morgan's supposed policy failings, but also his alleged shortcomings in dress sense and hairstyle.

Journalistically, it is well put together: a very professional attack in that sense.

Obviously, whether or not this sort of approach lands a blow on Labour and its Welsh leader will depend on the extent to which it chimes with how Mr Morgan is already seen by the population.

Clearly, the Tory calculation is that the undoubted affection for the first minister over the years is not what it once was, and that it is pushing at an open door because the public are getting tired of his style and methods after eight years at the top.

If they are wrong, the Conservatives might simply have helped reinforce other parties' efforts to persuade voters that theirs is still the "nasty party", as leading Tories have admitted was the perception in the past.

Political attacks which have caught the imagination over the years have been those that seem to go with the grain of a sizeable chunk of opinion.

Who can forget Ann Widdecombe's suggestion that her former ministerial colleague Michael Howard had "something of the night about him" during his first, unsuccessful, attempt to win the Tory leadership in 1997?

This was pretty unusual, in that it was an attack by a Tory on a Tory. But had no-one else believed, at some level of their consciousness, that was something scary about his image or manner then her words would have floated away on the ether, instead of becoming part of political folklore.

The best criticisms seem to give you a cartoon-like image of the political victim. Perhaps this is what the Welsh Conservatives have in mind for Mr Morgan.

Michael Foot
Michael Foot received vicious ridicule for his appearance as Labour leader

The decision by the then Tory leader, William Hague, to wear a baseball cap at the Notting Hill Carnival and on a log flume at a theme park fitted the bill nicely.

The newspapers, with occasional help from his Labour opponents, were so successful at portraying him as someone square trying to look hip that some people gained the impression he'd donned the hat back-to-front, rapper style.

'Victorian undertaker'

And there was the inaccurate suggestion that previous Labour leader Michael Foot had turned up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day sporting a donkey jacket?

Mr Foot said later he'd been wearing a hoodless duffel coat which the Queen had complimented him on.

The caricature of Mr Foot created by the cartoonists' pen appeared to morph into reality.

The Sun newspaper headline for the story was "Do you really want this old fool to run Britain?"

It certainly seemed to play a part in keeping Mr Foot out of Downing Street.

Though it seems unlikely that Mr Morgan would resort to such tactics, he is quite adept at using imagery to knock opponents - though I'm sure he would say he goes for the ball rather than the man.

One vivid picture he painted in the assembly chamber was during one of his countless exchanges over the state of the Welsh economy with Tory AM Alun Cairns.

After Mr Cairns had give a dour prediction of Wales' future financial prospects, Mr Morgan compared him to a "Victorian undertaker praying for a hard winter".

Fairly or unfairly, it is an image that has lingered with me ever since.


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