Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 12:44 UK

Morgan's 'stick with Labour' plea

Rhodri Morgan
Mr Morgan said the assembly was an 'agile government for fragile times'

Welsh Labour leader Rhodri Morgan has urged voters to "stick with Labour" during the economic crisis.

In his last speech as leader, he told the party conference in Swansea the Labour model of devolution was the best way to see Wales through the recession.

He warned of "tough choices" ahead but attacked what he said was a Tory hidden agenda of cutting public services.

He said Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour's coalition partner, made a "tactical blunder" by discussing independence.

Mr Morgan, who has said he will step down as Welsh Labour leader and first minister around the time of his 70th birthday in September, said a squeeze on public sector funding, announced by Chancellor Alastair Darling in this week's budget, required a "re-engineering of the state" to protect services.

Speaking at at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall, he said his coalition administration with Plaid Cymru had proved itself to be an "agile government for fragile times," with policies such as subsidised training for redundancy-threatened workers.

'Resilience'

These were in contrast to the "do nothing" approach of the Conservatives, he said, devoting large parts of his speech to attacking the Tories.

He said David Cameron and George Osborne were having an "easy ride" despite not saying, he maintained, what they would do if they were elected.

He said: "It is one of the disgraces of these past weeks and months to see David Cameron and George Osborne traipsing from TV studio to TV studio without once giving a straight answer to a straight question."

Mr Morgan suggest Plaid Cymru had made a "tactical blunder in talking up independence at a time when small economies like Iceland were reeling in the world's economic turbulence.

He said Wales enjoyed the "resilience which comes with being part of a greater whole".

"Here in Wales, it is being part of the great mutual insurance scheme in the United Kingdom which will allow us to survive the economic downturn and to emerge stronger from it," he said.

"Can you realistically imagine a Wales cut off from all of that?"

'Stripes'

He said Labour had to get beyond damaging controversies over MPs' expenses and the smear scandal surrounding former Downing Street aide Damian McBride to "reclaim the notion that politics is about the battle of ideas".

He added devolution was "earning its stripes" all over again as the 10-year-old Welsh assembly had "evolved something new for Wales" by bringing together business, public sector and trade union leaders in a series of economic summits.

Meanwhile Labour's Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, issued a rallying cry to party activists.

Ms Harman, who is also the party chair, called on members to take the fight to the Conservative party ahead of the European elections at the beginning of June.

The elections are seen as a crucial test for the party, with both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives predicting that Labour could come second or third in terms of the popular vote in Wales, for the first time since the 1930s.

Welsh Labour performed poorly in last year's local elections, shedding over a hundred seats and losing control of councils in its traditional heartlands.

Gordon Brown

But Ms Harman insisted that on this occasion voters would be faced with a clear choice at the polls.

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Labour party members that public investment should be maintained through the recession.

Addressing the conference, the prime minister said people should be offered "a hand up" during the economic downturn.

Mr Brown also said he did not like raising taxes "but to equip ourselves for the future costs money".



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