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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK

Labour faithful welcome 'exotic' MP

News Online Wales spent election night weighing up the challenge of Plaid Cymru in the traditional Labour seat of Rhondda.

Chris Bryant confounded his critics and those who called him too "exotic" by winning the traditional Labour seat of Rhondda, sweeping away Plaid's challenge.

The former curate and Conservative Party member had seemed an unlikely potential successor to Allan Rogers, a traditionalist who held the Valley stronghold for 18 years.

Blooded on the London political scene, Mr Bryant had been astute enough to pick up that Rhondda voters hold strong convictions and he duly stuck to bread and butter issues.

But right up until polling day, Plaid Cymru had talked of dramatic gains, with candidate Leanne Wood publicly claiming - rather boldly - more than 53% of the vote.

Plaid had sensed a possible victory, having previously produced a stunning double in 1999, winning the National Assembly seat and control of Rhondda Cynon Taff council.

But in the end, the party gained just 7,183 votes - up on their total in 1997.

" The Rhondda needs a lot of help at this time and I am sure Chris needs to do a great deal of work "
Glyndwr Summers, Independent

The party declared it a victory of sorts, but the total was far behind Mr Bryant's commanding 23,230 total.

s the count got under way, Mr Bryant laughed off the "exotic" description given to him in an interview by BBC veteran broadcaster Patrick Hannan. "I think at the end of the day, the voters made up their minds on who was going to do the most for the Rhondda," said Mr Bryant.

"To win by 16,000 votes on a reduced turnout shows an enormous, amazing trust in myself and the Labour Party from the people of the Rhondda."

Assuming his new role as MP for Rhondda, he repeated his party's commitments delivered on the doorsteps of hundreds of Valley homes to work hard on issues of health, education and transport.

Ms Wood remained upbeat, declaring that Plaid would be back ready to contest the seat again.

"We have done something big here today and Plaid has rocked Labour's foundations in the Rhondda," she said, to a chorus of groans from Labour campaigners.

"Let us be clear, the result is not good for Labour."

If that bluster was roundly ignored by Labour, then the measured and gracious words of Independent Glyndwr Summers - who received just 507 votes - spoke from the heart.

He warned Labour against complacency and urged Mr Bryant to get straight to work sorting out the social and economic ills of one of the UK's poorest constituencies.

"The Rhondda needs a lot of help at this time and I am sure Chris needs to do a great deal of work," said Mr Summers.

As soon as the euphoria of the result has subsided, the Rhondda Labour Party will sit down with their "exotic" new MP, mixing old philosophies with new enthusiasm for the tasks ahead.

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