In today's Western Mail, David Williamson has raised an issue that I've always thought will undermine the memory of Rhodri Morgan's tenure as First Minister in the Welsh Assembly - the abolition of the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board in 2003. Today's report is based on comments made by Welsh economist, Brian Morgan. The decision, taken by a very small group, led by Rhodri Morgan, to abolish the WDA and WTB was politics at it worst - decision making making in secret, without research and discussion, and based on small minded prejudice.
I recall being in the old Debating Chamber when Rhodri Morgan dropped his bombshell - on the last day before the summer recess. I was genuinely shaken, both by the decision, and by how it had been done. I was even more shaken when all the other party leaders lined up to welcome the decision! It was left to Alun Cairns to stand up, with great bravery, and tell the First Minister how wrong he was. That was probably the day that I decided that Alun has the potential to become one of Wales' great politicians. The Presiding Officer also allowed me the opportunity to contribute. I accepted that the creation of a National Assembly, with 60 new politicians did mean that a review of how Wales promoted economic development and tourism was needed, but that to just announce that the WDA and WTB were being abolished, without any debate or discussion was not a sensible way to do things. Only later did we learn that not even Assembly Ministers or the leaders of the bodies themselves had been given any warning whatsoever. Rightly the Chief Executive of the WDA, Graham Hawker walked out next day. I still don't know why other leading figures did not do the same. But I suppose, the then chairman, Roger Jones had Rhodri Morgan over a barrel after Graham walked, and no-one knows how to negotiate with a man over a barrel better than the Roger. The now Sir Roger Jones stayed on - and to this day, I still wonder what the price was.
But the biggest price has been, and will continue to be paid by the people of Wales. I can see that there will be no meaningful debate of any sort until Rhodri Morgan has gone. OK, I know he's popular down at the Dog and Duck, and he has a fantastic memory for detail, and he tells a good gag - but some of us will remember him for much more than this. The most important challenge facing the National assembly when it was set up was to strengthen the Welsh economy, and Rhodri Morgan messed up - big-time. He will be remembered as the man who put his personal little prejudices before the economic interests of Wales. That's why I believe he will leave office as a failure.