Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rhodri Morgan

Soon, the waiting will be over. The Rt. Hon. Rhodri Morgan will inform the Labour Party of his intention to stand down from the position of First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales. Rather as they do with obituaries, journalists will have already written their reflections on his contribution to Welsh politics, in preparation for publication when the anticipated announcement arrives. I've been discussing the issue with David Williamson of the Western Mail today. No idea whether David will use any of my comments, but let me blog some of my random thoughts.

The memory of Rhodri Morgan that will stay with me is his incredible capacity to store information in his brain. He's a human Wikipaedia. If you asked him to tell you the result of Wales' game against the All Blacks in say 1922, he'd rattle off the points scorers, after how many minutes the first try was scored, and probably what the referee had for breakfast on the morning of the match.

Rhodri Morgan has unquestionably been one of the dominant figures of devolution to Wales, during the run up to, and since the establishment of the National Assembly - along with Dafydd Elis Thomas and Ron Davies. Ron's fall from grace has been a great loss to the devolution 'process', but he played the key role before 1997. It really is a case of 'if only'. Others may choose other names, such as Dafydd Wigley, Sue Essex and Peter Hain - but I'll stick with my three.

Rhodri's greatest achievement was to bring stability to the Assembly following the debacle created by Blair's parachuting in of Alun Michael as the first First Minister - against the popular will of Labour Party members in Wales, and the Welsh people. He is a seriously cunning political 'operator', who has sought to hide this talent behind a front of a 'slightly eccentric, shambolic 'man of the people' facade.

In my opinion his greatest failure has been to 'squander' the massive and consistent increases in successive Assembly budgets since 1999 on the free provision of public 'goods' and expanding the public sector, allowing the private sector to fall behind. The consequence of this strategy has been a drop in Welsh productive capacity and Welsh prosperity. His successor is faced with dealing with this legacy and the huge problems involved in maintaining the giant Welsh public sector against a background of significantly falling budgets.

Rhodri Morgan's great strength has been a formidable intellect. And of course his idiosyncrasies have been a joy for the media. His greatest weakness as a 'Chamber' politician was the ease with which he could be rattled. Alun Cairns could wind him up every time, with minimal effort. Rhodri just couldn't do lofty disdain, which would have been the best way to deal with Alun and Nick Bourne.

Big question is whether Rhodri Morgan would have been a success if he'd remained at Westminster. I think not. There's less room for idiosyncrasy there, - Kenneth Clarke excepted. Anyway, we are expecting the man I regard as Wales' real first First Minister to announce his departure plans in the next day or two. Welsh politics is about to enter a period of great change. For better or worse? Who knows!


Simon Dyda said...

the man I regard as Wales' real first First Minister

Alun Michael was a First Secretary, never a First Minister, so Rhodri really is our first FM whichever way you look at it.

Tcoah said...

"In my opinion his greatest failure has been ... expanding the public sector, allowing the private sector to fall behind."

Couldn't agree more Glyn, and along with Rhodri Morgan, Welsh Labour must share the blame for this fiasco of running the Welsh private sector down.

Jeff Jones said...

He would really be a genius if he could give you the score of the All Blacks game in 1922. The All Blacks toured the UK in 1905,1924and 1935 before the War. A New Zealand aramy side which was basically the All Blacks toured in 1945. I've got the programme for the game against Maesteg. Perhaps the Labour Party should chose the new Leader of the Labour Group via a 'Who wants to be Millionaire ' quiz game approach. The Labour Party at the moment Glyn needs this contest like a hole in the head. The Party should be concentrating in the mnext few months on defending its Westminster seats in what will be the most difficult election since 1983 not wasting time on an unnecessary election. Given that this year's Assembly budget also isn't going to be easy I would have thought that any responsible politician would as the Americans would put it want to 'Stay the Course'.

Glyn Davies said...

Simon - Yn Gywir, ond beth ydi'r gair Cymraeg am 'Pedantic'?

Tcoah - The worrying thing is that they seem to believe in it.

Jeff - That's just the sort of response Rhodri would have made - off top of his head. Take your point about whether its the right time to have a leadership contest - but I do recall that the contest between David Cameron and David Davis proved to be very positive for the Conservative Party.

Simon Dyda said...

" beth ydi'r gair Cymraeg am 'Pedantic'?"

pedantic a pedantaidd, pedantig, coegysgolheigaidd, coegddysgedig, crachysgolheigaidd

Geiriadur yr Academi, Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, Caerdydd 1995

Frank H Little said...

I do recall that the contest between David Cameron and David Davis proved to be very positive for the Conservative Party.

Why has David Davis been cast into the outer darkness?

Tcoah said...

By making Wales more dependent on the public sector and hence overly reliant on grants from London amounted in some respect to an economic warfare tactic whereby full independence for Wales would be next to impossible given its over-dependence on cheques from London (Westminster), which begs a few interesting questions.

Glyn Davies said...

Diolch Simon.

Frank - David Davis has not been cast into darkness. When he resigned, he would have been accepting that he would become a backbencher. If he was 'cast' by antone, it would have been himself. Personally, I hope he will return to a front line position if we form the next Government - if he wants to that is.