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The face of Welsh politics stands down

October 1, 2009

MORGANSome of the descriptions may have been a bit off-the-wall, but Welsh political commentators were all agreed – no other local politician has challenged Rhodri Morgan for status in recent years.

His announcement that he is to stand down as First Minister at the age of 70, has led political obit writers to describe his departure as creating a great chasm in Welsh politics.

“In polls Mr Morgan has consistently featured as one of the few recognisable figures in Welsh politics,” wrote BBC reporter Phil Parry.

“Rhodri Morgan will leave centre stage as one of the biggest names Welsh politics has seen.”

Appointed First Minister in 2000, the man who became renowned for his eccentric-style and occasional gaffes dominated the devolved Welsh political scene.

Morgan, overlooked initially by then Prime Minister Tony Blair for the post of Labour leader and First Minister, was given the job after Alun Michael resigned following poor election results.

Blair had earlier appointed Ron Davies as Welsh Secretary to drive through the new institution, but he stepped down after his “moment of madness” on Clapham Common during which he said he was robbed at knifepoint after meeting a man.

Labour’s share of the vote has dwindled under Morgan too, forcing him into coalitions with first the Liberal Democrats in 2003 and then the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru in 2007.

His key policies in education and health have received mixed reviews, and in opposition he opposed the building of the barrage at Cardiff Bay, seen to have regenerated the previous run-down Docks.

His gaffes have included snubbing a D-Day commemoration in Normandy in favour of attending a meeting to discuss plans to bring the Ryder Cup golf tournament to Wales.

But commentators remembered fondly his willingness to treat everybody on an equal basis and his vast, if sometimes meandering, bank of knowledge.

One editorial went as far as to say he shared a rare quality with actress Audrey Hepburn.

“Ms Hepburn is remembered for talking to everyone on a film set with the same warm courtesy, regardless of whether they were statesmen or stagehands,” David Williamson wrote in the national newspaper, the Western Mail.

“As Mr Morgan’s Long Goodbye nears the climax, the 70-year-old Labour leader leaves both friends and former rivals with similar memories.”

The same writer also compared Morgan’s “self-certainty and curiosity” with that of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Journalist Lee Waters wrote on the Guardian’s Comment is Free web site: “His (Morgan’s) record as First Minister has been mixed, but his eccentric style has served as a balm and elevated his status to that of a national leader – as likely to opine on the Welsh rugby squad or the detailed process of steelmaking as on economic policy.”

Parry added: “He will be a hard act to follow.”

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