Davies confident in assembly vote

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RON DAVIES, Secretary of State for Wales, yesterday brushed aside claims that he was losing ground in the battle to become Labour leader of the new Welsh Assembly.

He denied suggestions that growing numbers of rank and file party members will back his rival Rhodri Morgan, the Cardiff West MP, in today's crucial vote on the issue. A year after the country narrowly said Yes to devolution, the Wales Labour Party has a conference in Newport to select its prospective assembly leader.

Although Mr Davies began the campaign in August as outright favourite, backers of Mr Morgan insist the result today will be much closer than originally expected.

Both sides have been busy lobbying meetings of party members in the past few days.

Mr Davies insisted he remained confident of a decisive victory because "of a very encouraging response from all sections of the party".

"This idea that there has been a groundswell of grass roots opinion in favour of Rhodri is not borne out by the facts," he said. "The overwhelming bulk of support is coming to me."

The battle is being viewed as a tussle between New and Old Labour, with Blairites represented by the minister. Mr Morgan, 58, describes himself as "classic" Labour.

A former Welsh affairs spokesman, he was bitterly disappointed when he was left out of Mr Blair's Welsh Office team when Labour took power.

Mr Davies is known to have strong backing from the unions and a majority of Welsh Labour MPs have declared their support for him.