Michael set to run for Welsh leader

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The Independent Online
ALUN MICHAEL, the new Welsh Secretary and a close ally of Tony Blair, is expected to run for the job of First Minister of Wales following last week's resignation of Ron Davies.

Mr Michael was taking soundings last night among council leaders and Labour activists in Wales. Friends said he may announce today his intention to succeed Mr Davies as Labour's candidate to lead the Welsh Assembly to be set up next spring.

Mr Michael wants to ensure he enjoys strong support in the principality, in an attempt to head off charges that Mr Blair is seeking to "parachute in" a loyalist. He would have to resign as Welsh Secretary after next May's elections to the assembly, limiting his cabinet career to about seven months.

Mr Blair wants Mr Michael to run and would prefer him to be chosen as Labour leader in Wales without a divisive party election which would prolong Labour's embarrassment over the Davies affair. It is understood that Rhodri Morgan, MP for Cardiff West, has been offered a deal under which he would become Mr Michael's deputy in the assembly if he agreed not to run.

Last night, the Transport and General Workers Union in Wales and Don Touhig, MP for Islwyn, called on Mr Morgan and other potential candidates to stand aside for Mr Michael.

But Mr Morgan, who is seen as a maverick by the Blair camp, said last night he was determined to run for the top job. He warned there would be "uproar" if the Welsh Labour Party executive imposed a candidate. "It would not be in the open and democratic traditions of the Labour Party," he said.

"Devolution is about transferring power to the people of Wales. The same applies to the way Labour chooses its candidate to lead the assembly. That decision has to have `Made in Wales' stamped on it," he said.

Mr Morgan's supporters confirmed that the offer of being Mr Michael's deputy had been "dangled" in front of him, but it was impractical because there was no such role in the assembly constitution.

"Furthermore, they seem to be asking Rhodri to stand aside and offer his political capital, his strong support for devolution, to Alun," one source said.

"It is naive in the extreme to think anybody would be fooled because Alun has never really been that involved in the assembly preparations. All that would happen is that Rhodri would look like Tony Blair's stooge, just as Alun would."

A bruising battle for the Labour candidacy ended in September when Mr Davies beat Mr Morgan for the job by 68 per cent to 32 per cent of the votes of an electoral college made up of constituencies, trade unions and MPs and MEPs.

At his first Commons Question Time in his new role, Mr Michael yesterday sidestepped questions about his candidacy.

The Tory spokesman on constitutional affairs, Liam Fox, pressed Mr Michael on the issue, claiming that it appeared that Mr Michael would be "conscript not a volunteer" if he took up the post of assembly leader.

Mr Michael replied: "The First Minister of Wales should lead it with distinction and vigour. I can assure him that the Labour Party will provide that."

Last night, Martin Caton, MP for Gower, said that most of his colleagues in Wales would be "extremely angry" if a leader was imposed on them and would "fight it strongly".

"It would be an insult to democracy for the executive to pick Labour's leader in Wales without reference to the party's membership," he said.