Party in crisis faces a damaging leadership contest

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The Independent Online
RON DAVIES' decision to stand down left the Welsh Labour Party in a state of crisis, with next year's crucial Assembly elections less than six months away.

The new Welsh Secretary, Alun Michael, met senior officials in Cardiff, last night, to discuss the next steps as the party faced a potentially damaging contest to select its candidate for First Minister. The Welsh party executive will meet formally on Monday to decide how Mr Davies' successor will be chosen, but all of the options appear fraught with chaos.

The most obvious choice will be to reconvene a special party conference with a re-run ballot among an electoral college of Welsh Labour MPs, trade unions and the 170 approved possible candidates on the party's list for the assembly.

Mr Michael is known to be canvassing opinion on the possibility of holding no leadership contest before the May elections and leaving it to the new Assembly delegates to choose their leader. Such a radical option, while giving the party time to collect its thoughts, would open it up to accusations that it was undermining the much-vaunted openness and democracy of the Assembly.

Front-runners for any new contest are sure to include Rhodri Morgan, the Cardiff West MP who was beaten for the top job by Mr Davies last month.

Mr Morgan's reputation as a maverick meant that he was passed over for a ministerial post following the general election, but he has gained widespread respect for his chairmanship of the powerful Commons public administration select committee.

He confirmed last night that he would throw his hat into the ring. "Of course now that there is a vacancy, I will stand. The rules are a matter for the Labour party of Wales," he said and described as "absurd" suggestions that he was disliked by Downing Street because he was seen as "off message". "Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from one vote on lone parent benefit, I have never failed to vote with the official party line in my 11-and-a-half years as an MP," he said.

Another possible candidate is Wayne David, MEP for South Wales Central. He is seen by some as a safe pair of hands, but his critics claim he lacks charisma.