Voting For A New Britain: Labour warns against apathy

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CONCERN IS mounting at senior levels of the Labour Party that it will fail to win an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly amid signs that its leader may be denied a seat.

An increasingly anxious party headquarters in Cardiff urged members yesterday to turn out in force on 6 May, especially in the critical mid and west Wales region where Alun Michael, Tony Blair's favourite for First Secretary, heads Labour's "top-up list".

The Institute of Welsh Politics said that a detailed re-assessment of recent poll findings showed that the chances of Mr Michael being elected were "too close to call".

Peter Hain, Labour campaign co-ordinator, wrote to5,000 members, warning them that apathy was the enemy. He said that if Labour supporters backed the party's "first past the post" candidate in their constituency, but then switched their second "top-up" vote to another party, Labour might not achieve a majority in the 60-strong assembly.

Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Welsh institute at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, said a recent NOP poll for HTV showed Mr Michael "was in trouble". He argues that in its analysis of the survey, the television company failed fully to take into account low voter turnout. That would act against Mr Michael's chances of gaining a seat and might mean Labour failed to win Caernarfon east, a key constituency.

Dr Wyn Jones believes that Rhodri Morgan, who was defeated by Mr Michael in the election for the leadership of the party in Wales, stands a reasonable chance of becoming First Secretary. "I've seen odds of eight to one against Rhodri. If I was a betting man I'd put pounds 100 on it," he said.

He believes all the evidence showed Plaid Cymru would become the second party in Wales, pushing the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives down the pecking order.