Leading the Way Out

Rhodri Morgan deserved the honour of leading the way out of the Senedd today carrying the mace. He'd held the office of First Minister with dignity for nearly the whole lifetime of the National Assembly and this was a fitting tribute. I wish him well in his retirement ... although family life may not be as quiet and relaxed as he would like it to be if Julie manages to get elected in Cardiff North.


Looking back at his contribution, two things stand out in particular:

•  The first was being seen as a distinctively Welsh First Minister. Alun Michael held the job first, although he called himself the First Secretary. But he was always seen as Tony Blair's poodle, and it was probably a good thing that he lost the vote of no confidence and refocused his attention on Westminster, where he was an still an MP and where he seems to be much more comfortable.

So Rhodri—who was never really liked or thought competent by Tony Blair—assumed the role, and in so doing managed to give the Assembly a more distinctively Welsh character. In my opinion this has been the main reason why public opinion in Wales has come to fully embrace devolution after the very narrow victory in the referendum of 1997.

•  The second thing that marked his tenure was the huge increase in public spending during the period when he was First Minister. This made it easy for him to be seen as a generous and avuncular leader. As the main purpose of the Assembly was to decide how to spend the ever increasing amount of money we received in the form of the block grant, he never had to make any particularly difficult or unpopular decisions.

Of course what most people in Wales didn't realize was that although public spending in Wales was increasing, public spending on the other side of Clawdd Offa was increasing far, far more. As we can see from this graph taken from the Holtham Report, public spending in Wales as a proportion of equivalent public spending in England has fallen from about 126% to 112% since 1999:


This lower increase in Wales was a consequence of the Barnett formula known as the "Barnett squeeze", and it is for this reason that the money available to Wales is now considerably lower than it would be if we were treated on the same basis as a region of England.

Now of course Rhodri Morgan and his colleagues in the Labour administration knew full well that Wales was progressively losing out throughout the time he was First Minister ... but did absolutely nothing about it. He preferred not to stand up for Wales; perhaps because he felt it was a battle he could not win, but probably because it wasn't in his character to enter the fight and scrap it out with his Labour colleagues in Westminster. Maybe this was why he was never rated very highly as an MP. For in spite of all the talk of "clear red water", Labour in Wales always takes second place to Labour in Westminster.

Wales would not be in the crisis situation it is now in with the scale of public spending cuts if Labour had reformed the Barnett formula when they had the opportunity to do so. This will always stand as a huge black mark against his time as First Minister, and Labour's time in government.


So one very good thing and one very bad thing. On balance, I think the good of winning over hearts and minds to fully embrace and value the National Assembly outweighs the financial failure. We now believe that we can make decisions that affect Wales in Wales. Next comes the harder task of learning to stand on our own feet financially.

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Anonymous said...

tend to agree with your analysis MH.

He certainly gave a 'face' to the Assembly and for that I'm glad. But as far as his leadership record, then, there's not much is there - and he's been given a very easy ride by the media, it seems, because he talks about rugby.

Objective One money has been totally wasted. Virtually no lasting legacy.

He refused to take on daddy Labour in London on Barnett - even went out of his way to attack Plaid Cymru for daring to raise it.

Health has been badly handled.

There are some gains in education ... and I do think it will take years for them to become apparent. The new minsiter, Leighton Andrews, at least seems to have some idea of where he's going. So, it's a 'score-draw' there at best.

He should in fact thank Plaid Cymru for 1) voting to get rid of Alun Michael in the first place 2) insisting on the March 2011 referendum which gave him credibility and Labour the space to implement policies ... again, something which Labour attacked Plaid for in the past for insisting on a referendum.


Plaid Panteg said...

Excuse the self plug...

My election blog


Owen said...

As said, he became a face for the institution and helped claw back some dignity from the crap devolution settlement and the disasterous first year or so for the Assembly itself.

He'll be remembered somewhat fondly I'd imagine. I doubt there are many politicians manage that leaving politics.

If Alun Michael was a slug, Rhodri is a snail. Carwyn Jones does appear to have a bit of spine judging by his recent "smackdown" to Peter Hain. One day we might even have a Labour leader who can stand up fully for Wales.

Unknown said...

A fair assessment, MH. Rhodri was a good leader in Wales, and we have a lot to thank him for, but he never aspired to greatness.

I feel he was cowed by Peter Hain - how or why is beyond comprehension, for on any scale of measurement Rhodri is twice the man Peter will ever be! But Rhodri would never take him on, and it has cost us all dear!

Carwyn is shaping up quite well, after a poor start, and as the senior Labour government minister in the UK ,is really beginning to feel his feet. Let's hope he soon learns how to use his weight as well.

But I think that all of us who care about Wales would agree that Rhodri has played a huge part in bringing us to where we are today.

Pob Bendith, Rhodri

Cibwr said...

Rhodri was a man I'd like to have a pint with, indeed if I pop to the Grange pub I may well do so. Overall he was good for Wales, but his weakness, if he had one, was he was a Labour man, and when all said and done the Labour Party always came first. Yes he is head and shoulders above Peter Hain but rather than open disagreement he helped paper over the cracks. That is a remarkable achievement and for the most part for the good of Wales. But that was not enough.

He has earned his place in history and I wish him well in retirement, and yes if I see him I'll buy him a pint.

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