The Rhodri Conundrum

A number of commentators on the Radio and TV today have been making the point that Rhodri Morgan as an individual has a high popularity rating in Wales, but that the party that he leads has become noticeably less popular during his time at the helm. A number of reasons have been given for this – his man of the people persona; Rhodri not sorting out institutional problems in the Welsh Labour party etc.

I would suspect that the real reason is in the way that Assembly issues are always reported. The Assembly is almost invariably seen as a corporate institution rather than a political institution. Here is an example from the today's Daily Post:
"THE Labour government was accused of hypocrisy last night after announcing it was scrapping hospital car parking charges despite criticising the Welsh Assembly when it axed fees."

Throughout the article there is no mention that the decision to scrap parking fees was proposed by the Labour/Plaid government in Cardiff, it is always described as a decision made by the Assembly or by Wales.

The same has been true of almost any decision, good or bad, made since devolution. They have all been Assembly decisions never Welsh Labour Government decisions in the way that Westminster measures have been Labour Government measures. The problem that this has caused Labour is that Rhodri's popularity has been matched by the Assembly becoming more popular, rather than by Labour becoming more popular. Labour in Wales has been blamed for Westminster Labour's failings but has failed to gain from Rhodri's "clear red water" Welsh Labour policies.

This isn't just a problem for Labour however; it is a problem for all the parties.

When the Tories suggested scrapping free prescriptions recently they were seen as opposing the Assembly rather than opposing a Labour policy. When the Labour/Plaid government failed to help secure the future of Dolgarog Aluminium works in the Conwy valley last year attacks on the parties of government by the parties of opposition fell on deaf ears – the locals blamed the Assembly, and they wanted the Assembly scrapped not a change of Assembly Government!

Until we see an end to reporting of the Assembly as a corporate body, rather than as an institution that is as party political as the House of Commons, proper political debate in Wales will be stifled to the detriment of all of the parties involved in the Assembly.


  1. You are right about the journalists ignorance of the difference between the National Assembly and the Welsh government. They would never report 'Westminster has decided'. Suppose they're not very bright, really.

    On St Rhodri, isn't this the only politician who refused to give an opinion on the illegal Iraq War?

    With few exceptions, the Cardiff media have always fawned all over him. After all, many of them are his constituents and / or Labour members.

  2. Spot on Alwyn. There's a fundamental problem in Wales where many people fail to distinguish between the executive and the legislature. Much of that is Labour's own fault, though, for their reluctance to call the executive what it should have been called from the start: "the Welsh Government". "The Welsh Executive" would also be okay.

    "Welsh Assembly Government", the phrase which Labour insists we use (and it took a few years for them to add the "Welsh" bit if I remember), is an unnecessary and cumbersome phrase which has lead to the confusion you describe. So, in their attempts to stop Welsh devolution getting too much ahead of itself, Labour have shot themselves in the foot somewhat.

  3. The BBC Media love rhodri 'cos their all constituents in Cardiff West + are afraid for their job if they're seen as being too critical.

    + BBC Wales journalists never give him a tough time in interviews - they always allow him to waffle on and get away with pseudo intellectual comments.

    Objective 1, two health reorganisations, no opinion on Iraq (but plenty on rugby and Dr Who), no delivery on more power to the Asssembly just a sop to Brit Nat Labour MPs etc etc. He was an opposition politician who became leader. He was lucky enough that the Welsh media is weak enough so as to get away with serious grilling. He allowed others to make policies (which is commendable in many ways) but has lead to a lack of strategy and legacy.

    Over all, a man with unmatched appeal and power who didn't deliver as he could have. Maybe because he didn't actually believe in anything beyond the rhetoric.

  4. Nice to see we all agree in this small corner of sanity about the sainted one. Thanks for giving us the opportunity, MOF.

    One particularly sad note was the fawning and un-necessary comment from IWJ. Rhodri Mawr was 'easy to get on with' or words to that effect. Well, if a Labour politician is being nice, it's because he's getting his own way and shafting you. The Great Leader regularly stole the media show on all good news stories right across Plaid's ministerial portfolios but did a Gordon Brown Macavity when there was hard work to be done. Cardiff Bay is becoming Plaid's Tar Baby.

  5. See a blog about Rhodri's resignation at http://www.totalpolitics.com/blogs/