Thursday, 18 May 2017

Rhodri Morgan 1939-2017

(Pic : Wales Online)

The former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, has died at the age of 77.

A graduate of Oxford University and Harvard University, prior to being elected to the First Assembly in 1999, Rhodri served as Cardiff West's MP.

Although he unsuccessfully stood to lead the Labour party in Wales twice following the 1997 devolution referendum – despite being considered a grassroots favourite - it wasn't until 2000, during a period of serious political instability in the young Assembly, that he ascended to the role, becoming Wales' "first" First Minister in the process and - you could certainly argue - preventing the Assembly's collapse.

He served as First Minister between 2000-2009 before retiring from politics in 2011.

One thing that marked out Rhodri's leadership, particularly in the early years, was a willingness to put distance between the Welsh branch of Labour and the UK party through simple, redistributionist measures which retained Welsh Labour's socialist core in the face of a reformist Tony Blair-led Labour in London – a policy shift widely noted as "Clear Red Water".

As a result, Rhodri oversaw the introduction of some of the most well-known and popular policies in devolved Wales – free prescriptions, free museum entry, free bus passes for the elderly – which are still retained more than a decade on and, in some cases, have even been replicated elsewhere.

Paying tribute, his successor as First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab, Bridgend), said:

"Wales hasn't just lost a great politician, we've lost a real father figure. In many ways Rhodri wasn't like other politicians, and that's why people warmed to him, trusted him and felt like they knew him so well. He was funny, clever, engaging on almost any topic and absolutely passionate about all things Welsh.

....that first decade of Welsh self-governance , and making distinct choices for Wales, will forever be associated with his leadership."

Rhodri led Labour into two coalition governments.

Firstly, with the Liberal Democrats between 2000-2003, then the One Wales coalition government with Plaid Cymru between 2007-2011 – despite suffering a heart attack during negotiations. The latter coalition agreement eventually lead to a successful referendum on law-making powers in March 2011, paving the way for the Senedd as it is today.

Mike German, former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Deputy First Minister, said Rhodri was, "a strong opponent but a great friend. Wales has lost a great politician and stalwart."

Former Plaid Cymru Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said:
"He was very easy to work with, and he was very likeable, extremely loyal and highly knowledgeable. It wasn't easy for him to deliver the coalition in sections of his party, but Rhodri stood firm and we agreed a very progressive programme of government."

Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said Rhodri was "much respected across the political spectrum and led Wales with distinction during a crucial period in Welsh history".

Demonstrating that, Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Davies (Con, South Wales Central), paid tribute:
"He was a giant of devolved politics. We may have had political differences but he was sincere; he always championed causes he believed passionately in."

On behalf of the National Assembly, the Llywydd Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion) issued a statement:
"As First Minister of Wales, Rhodri's contribution in helping build our nation and its young democracy was immeasurable. His popularity among the people of Wales and his determination to anchor the institution firmly in the national psyche accelerated the acceptance of devolution and nurtured pride in our new institution.
Rhodri's ability to communicate with, and to understand, the diverse communities of Wales ultimately won hearts and minds, and was critical in giving the people of Wales the confidence to strengthen and develop the National Assembly."

Rhodri's survived by his wife, Julie Morgan – the sitting Assembly Member for Cardiff North – two daughters and a son.


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