Rhodri Morgan steps down as First Minister of Wales

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Rhodri Morgan steps down as First Minister of Wales

End of an era in Welsh politics as the 70 year old veteran politician leaves office before the next step on Welsh Devolution.

End of an era in Welsh politics as the 70 year old veteran politician leaves office before the next step on Welsh Devolution.

Mr Morgan stepped down as First Minister of Wales on 8 December 2009 after voting for the Welsh Assembly Government budget.

The veteran politician had announced in September 2009 his intention to retire as First Minister for Wales once the Assembly budget 2010-2011 had been passed.

Mr Morgan told he did not want to be accused of hanging to power for too long: "I still love this job and love Wales, but I think the time has come", he said.

The most recognisable figure in Welsh politics, supporters and opponents agree he will be a hard act to follow.

The now retired First Minister was known to be a man of the people who could be easily spotted in the street doing his shopping or competing in a pub quiz.

A former civil servant educated at Oxford and Harvard, Mr Morgan entered frontline politics at 47 as a Westminster MP for Cardiff West in 1987 and had been a Welsh Assembly Member since 1999.

Mr Morgan, who resigned as First Minister after nearly 10 years in the job, will remain as an elected Welsh Assembly Member for Cardiff West until the next Assembly election in May 2011.

The former First Minister said he was looking forward to spend more time with his family, walking the dog, digging the allotment and doing some woodcarving.

The longest serving First Minister of Wales

Rhodri Morgan was elected to the Welsh Assembly in May 1999, first holding the post of Minister for Economic Development and European Affairs, and then becoming First Minister of Wales in February 2000 following a period of intense turmoil in the Welsh Labour Party.

As First Minister and leader of the Welsh Labour Party, he formed stable coalition governments first with the Liberal Democrats between 2000-2003, and then with Plaid Cymru from 2007.

Many within his own party criticised him for going into coalition with the Lib-Dems, and especially with Labour's staunch rivals Plaid Cymru.

He caused further unease within sectors of his own party as he signed the One Wales agreement with Plaid Cymru which committed his government to hold a referendum by 2011 on giving the Welsh Assembly full law-making powers.

In his last speech to the Senedd as First Minister, Mr Morgan told this proudest achievement was the Scandinavian-style primary school education curriculum, while his biggest disappointment was the economic recession which hit Wales in 2009.

Many voters will remember him for introducing free bus passes for pensioners or ending all prescription charges, a policy which was later pursued by the devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

During his mandate the Welsh Assembly Government was consolidated, quango agencies such as the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board were brought under Welsh Assembly Government control, and parts of the Welsh capital Cardiff were redeveloped.

In April 2008 Rhodri Morgan became the first political leader to lead a law-making Welsh government in 500 years, after the UK transferred a package of legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly.

His final months in office were spent combating the recession and the swine flu threat, but in his final speech as First Minister Mr Morgan called for the Welsh Assembly to take the next step on the road to Devolution.

As he finished his speech thanking his wife and children for their support, both of whom were watching from the public gallery, the chamber gave the retiring First Minister a standing ovation.

"Welsh solutions for Welsh problems"

Rhodri Morgan's time as First Minister has been characterised by a general policy of "Welsh solutions for Welsh problems".

Referring to the different policies between the Welsh and the UK Labour Party, the Welsh First Minister famously promised "clear red water" between Cardiff and London, particularly in relation to plans to the public service reform agenda pursued by the UK government.

Mr Morgan argued that many British Labour policies approved in the UK parliament in London did not fit Welsh values and would not work effectively in a small and rural country like Wales.

The First Minister said Devolution was working for Wales: "We have managed to do it in a way that the whole of Wales now feels comfortable with Devolution, comfortable in its own shoes, comfortable to be Welsh, proud to be Welsh because of the way Devolution has gone."

In his farewell statement in the Senedd chamber, the First Minister told Assembly members that Wales' model of Devolution was unique to Wales, and reflected on the prospect of a referendum to grant the Assembly full law-making powers.

Mr Morgan said "It's a model based on the principle of: learn to walk before you run... The point is, when the people of Wales start to understand whether we have walked long enough, have we served our apprenticeship and are we in a position to say to them we are now ready to run? Of course, the choice is theirs."

"I believe the Assembly has demonstrated that it's ready to take the next step", stated the retiring First Minister, as he called on Assembly members to support a referendum on primary law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.

Tributes paid to "The Father of Welsh Devolution"

Supporters and opponents alike paid tributes to the longest serving First Minister of Wales.

Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said: "Wales' democracy now has more solid foundations because of Rhodri's leadership."

"We all owe a debt of gratitude to Rhodri Morgan for the deft way in which he steered the Devolution project... He has truly bridged political parties, people and two different periods of our nation's political history."

"He has shown great integrity as First Minister and there's no doubt his contribution will be recognised by the history books", affirmed the Plaid Cymru leader.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "Nobody can detract from Rhodri Morgan's commitment to Wales and to Devolution... Rhodri has always been a kind and extremely personable colleague, a real people-person."

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne said: "No-one can question his commitment to Wales and the Assembly during his 10 years as First Minister, or the important role he has played in Welsh political life."

Assembly Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis Thomas stated that Rhodri Morgan "brought dignity to the office of First Minister."

Welsh Labour Party leader and new First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Rhodri commands a vast amount of respect from people across the length and breadth Wales, irrespective of their political persuasion."

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain described Rhodri Morgan as "The Father of Welsh Devolution” and added that “he has the rare ability to be equally at home whether it be meeting world leaders or talking rugby over a pint in a pub."

Carwyn Jones new First Minister for Wales

Rhodri Morgan is succeeded as First Minister for Wales and Welsh Labout Party leader by Labour Assembly Member Carwyn Jones.

Mr Jones, a member of the National Assembly of Wales for Bridgend since 1999, has held the portfolios of Deputy Secretary in the National Assembly, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister for Open Government, Minister for Education, Culture and the Welsh Language, and Counsel General for Wales and Leader of the House.

Carwyn Jones was elected the new Welsh Labour Party leader with over 52% of the vote, beating Health Minister Edwina Hart and Assembly Minister Huw Lewis in the leadership race to succeed Rhodri Morgan.


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