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Monday, June 12, 2006

Getting personal

The level of personal animosity between opposing sides of the former Blaenau Gwent Labour Party revealed in this morning's Western Mail cannot be healthy for politics, for democracy, or for the people concerned.

Just how deep the bitterness in the Independent camp is has been revealed in the decision by Peter Law's widow to publish details of a private conversation between the First Minister and her over whether he should attend her husband's funeral or not:

Mrs Law, who is standing in the Assembly by-election caused by her husband's death, told the Western Mail, "When the email request came through I discussed it with my children and we decided we didn't want Rhodri there because of the way he had treated Peter. That's why we sent the message back saying we would rather he didn't attend.

"When Rhodri rang me up, he said he thought that as First Minister he ought to be there. I repeated that the wish of the family was that he shouldn't attend, but said that as the church was a public place we obviously couldn't stop him going if he insisted on turning up.

"I think it's terrible that he decided to come anyway. So far as I am concerned, it was no more than a PR stunt for him. Rhodri Morgan showed what he thought of Peter when he was alive.

"I couldn't accept his reasoning that he had to be there because he was First Minister. As First Minister he should have attended the commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy, but chose to go to a golf tournament instead."

In a separate article the newspaper reveals some of the background to the disagreement that has become a blood feud:

Mr Law considered that Mr Morgan's decision to sack him amounted to an insult to Blaenau Gwent, so closely did he identify his own position with that of his constituency.

As a backbencher, he became a strong critic of the First Minister, both in Labour group meetings and publicly. Mr Law was briefly suspended from the Labour group for voting against the decision to spend public money on the Wales Millennium Centre. Shortly afterwards, he indicated in an interview the level of his disillusionment with Mr Morgan's leadership. He said, "What I will always object to is the way the soul of my party was prostituted to the Liberal Democrats so Rhodri Morgan could have a personal comfort zone."

In my view normal political discourse cannot properly take place in such an atmosphere. There has to be some mutual respect and co-operation between opposing politicians if government is to work effectively and efficiently. That is true whether one has a 100 vote majority or no majority at all. To be a politician one needs an ego, and that means that sometimes one does take an otherwise rational political decision personally, but one cannot operate on that basis and continue to effectively represent one's constituents. Politics is about more than fine oratory and point-scoring invective.

It is certainly the case, in my view, that the people of Blaenau Gwent cannot decide their future representation by judging opposing candidates on the basis of who did what, who said what and who they think was right in such an intensely personal disagreement. At this stage the candidates should be arguing about their relative positions on the health service, education, Post Offices, transport, the environment and a whole range of other issues. If they cannot operate on this level then the electorate must draw their own conclusions.
Mutual respect? The word respect has become very tarnished recently. But there was a clear request from the faimly that Morgan should not attend the funeral and he decided to ignore the request.

Let me ask you - and anyone else - this question. If you'd been requested by the immediate family not to attend the funeral, would you have ignored their wishes?

Of course you wouldn't.

The human response is to acknowledge the family's request at that time, not attend, and try to build bridges later.

Morgan could only have behaved as he did with an eye to the politics of it, a cynical response to a tragedy that is so inhuman it could only have come from a politician.

I pay this guy's wages. I think he's an incompetant, insensitive, self-aggrandising apparatchik. I'd like to stop paying his wages.
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