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Betsan Powys | 13:20 UK time, Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The First Minister, as he told his fellow Assembly Members yesterday, is "totally blog and twitter free". He spends no time at all reading blogs and so we must assume that he won't have seen this.

'This' is a vocal, young, would-be Labour politician using the Bevan Foundation blog - the clue to their leaning is in the title - to tell Rhodri Morgan that people are fed up of waiting to learn when he intends to stand down. They're fed up, not because they obsess about it or want to put a date in their diaries. They're fed up because they want to get on with working out where the Welsh Labour party goes when the leader eventually does the same.

The picture that's emerged over the past few weeks is of a First Minister who does not, after all, intend to stand down on his 70th birthday on the 29th of September. He will instead tell us on his birthday that he's standing down. See what he's done there? Rhodri Morgan has always been careful not to set a date without leaving the door open to staying just that bit longer but lines like "There will be a vacancy for my job before the year is out" delivered at the Labour conference in Swansea mean it's not just ajar. It's now firmly wedged wide open.

Only when he says he's off will the race to succeed Mr Morgan begin and Labour HQ at Transport House have made it entirely clear that rules is rules. The timetable won't be changed for anyone. When Rhodri Morgan announces his intention to stand down, the process of finding a successor will take eight full weeks.

If he were to go on his birthday, those eight weeks would happen in August and September. If the eight weeks kick off on the last day of September, then do the maths. The present First Minister will remain for another full term while everyone else has their eye on finding the next First Minister. He or she won't be taking over until, or even just after, Christmas.

I asked Rhodri Morgan yesterday when he intends to stand down. He shook his head.

"I'm not going to say anything more about departures ... You know there's so much work at the moment I don't even think about it. I just get on with my work. I have nothing to add to what I've previously said on this issue".

I've heard more than one example recently of businessmen and people in charge of public spending picking up the phone to find the First Minister personally on the line, getting stuck into how any extra money squeezed from the purse can be spent to speed up economic recovery. They recognise he's getting his hands dirty, getting on with it. They admire his zeal even if they don't always agree with his conclusions.

"I'm fully engaged with running a country and I don't obsess about topics like leaving dates" added Mr Morgan. I tried again. Was he aware that even if he wasn't thinking about leaving dates, others were? "You can ask me that question 25 times, 525 times or 5025 times, I've nothing more to say". I did suggest trying to ask in Welsh. He had the grace to smile but had no more inclination to give an answer.

Well here's news that won't surprise you. There are an awful lot of Mr Morgan's colleagues thinking about it and talking about it. There's an acceptance among them that there will be "a third candidate". Take Carwyn Jones and Huw Lewis as read. Add ...

Is it true, I ask Andrew Davies, as I've been told by a credible source, that he has told the First Minister he will not be standing? He has no idea where I've heard that and smiles as he politely turns on his heels.

It's certainly true that Mr Davies, the Finance Minister, has been struck down with a dose of mentionitis recently. Few interviews go by without a reference to the Health Minister, Edwina Hart. Could he - the MPs' favourite - be intending to throw in his lot with the MPs'-not-so-favourite, Ms. Hart?

Could the mutterings from other well-informed directions that she's been wise to have kept her counsel thus far be directed at Carwyn Jones? It's noticeable that confident assertions that 'he must remain favourite to take over as First Minister' are now, from some surprising and senior quarters, followed by "... isn't he?"

It's up to Rhodri Morgan when he goes. That is clear to everyone. As one voice from Westminster recently put it "He's the big beast. It's his decision and he's earned the rignt to decide when he goes. But if he were to ask my advice ..?"

If he were to ask their advice, he would be gone by the end of September.

But then the First Minister doesn't obsess about leaving dates and is fully engaged with sorting out the immediate problems of the economy. The reason others within Welsh Labour do obsess about it is the ticking clock, those two elections looming large, which will define politics - and their party - for the next two decades.


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