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The long fuse

Betsan Powys | 16:43 UK time, Friday, 4 September 2009

It's still oh so quiet in the Bay.

There's still more than two weeks until the AMs return for the start of the autumn term, or as one dressed down party aide put it to me, rolling his eyes, 'the children come back to school'.

But the silence is deceptive.

There's a background noise of a ticking clock - or the countdown to September the 29th, the self imposed deadline for the First Minister to make his intentions about his future known.

Has the decision been made? Yes. Those who were still talking 50:50 going/staying last week are revising it daily to 70:30, 80:20. The consensus is that Rhodri Morgan will stand down. There's no force majeure, be it an autumn general election or swine flu out of control in Wales which is leading him towards staying on.

So instead, thoughts turn to choreography.

September 29th - Rhodri Morgan's 70th birthday, in case you're not a regular reader - falls during Labour's annual conference. What better way to announce that he's standing down as leader of Labour in Wales than among comrades, basking in the warm gratitude of his party, from the Prime Minister downwards, for all he has achieved in a long and distinguished career. Mr Morgan is a party man through and through, after all.

But there are a couple of issues here.

The first among them, as the sharper eyed of you will have noticed, is that contrary to popular belief, Rhodri Morgan is not the leader of the Labour Party in Wales. He's simply leader of the Labour Group in the National Assembly and it's by that role that he is de facto the First Minister.

Secondly, the Labour conference is in Brighton. I spend regular family holidays in Brighton and I reckon I've sniffed out most of the local Welsh connections. It didn't take me that long. Wouldn't it undermine an announcement with such fundamental implications for the leadership of Wales that it was delivered in an English seaside resort, not in Wales, if not the Welsh capital? It doesn't feel ... statesmanlike somehow.

You can easily imagine that it's not exactly what a Prime Minister straining every sinew to ensure conference messages all drive towards towards the General Election would want either.

Here's where the choreography comes in though. Remember the ticking clock, and reach for the calendar. It would be impossible for Mr Morgan not to make his intentions clear at the conference - his own "on or around" deadline imposes that on him. Were he to say nothing, the speculation would run out of control that he's staying on.

He must either have said he's standing down by then - more of that in a moment or ...

Mr Morgan tells his colleagues in Brighton that he's addressing them as First Minister and as leader of their group in the National Assembly for the last time. There's a warm glow, a between-the-lines rather than an in-the-headlines bye-bye perhaps.

Then it's back to Cardiff. At 2pm on Tuesday Mr Morgan will face his weekly session of First Minister's Questions. It's likely that both Nick Bourne and Kirsty Williams will have already used their questions the previous week to press him on his future. They'll have watched his obvious discomfort over recent months at attempts to get him to show his hand.

It's likely, surely, that the Assembly authorities would be receptive to a request for the First Minister to make a personal statement to the chamber at 2pm as the first item of business. But his announcement that he's standing down as leader of a political grouping is surely a party, not a government announcement? It would all be in the wording, I suspect. There are a lot of upsides to this. It's statesmanlike, it would allow the other party leaders to pay warm and as I'm sure we all anticipate, sincere tributes to a man who has done more than any other to keep devolution in Wales on track.

The Labour conference, though, is late in the season, and the Assembly returns from recess on Tuesday, September 22, a week earlier. It's possible that Mr Morgan could make an announcement that soon, if he fears any reluctance to respond to the goading will simply fuel the speculation that either he's staying - or he still hasn't made up his mind.

A few days seems like a decent interlude before the battle for his job starts in earnest. Then we may all be reminded that "Oh so quiet" was a cover version - of a song called "Blow a fuse".


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