Wales politics

Rhodri Morgan: Tributes to Wales' former first minister

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Media captionA look back at the career of Rhodri Morgan, who took the helm of the assembly in 2000

Former first minister Rhodri Morgan, who has died aged 77, has been described as the most popular politician of his generation.

The tribute was paid by Alun Michael, who he replaced at the helm of the Welsh Assembly in February 2000.

Mr Morgan has been credited with bringing stability to the fledgling institution during his nine years in charge after its turbulent start.

His successor, Carwyn Jones, said Wales had "lost a father figure".

It is understood Mr Morgan had been out cycling near his home on Wednesday when he died.

A statement from South Wales Police on Thursday said "officers were called to an incident which happened on a lane near Cwrt Yr Ala Road, Wenvoe [near Cardiff] shortly after 5.00pm last night after reports that a man had been taken ill".

The statement continued: "Police and paramedics attended, sadly, the man, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, was pronounced deceased at the scene."

All parties in Wales have suspended general election campaigning on Thursday as a mark of respect.

Elected as a Labour MP in 1987, Mr Morgan stood for the new assembly in 1999.

He served as first minister and Welsh Labour leader from 2000 until he stepped down in 2009, with Mr Jones elected to succeed him.

The former AM for Cardiff West is survived by his wife, Julie, two daughters and a son.

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Media captionCarwyn Jones says Rhodri Morgan saved a "struggling" Welsh Assembly

Mr Jones said: "Wales hasn't just lost a great politician, we've lost a real father figure."

He said Mr Morgan was "funny, clever, engaging on almost any topic".

"I owe him a great deal, just as we all do in Wales," the first minister added.

"He did so much to fight for, and then establish devolution in the hearts and minds of the public in our country."

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Media captionRhodri Morgan: 'I wasn't late, the Queen was early'
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Media captionKevin Brennan said Rhodri Morgan 'had reach most politicians dream of'

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "We've lost a good friend, a great man and, above all, a giant of the Welsh labour movement."

"I saw Rhodri just last month, campaigning in Cardiff North with Carwyn Jones," he added.

"Rhodri was an incredibly effective first minister for Wales. He stood up for Wales, its people's future and its public services."

Tony Blair, who was Labour prime minister when Mr Morgan was installed, said he "was an outstanding servant of Wales, the United Kingdom and the Labour Party".

"He was great company, a fund of marvellous stories and a shrewd and immensely capable politician", Mr Blair said, adding Mr Morgan led the assembly with "with enormous skill and dedication".

Ex-Labour Welsh Secretary Lord Hain said: "As first minister Rhodri was both the father of devolution and the father of the nation.

"He did more than anyone to bed down and ensure the new Welsh Assembly gained widespread legitimacy."

Calling him a "unique populist intellectual", Lord Hain said Mr Morgan was a "towering figure in every sense whom we will all miss".

Alun Michael, now Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, said he was "shocked by the sad news of Rhodri Morgan's death".

He said his commitment to Wales was "always absolute".

"He was the most popular politician of his generation and the absolute master of the one-liner," he added.

"While we had our disagreements, for instance over the Cardiff Bay Barrage, Rhodri was always a vigorous and colourful debater, but not personal."

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Media captionA "lovely, warm guy" who had brought "reality" to devolution, says Jeremy Corbyn
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Media captionAndrew RT Davies said Rhodri Morgan was a "giant of devolved politics"

Rhodri Morgan's time as first minister included two coalitions.

In the first, with the Liberal Democrats between 2000 and 2003, Mike German served as deputy first minister.

Lord German called the former Welsh Labour leader a "strong opponent but a great friend".

"Wales has lost a great politician and stalwart tonight," he said.

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Media captionWe trusted each other, says Rhodri Morgan's 2007 coalition partner Ieuan Wyn Jones
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Media captionVaughan Roderick said Rhodri Morgan knew when to play his cards

Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was deputy first minister to Mr Morgan under the One Wales coalition, 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."

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, himself a former AM who sparred with Mr Morgan in the Senedd chamber, said he was "a significant politician" and "great servant to Wales".

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said the former first minister "was much respected across the political spectrum and led Wales with distinction during a crucial period in Welsh history".

Expressing her deepest sympathy on behalf of the members of the assembly and its staff, the institution's presiding officer Elin Jones said: "As first minister of Wales, Rhodri's contribution in helping build our nation and its young democracy was immeasurable."

"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."

Books of condolence have been opened at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and the assembly's north Wales office in Colwyn Bay for members of the public to pay their respects to Mr Morgan.

All flags at assembly buildings are flying at half-mast, and a minute's silence will be observed at the Senedd at 12:30 BST.

'Like no other politician'

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Image caption Rhodri Morgan and Alun Michael after a meeting at Transport House in Cardiff in February 2000

By Tomos Livingstone, BBC Wales political correspondent

Rhodri Morgan stabilised Welsh devolution after its rocky first year, and spent nine years as first minister in his own idiosyncratic style.

At a time when sound bites were the norm, he spoke like no other politician - his response to being asked whether he wanted to lead the yet-to-be-created assembly was "do one-legged ducks swim in a circle?"

In office he pursued a strategy of differentiating his administration from Tony Blair's New Labour government, using the new devolved powers to opt-out from Blairite reforms to health and education.

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