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CRISIS IN THE ASSEMBLY : I DID IT ALL FOR WALES; In a quiet office away from the melee, ousted First Secretary opens his heart.

A FEW moments after losing the toughest job in Welsh politics, Alun Michael shed his public mask and showed his true feelings.

"It has been a difficult and often lonely task. I have been hurt, and so have my family and friends, by the unjustified and cynical criticisms," he told me.

"I came into politics to help others. I have always said that I never wanted to be something, but to do something, to bring about change in ordinary people's lives. I believe I have done that."

Mr Michael looked stunned and dignified - but was close to tears.

After weeks of plots, dark threats and high tension he could let his emotions show.

Five minutes earlier he had shocked Wales and the rest of the UK by dramatically handing in his notice.

If he was going to go, he would do it in his own way.

"For days I have watched more and more disturbed by the deeply cynical actions of Plaid Cymru and the Tories.

"They were bent on creating havoc for the Assembly, for the Labour Party - but worst of all for the people of Wales.

"I came to realise that whatever I said, whatever guarantees I gave that the money is there for every project put forward in Wales - they had closed their ears."

The man who had struggled with the burden of leading a minority Labour Government in the Assembly for eight bruising months looked thoroughly drained.

Undermined by plotting within his own Cabinet - and a constant barrage of censure and no-confidence threats - he looked like a man ready to step away from the heat.

"I wasn't prepared to allow the sheer cynicism of the nationalists to run and run. Plaid Cymru were not prepared to put up an alternative leader. And in a deeply unholy alliance with the Tories they would have kept voting me down again and again.

"All of that would have brought the Assembly and the reputation of Wales into disrepute. I wasn't prepared to drag us all through that.

"This no-confidence motion was not about my alleged failure to secure extra funding from Central Government. It is a cynical use of Objective One to pursue a political ambition.

"That ambition was to break the unity of the Labour Group and force the Labour Party to change its leader. I simply could not have truck with that. And so I resigned."

But why did he decide to resign before the no-confidence motion was put? And when did he decide?At this point Mr Michael got out of his seat and looked animated and, frankly, furious.

"I decided on Wednesday morning. I wrote to the Presiding Officer who changed his position on what he was planning to do.

"I was deeply concerned that there could be a period of uncertainty in which I could be voted out of office and there would be no Cabinet, no Administration and no First Secretary.

"That would have left the Government in Wales in a total limbo.

"I am shocked and furious at the way all of this has been handled.

"For Plaid Cymru to vote down a First Secretary from the Labour Party while refusing to put forward a candidate of their own was an affront to the democratic process and would have made the Assembly a laughing stock. I told the Presiding Officer that. I also wrote to him to say: 'Many people are deeply concerned that you appear to have indicated an intent of coming down on the side of Plaid Cymru.'"

Mr Michael talked to me from the office of a long-standing colleague and friend - fellow Assembly Member Lorraine Barrett.

Within minutes of resigning, he had lost all the benefits of the post.

His official car, his office, his desk, even the use of his phone had been pulled away as if they had never existed.

Mrs Barrett has stood alongside Mr Michael for almost 20 years - as his constituency secretary and close friend.

Her eyes were red and sore. And so was her frame of mind. "No. I am too angry. And it is too early to talk. But I will. Believe me I will," she said.

She is one of his colleagues he knows he can totally trust.

But there are others who are tainted by treachery.

Another close colleague said last night: "Alun has been stabbed in the back by his own colleagues in an appalling and utterly cynical way.

"They care nothing for Alun, for the Assembly or for the Labour Party. For short-term personal gain and ambition they have done for a decent and honourable man."

Mr Michael will not allow himself to be re-nominated as First Secretary.

"It is now time for a period of quiet reflection," he said.

The terrible irony in all this is that it was left to one of Alun Michael's leading assassins to confirm what those close to the man know.

Mike German is leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly - and a member of what Alun Michael yesterday described as "the cynical alliance".

Having helped create the conditions for ruining Mr Michael's Assembly career by voting with the Tories and nationalists, Mr German had this to say last night.

"Alun Michael is a good, principled, and honourable man."

Mr Michael now intends to take plenty of time out to think about what was, what might have been and, above all, about the words and actions of many - which he will find deeply ironic.
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Author:Starling, Paul
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2000
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