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Leading Article: True leaders tolerate a degree of dissent.

WHEN someone writes a history of the National Assembly, they will find a fair amount to mull over in the institution's first term.

It started off as a minority Labour administration led by Alun Michael and finished as a Lib-Lab coalition led by Rhodri Morgan.

In between it has failed to excite the majority of the Welsh electorate - a contention that will be tested in next month's elections.

Another test will be of the resilience of the leading parties when they lose some of their brightest minds and best-known figures.

Plaid Cymru is losing Dafydd Wigley, Phil Williams and Cynog Dafis. Labour is losing Ron Davies, John Marek and Delyth Evans.

The long-serving Dr Marek - who will stand against his own party in Wrexham - was regarded as too outspoken to remain in the party, but he claims all he was doing was representing the views of his constituents.

While Delyth Evans is standing down of her own accord and has not faced the controversy of her colleague from North Wales, she is expressing similar fears.

Ms Evans seems to feel a sense of disillusionment with a set-up which brooks no dissent from its own side. She laments a position where the leadership appears unwilling to tolerate constructive criticism, let alone the more abrasive kind.

It is ironic that she is expressing such views now.

For at UK level, Peter Hain and Clare Short have clearly been given a platform to speak off-message by a Prime Minister routinely castigated for control-freakery, at a time when his leadership has never been more open to question.

But there is no Peter Hain or Clare Short in the Assembly, and now it seems unlikely there will be after the election.

While Rhodri Morgan does not appear to lack conviction, perhaps his experience of the early days of the Assembly and his conflicts with the London leadership have dented his confidence.

To tolerate a degree of public dissent is surely a sign of constructive leadership, as well as a better way to test prospective policies before putting them to the ultimate examination of the electorate.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 4, 2003
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