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Rebellious aura of student days resurfaces.

Byline: By MARTIN SHIPTON Western Mail

Like the First Minister, Dafydd Elis-Thomas has had an equivocal relationship with the establishment.

As a student in Bangor he demonstrated against the Queen - these days he greets her when she visits Wales. But it would be facile to write him off as another example of a politician who has betrayed his radical roots out of self interest.

His career has been more varied than that of Rhodri Morgan. He started an academic career in Welsh Studies at Coleg Harlech, later lecturing in various cultural and educational subjects at Bangor, Aberystwyth, Cardiff and the Open University. He's been a TV dramatist and presenter, a director of an environmental company, chairman of a new media agency and a director of several cultural bodies. His 18-year stint in the House of Commons can almost be seen as an interruption. Later he became something of a quangocrat, culminating in his chairmanship of the Welsh Language Board.

His decision to accept a peerage in 1992 prompted outrage within Plaid Cymru that has never entirely abated. His reasons for doing so appear to be twofold - an assertion that while the Lords remains an integral part of Britain's legislative function, it makes no sense to boycott it, and the fact that having decided to give up his seat in the Commons, he needed another source of income.

As is often the case with politicians, his worst enemies are in the same party. He and Dafydd Wigley share a mutual distrust that has lasted decades, while Dafydd Iwan criticised him on a TV programme last year for 'being unpredictable and enjoying aristocratic company too much'.

Elis-Thomas is as charming as Morgan in his different way. He has a keen sense of irony that sometimes leaves people who know him well unsure whether he is being serious or not. In explaining to the historian John Davies his transition from 'teenage existentialist' to High Church Anglican, he said, 'The only thing that separates me from the Pope is a condom.'

One cause he is most definitely committed to is that of the independence of his office in the Assembly. He has based his performance as Presiding Officer on advice he has sought from parliaments across the world, and remains convinced that as the Assembly's first 'Speaker' it is his duty to ensure the role does not become subordinate to the wishes of the Assembly Government. In ruffling Rhodri Morgan's feathers over the appointment of a Counsel General, he is in a way recreating the rebelliousness of his student days.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 9, 2004
Words:426
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