A LABOUR AM has added weight to calls from inside Rhodri Morgan's own camp that the First Minister should step down before the next National Assembly elections in 2007.
Former Assembly Environment Secretary Peter Law yesterday became the first Labour politician to go on the record in support of comments made by an aide to Mr Morgan in yesterday's Western Mail.
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, outlined a series of mounting concerns about Mr Morgan's leadership, including the lack of major policy initiatives, dissatisfaction with the state of the NHS in Wales, failure to embrace the Richard Commission proposals on future powers for the Assembly and gaffes like the First Minister's decision not to attend the D-Day commemoration in Normandy.
Yesterday Mr Law, the AM for Blaenau Gwent, said, "I agreed with a lot of what was said. There are so many things that need to be looked at in the Labour Party today and it is right that concerns about Rhodri Morgan's leadership are brought out into the open.
"One of the significant things about Rhodri is that he was never a council leader. If he had been, he would have known about the need to consult his colleagues. These days he often treats the Labour group with contempt - we were only told that he intended to cull three quangos an hour-and-a-quarter before he made the public announcement.
"While I happen to agree with the decision, I would have thought there should have been some scope for discussion in the group.
"Another example of his failure to consult was over the decision to withdraw support from the Wales European Centre - there wasn't a discussion in the Labour group until after the event. That shows his lack of experience in leadership - he says he wants to do things his way, but ignoring your own colleagues is not a good way to operate. It's similar to the kind of control- freakery that goes on in Westminster and wasn't supposed to happen at the Assembly.
"There is no evidence of any strategy in the way Rhodri carries on. We seem to stagger from one issue to another with nothing being planned. There are some policies that have been good - free prescriptions are a positive benefit and free bus travel for pensioners is too, although that was actually in the planning stage before the Assembly came along. But overall there isn't much of what could be called a radical agenda.
"I always believe we should be looking to the future, and it's time consideration was given to who will succeed Rhodri. There are a number of capable people in the group - everyone knows that Carwyn Jones is quite ambitious. He's still a young man and is very good on his feet. There are others too who could be contenders - Edwina Hart has a lot to offer.
"It's too early to back anyone in particular, but it will be worth watching how things develop over time.
"In 2007 Rhodri will be 67 and I think that's too old to embark on another term as First Minister. There will be an opportunity for a leadership election in 2006 and I think that would be the appropriate moment for him to stand down. It would allow time for a new leader to settle in before the Assembly elections."
Mr Law also called for a Cabinet reshuffle, and implied Health Minister Jane Hutt should be sacked.
"We are in serious need of a Cabinet reshuffle," he said.
"People should be given new portfolios and one minister in particular should obviously be relieved of their responsibilities.
"At present there is no doubt that the Cabinet is still too Cardiff-centric, even with the addition of two ministers from the north last year.
"Five years ago Rhodri Morgan was a folk hero. The problem is that he has ridden into the castle, pulled up the drawbridge and is now a baron."