WELL-PLACED sources at the National Assembly claimed last night that new Health Minister Brian Gibbons was Rhodri Morgan's third choice for the job.
According to the sources, the job was initially offered to both Environment Minister Carwyn Jones and Culture Minister Alun Pugh. Both are said to have turned it down on the grounds that the post was a "poisoned chalice".
If the suggestion is true, it would indicate that the First Minister made his choice from a position of weakness.
As Dr Gibbons made it clear that he had no new initiatives up his sleeve, many were left wondering why Mr Morgan had not given the most high-profile job in his administration to a genuine big hitter like Mr Jones.
Logically, it might be assumed that anyone holding such a controversial portfolio should possess first-rate communication skills. Jane Hutt consistently managed to rile interviewers by refusing to answer awkward questions - shortly before Christmas, on BBC Radio's Good Morning Wales programme, she ignored a dozen times a question about how long it would be before hospital waiting times in Wales were no longer than those in England.
Dr Gibbons is not well-known for his mastery of the sound-bite. A refreshing antidote to New Labour slickness, one might think. Maybe - but in such an important policy area it is surely vital to have a minister capable of presenting the Government's case in a coherent and convincing manner. For all his indisputable experience as a GP, Dr Gibbons does not fall into that category.
It is true that Rhodri Morgan does not have a deep pool of talent to draw from. Some of his AMs would be hard pushed to hold their own in a community council. But in Carwyn Jones, the First Minister has someone who could undoubtedly have risen to the challenge.
Mr Jones was elevated to the Cabinet as Minister for Rural Affairs in July 2000. His predecessor Christine Gwyther had, like Jane Hutt after her, been the focus of opposition attacks. Her vegetarianism did not go down well, but it was her apparent inability to cope with the mounting crisis in Welsh farming that sealed her fate. Mr Jones took her job and quickly made a good impression both with those in the industry and the media. The foot-and-mouth outbreak could have destroyed his credibility if he had not handled it well, but he genuinely distinguished himself. Only Mr Morgan had a higher profile in Wales at the time and for a while it appeared that Mr Jones was being groomed for the top job.
In 2002 he was shifted to be the Assembly's Business Manager, a sideways move that appeared to suggest some distancing from the First Minister. Nevertheless, it was a role in which he instantly gained the respect of the other parties, and in the run-up to the 2003 Assembly election he became Welsh Labour's campaign manager. In this capacity he toured the country, getting to know party officials and activists in all parts of Wales - experience that is likely to stand him in good stead in any future leadership election that he contests.
After the election he went back to an enlarged rural affairs portfolio that now took in planning as well. Although welcomed back by the farming community, many would take the view that Mr Jones's talents are largely wasted in this now less central area.
Mr Pugh was elevated to the Cabinet last May after previous spells as a deputy minister for health, education and economic development. The sole remaining Cabinet member representing a North Wales constituency, he has established a reputation as a tough and competent minister, albeit slightly tarnished by his failure to entirely follow correct procedures when appointing a new Chair of the Welsh Language Board.
Last night an Assembly Government spokeswoman said, "We do not comment on speculation of this kind."