THE tradition of great Welsh firebrand political speakers may have finally lost its spark, experts warned yesterday.
Over the past century Wales has turned out such rousing orators as David Lloyd George, Aneurin Bevan and Gwynfor Evans, able to move crowds of thousands with their natural wit and passion.
But today's batch of the nation's politicians have been accused of not matching up to the greats of yesteryear.
Steve Morgan, a political consultant who has worked on election campaigns for the Labour Party and the United States's Democratic Party, said, "I don't think there are any great orators among the Assembly in any party. Rhodri is the best of the bunch. He uses humour to great effect - too much in my view - but there's nobody else with the ability to inspire people."
Mr Morgan, chair of one of Wales' biggest political consultancies Morgan Allen Moore, believed part of that was because the Assembly was only established seven years ago.
He said, "I think the institution is too young. It has to develop its own politicians and needs its own particular brand."
A particularly drab full session at the Assembly on Wednesday, while the planet's brightest sparks took part in the World Schools Debating Championships across town, merely served to underscore the gulf with yesterday's heroes.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan has attracted regular criticism for his convoluted speeches and one-liners over the years. Last year he became the first person to win the Plain English Campaign's Foot in Mouth award twice. The award is given to the most baffling example of gobbledegook each year.
By comparison the Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George was renowned as a formidable debater and for his scathing wit, earning himself the epithet "The Welsh Wizard" for his verbal dexterity.
A generation later, former miner Aneurin Bevan would overcome a stammer to claim his place in history as one of Wales' most passionate political orators, a talent that would eventually prove invaluable in his quest to found a national health service.
And figures such as Gwynfor Evans and Michael Foot have also been lauded for their differing styles of making speeches over the years.
Their successes came in the wake of the long-held stereotype of fiery Welsh preachers and the tradition of Welsh schoolmasters being renowned as some of the UK's leading pedagogues over the centuries.
John Osmond, director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, rated today's political speakers as just "good in parts".
He said, "I think the tradition is hugely important. It's obviously in part linked to the Welsh chapel tradition. When that was in its last gasp, every Sunday I heard our preacher holding forth and it was part of the landscape and, in a way, that doesn't really apply anymore.
"The other big change is that we're in the television age and it's a much more intimate medium for communicating politics.
"It's no good being all declamatory on television. You've got to be as if you're in an armchair across the room."
Mr Osmond added, "Our National Assembly doesn't really provide the forum for great set pieces."
However, both Mr Osmond and Mr Morgan name-checked one contemporary figure from the Welsh political landscape as one of the great orators.
Despite being lampooned as "the Welsh windbag" in sections of the press, both men admired Neil Kinnock's barnstorming speeches, such as that delivered to the Labour Conference in 1985 when he condemned the Militant section of his party for "scuttling" around Liverpool in taxis handing out redundancy notices.
Indeed, Mr Morgan shared the podium with Kinnock in Bridgend when he gave his famous speech on the eve of the 1983 general election, when he said that under a Thatcher Government, "I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, and I warn you not to grow old."
Mr Morgan added, "My view is that the best Welsh orator was Kinnock, and still remains so. His style of mixing humour with serious politics was quite unique. Other people tried to do it but nobody did it like Kinnock."
We listened in on Weednesday's Chamber session at the Assembly and eavesdropped at the WorldSchools Debating Championships taking place in Cardiff. Where were the most silver-tongued to be found? You decide ...
Page 2: All hail the Assembly
Page 3: And in the kids' corner ... (Canada v Ireland)