John Morris has enjoyed an exceptionally long and distinguished political career, one which was unique in the political life of twentieth-century Wales. He was elected MP for the safe Labour seat of Aberavon in the general election of October 1959. Morris became a junior minister in the Ministry of Transport under Harold Wilson while a young MP, and it was noteworthy that, when the Labour Party returned to government in February 1974, Wilson chose Morris, rather than George Thomas, the arch-centralist and anti-nationalist MP for Cardiff West, as the new Secretary of State for Wales. He remained there until the government fell in May 1979, spearheading the party’s campaign in the St David’s Day devolution referendum.
When ‘New Labour’ returned to power eighteen years later in the form of the first Tony Blair administration in 1997, John Morris was again appointed to a cabinet position, now as the Attorney General. He was consequently one of a handful of Labour politicians to display an extraordinary survival over a long political period, serving under Wilson, Callaghan and Blair. Following his retirement from the House of Commons in 2001, he went at once to the House of Lords and has held an array of public offices in Wales and beyond.
With his eightieth birthday imminent, it is a cause of celebration that Lord Morris has published an absorbing, if rather brief, volume of autobiography, combining his public life with many personal allusions, and written in a readable, compelling style. Fascinating are his reminiscences of his upbringing in the village of Capel Bangor near Aberystwyth. Lord Morris tells us of his schooldays at Aberystwyth, and later his student days at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he took a law degree, and Caius College, Cambridge. His interest in politics, especially the politics of devolution, developed early on in his life.
The decision of Billy Cove, the veteran Labour MP for Aberavon, to retire from parliament in 1959 gave Morris the opportunity he sought, and thereafter to represent the division in parliament for forty-two years and to fight eleven general elections. With the single exception of the Labour Party débâcle of 1983 with Michael Foot as party leader, his majority there consistently exceeded a thumping 20,000 votes.
The volume contains valuable pen-portraits of some of the author’s political contemporaries, while his early experiences at Westminster are related with gusto and pride. His experiences as a young minister precede a significant account of the development of the Welsh devolution campaign following the setting up of the Welsh Office in 1964. The book contains sensitive, purposive comments on the process of developing the party’s devolution proposals (in which the author was intimately involved), the disastrous devolution campaign of the spring of 1979, the long effort to establish S4C as the channel for Welsh-language television programmes in 1982, and the exciting development of the channel during subsequent years.
The narrative later focuses on the period after 1997, where the author reflects on his role as the Attorney-General – following a long stint as shadow Attorney-General under the successive Labour Party leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. There is an absorbing, brief account of the ten-week war in Kosovo, which dominated his period as Attorney General, followed by a concise section on the author’s experiences in the Upper House. Throughout the text, there are also revealing glimpses of John Morris’s constituency work at Aberavon.
As the author has divided his absorbing text into twenty-six relatively short sections arranged chronologically, it is an easy task to follow his distinguished career from Capel Bangor to the green benches at Westminster and later to the Lords. An attractively produced volume is further enhanced by the inclusion of many striking and appealing photographs carefully chosen from the Morris family albums.
J. Graham Jones
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Lord Morris is the Former Attorney General and Secretary of State for Wales.
Born to farming stock in Aberystwyth, Lord Morris went on to enjoy an illustrious career, assuming one of the highest positions in the land as Attorney General. Trained as a barrister, he went on to serve as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Transport, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, Secretary of State for Wales between March 1974 and May 1979 and returned to Government as the Attorney General for England and Wales and Northern Ireland between 1997 and 1999. As such, he was one of only a small handful of Labour ministers who served in all four Labour Governments, holding office under Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Tony Blair.
As Attorney General he developed the doctrine of armed intervention in the affairs of another state, Kosovo, without a Security Council Resolution, in order to avert an overwhelming humanitarian disaster and appeared as Counsel before the International Court of Justice to defend the U.K.'s position. As Welsh Secretary he saw his proposals for a Welsh Assembly crushed in a Welsh referendum, commenting, "if you see an elephant on your doorstep you know it's there".
Lord Morris held a key role in the development and implementation of devolution for Wales, and in the promotion of the Welsh language during his life as an MP.
He was created a life peer in 2001, made Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed a year later and created a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 2003.