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Full house

Betsan Powys | 15:15 UK time, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

It wasn't Mohammed Asghar who was forced to look for a seat for Rhodri Morgan's last First Minister's Questions. It was me. For the first time ever, instead of empty benches in the public gallery there were people and lots of them. I'll cherish the moment.

I eventually sat directly above the Presiding Officer. To his left I noticed a diagram, showing who sits where. So where did Mr Asghar, the Conservative AM for South Wales East sit? Funnily enough it's the seat left empty by the Plaid Presiding Officer that allowed Conservative AMs to shift one to the right - yes, really - so that Mr Asghar could slot neatly into the Conservative benches. The list of names in the diagram had been hastily changed, red lines and names scribbled next to new seats and computers. Political life goes on.

The First Minister has given us all rather more warning of his departure from that chair in the front row.

The good wishes flowed thick and fast. Grandchildren were invoked an awful lot. Mr Morgan is looking forward to standing on muddy touch lines supporting his. No pressure on their team managers to keep picking them then, whispered my neighbour on the bench.

Lib Dem Eleanor Burnham would always remember Rhodri Morgan's contributions on committees in North Wales because "you were always so funny".

He was urged to reflect on young carers, education funding, electoral reform, obesity, anorexia and leading a Yes campaign in a future referendum. He wouldn't, said Mr Morgan more than once, be tempted to become a back seat driver. First Minister elect Carwyn Jones, his index finger in a bandage, typed furiously. As a back bencher he was looking forward, said Mr Morgan, to taking on local problems "such as bus services and ... other issues".

There was plenty of advice. William Graham quoted an aphorism that Paddy Ashdown once suggested was "a good motto for ex-leaders". It goes like this: "Don't speak to the captain. Don't spit on the floor". Mr Graham had, he said, always lived by it. William Graham spitting anywhere? Surely not.

Rhodri Morgan came up with some of his own aphorisms. "Happy the man for whom the bell tinkles before it tolls" was one that reminded the gallery of what they are about to miss.

His recounting of persuading his party to accept the One Wales agreement one day, watch Plaid do the same the following day and suffer a heart attack the next was another gem. It was delivered in Welsh and went something like this: "It must be the first time ever the cruxifiction has come three days after the resurrection". I'm not sure if the laughter that followed was nervous, or just confused.

More good wishes and it was over. Applause broke out in the chamber. It turned into a standing ovation that spread to the public gallery.

A quick thumbs up from the departing First Minister who'll be back before the end of the afternoon "to make a statement that will be the last matter of business".

What will he do now, asked my daughter this morning. Well, spend time with his grandchildren I said, dig his garden, take the dog for a walk. "Oh" she said, recognition lighting up her face. "I remember! He bought the dog for his two girls when he won, didn't he? It'll need lots of walks".

Ah, that was a different dog in a different country, I explained. It was a different leader too, one who's just starting out. This one? He's done his bit.


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