Rhodri Morgan wandered up in decidedly relaxed fashion to talk to the press in the wake of the “terrible” election results he had just witnessed.
His trousers seemed to have come straight from the gardening shed and his “Chile” jumper talked all about leisure and absolutely nothing about governance.
Relaxed he, indeed, was as he talked to us in front of Transport House in Cardiff. Perhaps that was because he had experienced worse – such as the year in the 60s, when Splott ward in Cardiff went Conservative. In those days, the city council was elected by “thirds” – one-third of the seats each year – which went far towards weakening that blow.
Speaking while still awaiting the blow of Caerffili, Mr Morgan spoke of the loss of “rock solid” seats around Wales. It was definitely not an attempt to seek a silver lining, but he correctly pointed out that over one wide area of Wales, no lasting political alternative was arising to Labour.
In that area – no doubt, that of greatest interest to his party – he drew consolation from the councillor-replacements hailing from a wide range of protest groups.
In the core area of the upper Valleys, Mr Morgan seemed mightily relieved that the winners were “not Lib Dem, not Plaid, not Tories”. Labour lost Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen to a broad range of Independents.
But it must be bad news for the First Minister that only at Torfaen could he quickly fix on a reason – the disputed closure of a swimming pool, which had led to a formal petition to the Assembly Petitions Committee.
Could the reason next door in Blaenau Gwent be the council’s cock-up which led to the reopening of the railway being delayed several months ?
Whatever – as Mr Morgan must be painfully aware – the local voters were delighted to take a kick at a Labour Party which has been in uninterrupted power almost since democratic councils were invented.
The Assembly leader saw the vote as an attack on incumbency. He already knew his own people were suffering, and he fancied (as was about to be proved) that the same would happen to Plaid in the only council they controlled – Gwynedd.
He also admitted that his party’s failure to listen to the electors – due to its arrogant belief that almost all electors were “workers” and thus best elected by a “labour” party, and that there was no need to listen outside party ward meetings – was a major cause for defeats.
The two councils where – at that time – Labour had held on or clawed back – Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend – were both credited to the local party actually listening, although in the latter case a new party leader had to be elected to replace the one who had caused so much unjustified trouble to then-minister Mike German.
Mr Morgan did his best to spoil the Tory celebrations. In Llandaff, Cardiff, rock-solid for the Conservatives for decades, the Lib Dems had swept in.
And in the rich rural acres of the Vale of Glamorgan, MP John Smith and AM Jane Hutt still had reasons to retain smiles on their faces. The council had gone Tory, but that was, said Mr Morgan, solely due to the vote in Penarth (which in part of Cardiff South constituency).
Mr Morgan had discovered a couple of pink spots on the map. But he must be thankful that he will shortly retire. It will then be up to somelike like Carwyn Jones to lead a much-smaller Welsh party, and settle down to being no more than a medium-weight partner in coalition.