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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Hats and humility for royal visit
Nick Horton
By Nick Horton
BBC News

The Queen, with the Duke of Edinburgh and Rhodri Morgan behind
Rhodri Morgan and Prince Philip behind the Queen at the Senedd
In the critically-acclaimed film The Queen, Her Majesty has a neat way of putting Tony Blair in his place as they meet for the first time after he became prime minister.

"You know my job better than I do," the Welsh actor Michael Sheen, playing the new premier, tells his monarch.

"Well, you are my 10th prime minister, Mr Blair," the Queen, in the shape of Dame Helen Mirren, regally reminds him.

All fiction, of course.

But who wouldn't want to write the script for the newly-regularised meetings between Elizabeth II and her Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan?

This was the third time she had opened a session of the Welsh assembly, and it has become almost routine.

However, the real significance this time is the shift in the status of the institution born eight years ago.

Cleaner outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay before the Queen's arrival
A cleaner ensures the red carpet is spotless for the royal arrival

So the assembly has the powers to create some of its own laws, albeit after a tortuous legislative journey up and down the M4 between Wales and Westminster.

But the part of the deal that excites the small-minded among us - yes, that's me - is that the Queen and Mr Morgan will now hold fairly frequent chats about the bit of her kingdom that he administers.

It's tempting to picture them swapping notes on their favourite sports teams: Cardiff Blues (Mr Morgan) and Arsenal (the Queen, apparently). It's equally enticing to envision the first minister trying out a few jokes on her.

However, we seem to have a new Rhodri Morgan. A first minister famous for his distant relationship with fashion appeared to have shiny new shoes for the occasion.

And a first minister who could have tried stand-up comedy if politics hadn't worked out made a speech that was notably short, low-key and almost entirely shorn of gags.

There's a good reason for this. He leads a minority government against an opposition who could unite at any moment and bring forward his retirement. Humility is the new game in town.

The Queen with Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas
Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas met the royal party

So Mr Morgan told guests that his third term was a "huge privilege" and "there are no words that can really convey the feeling."

He spoke about the "exciting" times ahead, with him "piloting the aircraft that is Wales, knowing the best aircraft in the world all have wings made in north Wales".

All sincere, statesmanlike and sober. But for fun, you had to look elsewhere.

On these occasions, presumably the style secret is not to "out-hat" the Queen. One of the ladies who came perilously close to doing so was the Liberal Democrat AM Eleanor Burnham, but she almost paid the price when her creation blew off and down the Senedd steps, and had to be retrieved by her boss, Mike German.

Another AM was heading off in search of a guest of honour, determined that he should be kept well away from the Queen. A security incident was successfully avoided, so presumably he was located and sat upon.

Guests wait to greet the Queen at the Senedd
Mayoral chains were in plentiful supply among the invited guests
Minutes before the royal party arrived, a cleaner was furiously giving the Hoover a last spin over the red carpet, like your mum expecting the in-laws to pop in. How Welsh is that?

In the Senedd entrance there was a spectacular display of chains across mayoral chests. "Someone's emptied the valleys' gold reserves," muttered one party official.

Outside, a crowd of several hundred gathered, although they included relatively few dissenting voices.

There were the anarchists who pointed out that "56% voted nobody" on 3 May. Best, however, were the animal rights types protesting against the use of bear skins in military uniforms: "Bear hugs, not bear skins," read the placards.

And that was it. Mr Morgan, who is stepping down as first minister in 2009 whatever happens, definitely won't be meeting and greeting the monarch the next time the assembly gets such a grand opening.

For all we know, Mr Morgan might not be first minister next week. But you can bet his chats with the Queen will be interesting while they last.


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