FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan was confronted with the reality of minority government yesterday as he was instructed by AMs not to introduce student top-up fees.
The embarrassing defeat - the first since Blaenau Gwent AM Peter Law left Labour to stand for Parliament as an independent - leaves Mr Morgan's authority seriously weakened, and raises questions about Labour's ability to govern alone until the next National Assembly elections in two years' time.
Without Mr Law, Labour now holds just 29 seats. Even with Plaid Cymru Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas not voting, the combined opposition can now muster 30 votes. That was exactly how the two sides split after yesterday's debate.
Labour had criticised the opposition for insisting on the debate two days before a long-awaited report on the issue is published by Professor Teresa Rees of Cardiff University.
But the opposition parties hit back, saying they were merely reaffirming an earlier decision taken by the Assembly.
With the introduction of variable top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year in England from next year, serious concerns have been expressed that substantial numbers of students from England may opt to come into Wales to take advantage of lower charges here, effectively a subsidy from the Assembly's budget. But yesterday's vote took account of that, simply committing the Assembly Government not to introduce top-up fees for students living in Wales.
Last night it emerged that all-party talks will take place next week aimed at resolving the crisis. But with some AMs firmly committed to oppose top-up fees, the Assembly Government may have little room for manoeuvre.
Tomorrow Professor Rees's report will be published, although, after yesterday's vote, its recommendations may well prove to be purely academic.