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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer madness

As it is the summer silly season and journalists have huge amounts of newspaper and web space to fill it is inevitable that we will see speculation about the future of a number of Assembly Members as selection processes get underway.

The Western Mail has already covered rumours and rumblings around the Plaid Cymru contest for their South Wales West list, a contest that has now got underway, and there is also a strong challenge to Janet Ryder in North Wales from Llyr Huws Griffiths and Heledd Fychan. All the attention however is firmly focussed on the Tory list selection in South Wales East, where a battle is underway between local activists and Central Office over serial defector Mohammed Ashgar (Oscar).

Rumours have been rife in the Assembly tearooms for some time that firstly, William Graham was out of favour with his party leadership and would be placed behind Oscar on the list, and then that the regional party would have none of this and did not want Oscar at all. How much of it is true is difficult to say but Martin Shipton seems pretty certain of his ground this morning:

Tomorrow the Conservatives’ area executive for South Wales East will meet to decide whether to endorse Pakistan-born Mohammad Asghar – known as Oscar – as a regional list candidate for next May’s National Assembly election.

The defection of Mr Asghar – the first and only ethnic minority AM – was seen initially as a coup by the Conservatives. Soon, however, the accountant made it clear that a major reason for leaving Plaid was that party’s refusal to approve his wish to employ his daughter, a former Plaid candidate who defected to the Tories at the same time as her father.

A Conservative source told the Western Mail: “The party hierarchy is desperate to ensure that Oscar is endorsed for next year’s election. Concern apparently goes all the way to the top of the party.

“They are worried that deselecting an ethnic minority AM will send out all the wrong signals and be embarrassing to the party at the time of the conference.

“But the fact is that members in South Wales East did not select Oscar in the first place. Some people remember him from his time on Newport Council as a Plaid councillor when the most memorable thing he did was call for free parking outside the mosque on a Friday.

“They haven’t been impressed by his performance at the Assembly either.

“And there’s still a lot of feeling about the fact that it was his election as a Plaid regional list AM in 2007 that knocked out Laura Anne Jones, who was a Tory AM in the previous term.”

He goes on to quote another source as suggesting that William is unpopular with Nick Bourne, who blames him rightly or wrongly for an attempt to remove him as leader early last year. He says that a leaflet was circulated recently by Monmouthshire AM, Nick Ramsay, which also carries pictures and quotations from Oscar, but not a word from William Graham.

The paper then goes on to speculate about the security of Nick Bourne's position as an Assembly Member, suggesting that if the Tories win Montgomeryshire then he will lose his list seat. I am sure Nick Bourne will be reassured by my confidence that this is not going to happen.

Update: Heledd Fychan informs me by Twitter that Janet Ryder is not seeking re-nomination on the Plaid Cymru North Wales list. I had not realised that this was the case. This means that she has effectively taken the decision to stand down from the Assembly.
The WM reports that "At tomorrow’s meeting around 30 members of the party’s South Wales East area will decide whether to endorse Mr Graham and Mr Asghar for next year’s election."

Whatever happened to all-member ballots?
There was even a rumour at one stage that Oscar had approached the Lib Dems with an offer to join!

Thank goodness he was turned down!
The rumour is not true
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