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Grassroots rumblings

Betsan Powys | 16:22 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

Mohammad Asghar (right), with Nick BourneRumours at the end of last term, strenously denied at the time, that the top spot on the Conservatives' South East Wales list was a done deal for 2011 now appear very wide of the mark.

The claim that former Plaid AM Mohammad Asghar would take the number one position from the established Tory stalwart William Graham, which gained pretty wide currency around Cardiff Bay, looks terribly premature.

We understand there is grave disquiet in the higher echelons of the Welsh Conservatives that Asghar (known to all as Oscar) may not even feature on the list at all - that is, if those in charge of the re-selection process have their way.

Oscar, as you will recall, dramatically defected to the Conservatives from Plaid Cymru last year. The terms of the deal were never made public, but in political terms, the move was fairly simple, involving a triumphant press conference with party leader Nick Bourne and then a new seat the other side of the Assembly chamber.

It's party policy that all sitting Tory list AMs should be guaranteed a place on the list for the forthcoming election if they want it - the order is up to the party in that region. Mr Bourne confirmed to us during the course of last term that guarantee applied to Oscar as well as his new Conservative list colleagues. The party centrally have been more than happy with his loyalty and work-rate since he crossed the floor.

However, every name on the regional list, sitting or not, still has to be formally selected or re-selected by the party in that area. The meeting to decide the South East Wales regional list is due to take place next Friday, and will be overseen by the Newport West constituency party.

The party hierarchy have picked up strong signs of a concerted campaign against Oscar ahead of Friday's meeting, and it's got them seriously worried. They're braced for a potential backlash should the party be seen to be ditching the Assembly's only ethnic minority member.

Such is the concern that Conservative Central Office are even preparing themselves to over-ride their grassroots if the campaign against Oscar is successful. Stopping Friday's selection meeting in advance would take a hurried rule change, but a more likely scenario is that the national Management Board would meet very soon afterwards, and impose the candidates for the list, including Oscar.

None of this, of course, is conducive to a harmonious run up to the 2011 election for the Conservatives in South East Wales, but all the signs are that the party's leadership are preparing to face down elements in their grassroots, and are convinced that it's a battle they can't afford to lose.

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