Oscar on the move
What's going on?
The Conservative briefing is usually a lonely affair for Nick Bourne. One colleague by his side, maybe two if he's lucky. Today we walked in to find the whole group seated in the front row: the full eleven were out to support the boss.
And Cheryl Gillan.
Why? Because in walked Plaid AM Mohammed Asghar to announce the group of twelve had become a group of thirteen. He is the first AM to have crossed the floor- the first full defection. He's left Plaid to take the Conservative whip.
And the Oscar goes to ..?
There were whoops and cheers from the eleven in the front row to welcome the twelfth. The thirteenth, Mr Bourne, was delighted at this proof that "we are the party with momentum behind us".
What had alienated Mr Asghar from Plaid? "Quite a lot" he said, before going on to mention the Royal family in whom he believes and the United Kingdom in which he believes fervently. Plaid's policy of independence? How had he squared that with a fervent belief in an United Kingdom?
We should check his speeches, he said. He'd only mentioned independence once. How does that work, we asked? You were elected as an Assembly Member for a party whose ultimate aim for Wales you cannot stomach? His voice, he said, "was a little parrot in a jungle".
Let's ask the question the other way round? Why did Plaid want this particular parrot on its list? Perhaps we'll get to ask that later.
Nick Bourne had felt for some time now, he said, that Mohammed Asghar would be very much at home with the Conservatives. Mr Asghar himself confirmed this morning that he's been a member of the party in the past but that when he joined the Tories twenty years ago, "nothing happened". Since then he's been a member of, I think his words were, a few other parties. Don't dwell on the past was the message, look ahead.
Perhaps, then, we should be less surprised than we are that Mr Bourne approached Mr Asghar - at least we understand it was that way round - on a poaching exercise that not only netted Mr Asghar but also his daughter Natasha, who's also stood for Plaid in the past. In fact, from the interviews flowing afterwards, it very much sounded as though Natasha was netted first. And as a list member, of course, her Dad gets to hold on to his seat. He doesn't have to stand down. A constituency AM - personal vote and all that - might feel more of a moral imperative to stand down though the rules do say that they too can hold on to their seat. (Check comments on this. They're quite right - the rules don't say a constituency member has to stand down).
How had Ieuan Wyn Jones responded? He hadn't yet, said Mr Bourne. They were yet to tell him. The first eleven, the twelfth and the boss enjoyed that one.
What happens next?
Mr Bourne confirmed that Mr Asghar will be second on the list come the Assembly election. Is William Graham, who's first on the list, about to retire? Or does Mr Asghar accept second place on the Conservative list in South Wales East is better than the prospect, whispered in my ear by a local Plaid member some weeks ago, of the Plaid list seat being made available to Adam Price as a route into the Assembly?
The Plaid leader is in a group meeting. I'll fill you in on what the 'jungle' drums have to say later.