Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mohammad Asghar AM joins the Conservatives

Mohammad Asghar, Welsh Assembly Member for South Wales East, has today left Plaid Cymru and joined the Conservatives. (WalesOnline: Plaid Cymru AM joins the Conservatives) I'll leave it to others to do the inevitable round of cheers and boos whenever people switch parties.

Asghar was first elected in 2007 when Plaid narrowly gained a list seat from the Conservatives, ejecting Laura Anne Jones. (By a lot of accounts from Wales, this was actually a Conservative gain.) Can Asghar hold his seat in his new party colours?

This is a somewhat complicated question to answer because of the Additional Member System, where the list seats are very much the by-product of a party's results in the constituencies and thus hard to predict. We also have no real idea of how much a personal vote he has that might follow him to the Conservatives or, crucially, whether it will make a difference at constituency level. However as South Wales East is one of the more politically stable regions it's possible to make a few guesses.

The short answer is it's possible but if the Conservatives do too well then he will be unsuccessful. The long answer...

South Wales East has eight constituencies, which each return one member. These are:
  • Blaenau Gwent - Independent
  • Caerphilly - Labour
  • Islwyn - Labour
  • Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney - Labour
  • Monmouth - Conservative
  • Newport East - Labour
  • Newport West - Labour
  • Torfaen - Labour
Two of the seats have low majorities and could possibly change hands without a political earthquake at the next Assembly election:
  • Newport East - Labour are defending a majority of 875 over the Liberal Democrats.
  • Newport West - Labour are defending a majority of 1401 over the Conservatives.
(Trish Law's majority in Blaenau Gwent suggests she will hold on. In most calculations this makes no difference.)

The region has four list members and in 2007 the total list entitlement was as follows:
  • Labour: 6
  • Conservatives: 3
  • Plaid Cymru: 2
  • Liberal Democrats: 1
  • Trish Law: 0
  • Others: 0
Trish Law's constituency victory created an overhang, although if Labour won that seat they would also have it, meaning there were five claimants for only four top-up seats. Plaid narrowly pipped the Conservatives to take the final seat - there were less than 400 votes (after division) in it. (The full list allocation was two Plaid, one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat.)

Assuming little change in 2011 then it's possible that any personal vote Asghar has (I have no idea if he has any or not) could tip that final list seat back to the Conservatives. If William Graham is restanding then he will probably get the number one Conservative slot and Asghar would likely be number two and scrape in.

On the other hand his political base is in Newport where he was a councillor and Plaid's Newport East candidate in both the 2003 Assembly and 2005 general elections. Whether any personal vote he may have will transfer to his constituency running mates (dual candidacies are banned in Wales) is unclear as is how much there is. It could help tip West into the Conservative column and make Newport East a three way photo finish (the Conservatives are only 1000 behind the Lib Dems).

If the Conservatives gain Newport West then the Conservatives would still win one top-up seat, though it would be the fourth one allocated and Asghar will go down to defeat.

If the Conservatives don't gain Newport West and the Liberal Democrats gain Newport East then the Conservatives and Plaid will each take two list members and Asghar will be re-elected.

If the Conservatives gain Newport West and the Liberal Democrats gain Newport East then the list members will be two Plaid, one Labour and only one Conservative, with Asghar defeated.

Such are the uncertainties for anyone standing as a list member of the Assembly. Of course if there is a significant shift in the votes cast in 2011 then all predictions are off.

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