Tuesday 8 December 2009

A curious defection

Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly member Mohammad Asghar has joined the Conservative Party, in what appears a slightly unusual defection.

Wales Online reports:

Mr Asghar, who became the first ethnic minority AM when he was elected in South Wales East in 2007, said two of his key reasons for crossing the floor were his support for a strong United Kingdom and the Royal Family.

Mr Asghar, who was born in Peshawar, confirmed that he had joined the Tory Party once before in his life and considered this a homecoming.

That Asghar might join the Conservatives does not seem surprising; the more curious question may be why he felt that strong pro-Monarchy Unionism and lack of sympathy to the idea of Welsh independence was best aligned with sitting as a Welsh nationalist in the first place.

The Conservatives have made extensive efforts to secure defections in the House of Commons - but their often unsubtle courting of a range of MPs from LibDem David Laws to Labour's Frank Field have thus far been rebuffed on all fronts.

Unless I am forgetting somebody, I think that, above local council level, there have been two defections of politicians elected at a national level to the Conservatives in the last four years: LibDem MEP Sajjad Karim and now the Plaid AM.

Interestingly, both Asghar and Karim were the most senior (indeed sole) non-white elected parliamentarian for a smaller party.

Two defectors is a very small sample size; this could certainly be a coincidence.

I am sure the Tories would be open to defectors from almost every quarter.

But I would not be surprised if there may be an element of deliberate brand decontamination strategy in there too.

PS: I know very little about Asghar, but his reported comments contain a certain echo of the first ever non-white Tory MP, the strongly pro-Establishment Sir Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownagree, elected for Bethnal Green in 1895, about whom I wrote in my historical survey for the current issue of Total Politics.

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