SOME senior Conservatives in Wales would like to see Nick Bourne challenged as leader of the party group at the National Assembly, we have learned.
Although none of those involved are prepared to go public at this stage, one source told us that as a prelude to such a challenge, the rule for triggering a group leadership election would have to be changed. Currently, six of the 11 Tory AMs would have to call in writing for a fresh vote.
Mr Bourne has been leader of the Tory group since August 1999, following Rod Richards's resignation after he was charged with assaulting a young woman in London. Mr Richards, who was subsequently acquitted, had defeated Mr Bourne in a postal ballot of all party members in Wales held the previous November.
A party source told the Western Mail, "Some of us feel it is time there was another leadership election, yet the current rule makes it difficult for one to be triggered. Signing a letter to say you want the current leader to be challenged is a big step to take.
"One of the issues causing concern is that relations between Nick and the MPs at Westminster are not as good as they should be."
Recently there have been sharply differing views expressed about changes to the Assembly's powers. While a number of AMs including Mr Bourne have expressed support for extra powers at Cardiff Bay, Monmouth MP and AM David Davies advocated returning control of the health service to Westminster. Personal relations between Mr Bourne and Shadow Welsh Secretary Bill Wiggin are thought to be less than warm. Mr Wiggin has said he favours scrapping the Assembly.
A party source said, "At a time when the British party is considering changing its rules for electing a leader, it is time for the party in Wales to do the same."
When speculation occurs about a change in leadership of the group at Cardiff Bay, the name of Mid and West Wales AM Glyn Davies is most frequently mentioned. Mr Davies, a farmer from Montgomeryshire, is a former chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales.
Asked whether he thought a challenge to his position was likely, Mr Bourne said, "So far as I am concerned we have a united group. No-one has suggested to me that there should be a leadership election or that the rules should be changed.
"Glyn and I go back a long, long way. I don't think he is about to challenge me. If people have problems with my style of leadership, they should raise them with me."
Asked whether he had any intention of challenging Mr Bourne for the leadership of the group, Mr Davies said, "Any ambitious politician is interested in leadership, but there is not currently a vacancy."