Page last updated at 18:44 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Bourne's future 'in the balance'

Vaughan Roderick
By Vaughan Roderick
BBC Welsh affairs editor

An iPod was among the items claimed by Nick Bourne on expenses

The future of the Conservative leader in the Welsh assembly appears to be in the balance following the publication of details of AMs' expenses claims.

I understand that more than half of the 12-strong Conservative group believe that Mr Bourne, who has led the group for most of the assembly's existence, should stand down.

Mr Bourne's problems began with the publication of the so-called "dodgy dossier" on First Minister Rhodri Morgan's birthday in September.

He dissociated himself from the dossier which contained personal criticisms of Mr Morgan, despite having approved its publication.

He was later forced into a humiliating televised apology to members of his own staff.

Since then, I understand that senior Conservative members and staff-members have been shut out of the leader's strategy and speech-writing meetings.

Nick Bourne AM
Nick is living in a bunker with (Monmouth AM) Nick Ramsay and a couple of junior researchers
Anonymous Conservative on Welsh party leader Nick Bourne, pictured

One Conservative told me: "Nick is living in a bunker with (Monmouth AM) Nick Ramsay and a couple of junior researchers".

While most Conservative AMs support a leadership change, they have been divided about when and how that change should come about.

Supporters of possible leadership candidates AMs Jonathan Morgan and Darren Millar have been manoeuvring for political advantage, but it now appears the two factions could be close to agreement.

I understand that a deal where Mr Morgan would lead the group with Mr Millar as his deputy is close to being agreed.

Mr Bourne would then be asked to resign either by a delegation led by them, or by letter.

The precise timing of any move may well be governed by the public reaction to Mr Bourne's expenses claims.

The news that Mr Bourne claimed for an iPod, almost 2,000 worth of reference books and thousands of pounds of bathroom improvements has angered and frustrated some Conservative AMs.

A public backlash could force the hand of Conservative rebels as early as next week, while a muted response might enable Mr Bourne to survive until the new year.

It seems increasingly certain though that, sooner or later, this winter of discontent will claim the leader of the opposition as its victim.

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