UKIP Leadership: Silly Season gets sillier



(Title Image: BBC Wales)

When I started my summer break back in July, I said I would “dip in and out” to cover the four ongoing leadership elections.

The result of the first leadership election (UKIP) was revealed last Friday.

Background & Result

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) was ousted as leader less than two months ago and replaced by Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West) after persistent in-fighting and a string of bad headlines.

UKIP’s Central Office determined that the membership should decide the Assembly group leader and opted to hold a ballot. Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central) then threw his name in and in doing so became the first sitting AM since 1999 to openly advocate direct rule from London and suppressing the Welsh language….and he won.

Gareth Bennett AM 269
Neil Hamilton AM 193
Caroline Jones AM* 130

*Caroline Jones was eliminated in the first count.

There’s no detailed breakdown of the ballot, which seem to have been cast by alternative vote (the sort of oversight I’d expect from UKIP). Turnout was 58.7% with 514 votes cast, which would put UKIP’s Welsh membership at around 880 people.

Analysis

The number of votes cast should tell you all you need to know about the state of UKIP’s party machinery in the country, though underestimating their protest vote appeal would be a huge mistake; they got 260,000 votes (constituency and regional list combined) in 2016.

For Neil Hamilton, this is a personal embarrassment. The man seen to be his second-in-command (of sorts) has beaten him to the leadership in an election Neil himself apparently requested. No doubt he’ll take it on the chin.

Caroline Jones – who’s been humiliated by this – has already hinted she might leave the UKIP group. Considering the animosity that exists between Michelle Brown and Gareth Bennett, I would take Michelle’s statement of support for her new leader with a pinch of salt too.

The next flashpoint stands to be the lucrative membership of the Assembly Commission (the body which runs the Assembly) and the large bump in salary that comes with it. Caroline Jones vacated it when she took over the leadership and could be sweetened by being given the role again, while the thought of Neil Hamilton being a Commissioner was so unpalatable to AMs they rejected an appointment for the first time ever.

UKIP have long attempted to disown their anti-self government, anti-Welsh language past by embracing devolution as policy – but is that what the party grassroots wanted and have their elected members always been signed up to it?

Saying he wanted to abolish the Assembly is almost certainly why Gareth Bennett won. While his party colleagues are again trying to distance themselves from it, it should be assumed by the other parties to be official UKIP policy.

While to date Bennett’s outbursts have been rarely picked up outside Wales, as a party leader he’s going to attract far more interest from the Welsh and British media. Every single controversy is going to be amplified tenfold for the sake of headlines and he’ll cause a lot of damage doing so – which I’m going to assume is what he and UKIP want.

What does this mean for Senedd Home?

There’s going to be a change in the editorial style when I return in September anyway, but this development justifies a change in approach towards UKIP generally.

Senedd Home has been very fair to them to date and given UKIP coverage on an equal basis to any other party in the chamber, despite personally finding many their policies and outbursts utterly detestable. They’ve been tolerated because for every outburst there’ll be occasions where they make reasonable contributions and do their jobs. They were elected fair and square and I (perhaps naively) thought they would act more maturely in the spotlight and that everyone might’ve been interested in what they were saying and doing beyond the usual stuff on immigrants and Brexit.

That’s now changed and been (figuratively speaking) thrown back in my face. I’ve finally had enough. I also have to respect the desires of UKIP members in Wales – they don’t want anything to do with the Assembly.

With a far-right London-rule leader in place, I’m going forward under an assumption that UKIP AMs have voluntarily abdicated their parliamentary responsibilities to Wales and are in the Senedd to time-serve until they’re either voted out, pensioned off or the Assembly is permanently abolished. On that basis I would be an idiot to give them an equal platform (no matter how small) and make out that this, and all the preceding oddities and outbursts, is somehow “normal” when UKIP have become an intolerable disruptive influence on Welsh politics and society.

UKIP will now be put behind a soft “cordon sanitaire” on Senedd Home – that I would usually only reserve for the likes of the BNP, and never ever thought I would have to do – until further notice. That doesn’t mean they’ll be “no-platformed”, but in practice sets a much higher bar for them to get any coverage on here:

  • UKIP contributions will only get coverage if it’s a credible and unique point during a debate that would also comply with my Comments Policy, or when it’s otherwise unavoidable (i.e. votes, budget deals, Standards Commissioner reports, Members Bills).
  • When their contributions are covered it’ll be the absolute bare minimum – single sentences rather than paragraphs. UKIP AMs won’t be quoted either, linked to or featured in any videos or alike, everything will be paraphrased.
  • UKIP contributions which involve or stray towards a Reserved Matter as set out in Schedule 1 of the Wales Act 2017 will be ignored. So, for example, if there’s a debate or question on immigration, policing/criminal justice, Brexit & foreign relations, the Constitution or human rights, UKIP’s contributions and questions will be passed over; their leader clearly doesn’t want to be in a position to ask any questions anyway, but for as long as they’re in the chamber it’s “work to rule” for me – devolved policies only.
  • Debates during time allocated to UKIP and short debates from UKIP AMs won’t be selected for coverage; but urgent questions, contributions to other debates (i.e. Members Debates) and emergency questions will be covered as set out above.

When they start treating Wales, and all of the people of Wales, with the due respect we deserve as a nation, as voters and as individual citizens, it’ll be reconsidered. I’m not getting my hopes up.

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