OPINION: An Unintended Consequence of Gareth Bennett’s Wales Report – Or: How to Disrespect the UKIP Grassroots
Editors Note: This article was first published on UKIP Daily with whose kind permission we republish. The author is Editor-In-Chief of UKIP Daily.
To begin with, I urge you all to watch the video Gareth Bennett AM made about his ‘Wales Report to the NEC’ which we published here.
I’ve read the text of this long report which was sent to me at the same time as three AMs in the UKIP Wales Group ousted Neil Hamilton as leader of that group. This was not because Neil Hamilton had done anything wrong – this had other reasons which will become clear in the course of this article.
You need to know that the group actually consists of five members only. Yes, seven were elected, but one of them was a certain Mr Reckless who ‘migrated’ back to the Tories – and no, he did not ask for a by-election as he did when he crossed over to UKIP.
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The other AM took over from Nathan Gill MEP when he finally abandoned his seat after nearly two years of getting his paycheck but not participating but this replacement from the UKIP North Wales list is continuing in Gill’s vein.
On the background of the debates on grassroots participation and the experience of candidate selection/leadership election in UKIP generally and UKIP Wales specifically, Gareth’s proposals for a debate on a future leadership contest as well as re-selection criteria for the Assembly elections in Wales in 2021 seem to have had three of the five Group members run scared and go for a pre-emptive strike.
Gareth’s proposals make much sense both in the context of the UKIP Wales group and UKIP Wales. I quote from the report:
“RECOMMENDATION ONE: UKIP Wales needs an elected Leader.
Why UKIP Needs an Elected Leader in Wales:
At present, UKIP has a Group Leader in the Welsh Assembly who is only elected by the members of the Group. This is not the situation with the three other parties represented in the Assembly. All the other parties hold Wales-wide leadership elections involving party members to elect their Wales leader, who is also their leader in the Welsh Assembly.”
Let’s look at the historical background: the first UKIP leader in Wales wasn’t ‘elected’, he was proclaimed by Farage. The election of the leader of the UKIP Wales Group in the Assembly, i.e. Neil Hamilton AM, was however a straightforward election by that group which at that point in time had 7 members (including the proclaimed leader of UKIP Wales, Nathan Gill), with a straightforward majority of 4 to 3 votes for Neil Hamilton.
So why this ‘coup’ now, in a group of five, with three votes against Neil Hamilton?
Let me emphasise that this report has not even been debated yet, not by the NEC nor by the UKIP Leadership Team and of course not by us grassroots members in the branches!
On the leadership question I quote:
“Neither leader has ever enjoyed any wider mandate among the UKIP membership in Wales. The problems of this lack of a wider mandate are numerous. The first one is that there is no fixed term of office for the Assembly Group Leader under the current system (or lack of system) […] Theoretically, then, the Group Leader doesn’t know from one week to the next if he will still be the Leader after the weekly Group meeting. This can lead to a paralysis of action, particularly over policies.”
Isn’t it ironic that precisely this argument has now been made reality by that ‘coup’!
The background information I have received from various sources regarding this ‘event’ seems to point to one factor, and that is the proposal in the Wales Report for organising a democratically elected leader in Wales – elected by all members – and for list places for prospective AM candidates for the 2021 Assembly elections according to the selection by branch members. I am given to understand that the actual reason for this ousting of Neil Hamilton seems to’ve been this passage:
“[…] the other parties are all led in Wales by the leader of their Assembly group. So we need the Leader of UKIP in Wales to also be the Leader of the Assembly Group. Using this logic, only UKIP AMs could run for the role”,
and this crucial point, given that AM candidates only have a chance to get elected to the Assembly though list places:
“Provision for the Elected Party Leader: There would be an exception in one region, and that would be where the Party Leader was standing. There, the number one slot on the regional list would already be taken by the Party Leader. Everyone else would be trying for positions 2, 3 and 4 on that particular regional list.”
From a confidential document I’ve seen it is this proposal for a single ‘incumbency position’ for the Assembly Group Leader which has agitated the rest of the group. The quote from the document I saw makes the point:
“any incumbency rule should apply to all AMs, not just the Group Leader.”
In other words: all incumbent AMs should/must get the first list post, regardless, in future Assembly elections!
My interpretation is that a refusal to make this an outright policy – based on the Wales Report which hadn’t even been debated in the Group, never mind seen by UKIP Wales members, never mind by UKIP in general – lead to the ‘coup’.
Why and how there’s a plea to be ‘democratic’ and elect/recall a ‘new leader’ in that small Assembly Group at will while at the same time insisting that all UKIP AMs should enjoy the top spot on the list, uncontested, next time round – that is a circle I cannot square.
At a time when the establishment parties are – still – working on how to deselect constituency MPs, is UKIP Wales and by extension UKIP advocating undemocratic, uncontested list places? Is the surreptitious support for this coup perhaps fired by the hope of some that, given the mess Brexit is in and the possibility that we’d have to face another EU Parliamentary election next year, it would be acceptable to have all current MEPs top their lists uncontested? And that thus rocking their precious (remunerative) boat even by a proposal as yet not even debated by members must be squashed?
Do those people actually know what they’re doing? Do they hold us grassroots in such contempt that they don’t even trust us to select our own candidates, the candidates we are expected to work our socks off to get elected by the general public?
Have they still not learned from the events earlier this year?