Ifan Morgan Jones
The ebb and flow British politics always dominate Welsh Assembly elections.
And the Welsh Assembly election in 2016, held just a month before the referendum to leave the EU, was no different.
As the main Eurosceptic party in a country which was about to vote ‘out’, UKIP were at the peak of their powers and won a decisive 13% of the vote that day.
While they didn’t manage to grab any constituencies, they did win seven regional seats.
No one expected much from UKIP’s members but it’s fair to say that they’ve failed to shuffle over what was an already a very low bar.
Lowlights so far include:
- Neil Hamilton calling two female party leaders “concubines” in Carwyn Jones’ “harem”.
- Michelle Brown AM being caught out calling a black MP a “f***ing coconut”.
- The same AM being fined £250 for a ‘strong smell’ in her hotel room and having to deny smoking drugs.
- A third AM, Mark Reckless, quitting the party after less than a year.
- UKIP in Wales leader Nathan Gill being deposed immediately after the election, before resigning last year after criticism of his attendance record.
- His replacement, Mandy Jones, also immediately leaving the UKIP group, despite only being elevated to that position because she was on the UKIP list.
These are all just off the top of my head, but every passing month brings new examples.
Just yesterday Neil Hamilton was arguing that the teaching of basic factual science on climate change in schools amounted to ‘propaganda’.
Even if you leave aside UKIP’s altogether unpleasant far-right politics, their performance in the Assembly has been a national embarrassment.
But more damning than the foul-ups is that it’s difficult to think of a single contribution these AMs have made to the Assembly’s work. They are a dead weight on a legislature which is already understaffed.
Historians are likely to look back at the fifth Welsh Assembly as a blemish on the nation’s political history.
What makes this so frustrating is that the noxious purple cloud that hovered over UK politics in the spring of 2016 has now dissipated.
As last week’s council elections in England proved beyond all doubt, UKIP are now political toast. They could only manage to hold on to three of their 126 seats.
If an Assembly Election was held today they would struggle to keep hold if a single seat.
But despite there being no almost public appetite for them at all, UKIP’s six remaining AMs will stick around, a relic of 2016’s unique circumstances, until the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Whoeverver replaces Carwyn Jones as leader of Welsh Labour should call a vote on a snap Welsh Assembly election to seek his or her own mandate as First Minister.
It would be the democratic thing to do (Labour called for Theresa May to seek her own mandate after she replaced David Cameron, after all).
But it would also have the very happy side-effect of flushing UKIP down the U-bend and out of Welsh politics forever.
We would see the return of talented Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative and Plaid Cymru politicians that have political interests beyond internecine warfare.
At a stroke, the new FM could do his or her bit to restore the good name of our legislature and ensure that it begins its life as a Parliament with its credibility and functionality intact.
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