On Friday May 6th, I wrote; “When Senedd reconvenes, Assembly Members from all parties must openly indicate their refusal to cooperate with UKIP. For the sake of our communities, Wales can ill afford to accommodate or appease racism.”
Having won quite a bit of traction, this perspective is now being tested. The Welsh Lib Dems have made their position clear. Labour & Plaid have just agreed a common approach for the first 100 days of this term. For that reason, this might very well be the moment to pause and reflect.
UKIP now sit in our Senedd. Regardless of their mandate, they got there by, amongst other things, seeking to weave associations between Welsh people from international backgrounds and rotting trash. Who can forget Gareth Bennett’s characterisation of Cardiff’s Cathays district as a “a melting pot of different races all getting on each other’s nerves”? Moreover, Welsh UKIP’s pedigree around such statements sets it aside from the other parties. As recently as last year, it was reported that Donald Grewar, Newport East candidate, endorsed statements published on far right BNP & EDL websites (describing gay people as “fascist perverts” and “paedophiles” whilst proclaiming “no surrender to militant Islam or political correctness”). There are similar examples from Swansea East and elsewhere. Whereas my word count will not permit a more detailed inventory, I am sure that the reader will have encountered at least one other example.
I believe that there is a reason why we do not read more about this. After all, writing about UKIP is the Dirty Sanchez of journalism. As an indication, there is my own personal experience. I had some small hand in breaking the ‘Donkey Gate’ story back in 2014. This followed a raucous day in Merthyr, during which I joined a local Trade Union’s Council demonstration. Having filed to various news outlets, I was relatively unsurprised by the alacrity with which the news cycle seized upon Mr Rees-Evans tale of homosexual donkey-assault. All in good jest. However, what I did not anticipate were the messages and posts from self-defining UKIP supporters.
There was the pedestrian stuff concerning ‘Liebour’ and hypocrisy. Fair dos. However, there were also invitations to imagine the screaming children of Rochdale (for which I was said to be responsible), conditional threats of physical violence/execution, material alleging Islamic plots to colonise “Europa” and, of course, the perennial charge of ‘traitor’. Whilst all of this will be depressingly familiar to anybody who has encountered the stylistic preoccupations of the extreme-right, two other things struck me as significant. Firstly, the fellow who claimed to be the local UKIP Party Chair made no effort to distance himself from the online content. Secondly, this was the first occasion upon which I encountered the ‘Valley Front Line Firm’ – a group of far-right ‘casuals’ who subsequently organised to disrupt festivals and left-wing political meetings throughout the Rhondda Valley.
Please understand. I do not suggest that UKIP has formally engaged such far-right groups. Similarly, it would be unfair to hold any party responsible for the excesses of its self professed supporters on any single occasion. However, there is a recognised phenomena whereby organisations such as Britain First have sought to dovetail with UKIP. To my mind, this is not so much a pattern as a process.
Consequently, when I saw Nathan Gill’s rather awkward performance during the St David’s Hall Leaders’ Debate, his coded references to “knowing who’s coming in” reminded me of that old definition of tact and audacity; ‘knowing how far to go without going too far’. Let’s be honest – immigration and race occupies a central theme within the UKIP brand.
For this reason, the very worst thing that any party can do is involve them in the trade of everyday business. This will normalise their presence and, by definition, can only favour the extension of their influence and the politics which they represent. There are those who suggest that such an embargo could only enhance UKIP’s ‘anti-establishment’ credentials. This is an intelligent point, but I would reply that its logic is underwritten by a complete lack of faith in the progress that we have already made. Principles should not melt in the first ray of realpolitik.
As a working example, I acknowledge the point that Leanne Wood made with respect to the convention surrounding the election of a First Minister. However, I am also told of an understanding between the four parties whereby issues around race would not be politicised for the sake of electoral gain. Has UKIP subscribed to this convention? If not, then all should balance the relative impact of each on the life and wellbeing of our communities.
Nor do I single Plaid out for anything. Again, I think that this very novel and unfortunate problem would be greatly assisted were all parties to adopt a position of open non-cooperation. This might be made conditional on UKIP’s subscription to the moral norms within which our young democracy has developed. After all, there are some in UKIP who recognise the problem. My solution offers them the opportunity to raise voices and put proper measures in place.
Ultimately, we cannot afford to be complacent. The fact that there are people whose frustration with austerity has sharpened an appetite for change (and others who argue for ‘rope day’!) does not mean that we should pander to the worst instincts. We can do better!
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