[Ed: This article was written and submitted on behalf of Caroline Jones, David Rowlands and Michelle Brown. The article refers to the video and text submitted by Gareth Bennett which we published on UKIP Daily here. There’s also a link to a further article in that text.]
There has been speculation of late about the group’s reaction to Gareth Bennett AM’s proposals for the UKIP Wales and Assembly group leaderships. Those theories are very far-fetched and we would like to correct some misconceptions and misinformation currently being circulated.
Gareth’s proposals represent his own views (he has made that clear from the outset) and his opinion carries no more weight than any other member’s. Gareth is not in a position to implement his proposals, nor has he the “clout” to ensure the party does so.
Gareth submitted his ideas directly to the NEC, not to the members. Of course, any member is entitled to voice their opinions to the NEC, but by the same token, the group are equally entitled to disagree with those proposals and make their feelings known.
On Saturday 19th May, members from across Wales met to discuss the way forward for the party and policy in Wales. The meeting was also attended by AMs David Rowlands, Caroline Jones and Michelle Brown and there will another grassroots meeting shortly.
Members presented their proposals for the organisational structure of UKIP Wales and for policies they would like the party to adopt. It was a very positive and constructive meeting, but unfortunately, Gareth did not attend to present his recommendations and listen to the ideas of his fellow members. We are all looking forward to seeing him at the next grassroots meeting, so that we can all discuss his ideas.
Regrettably, the positions of Assembly group leader and Wales leader seem to have become conflated. The role of the Assembly group leader is entirely separate from the party. It was created by the Assembly, for the Assembly and has no purpose outside the Assembly.
The group leader has no authority over branches, party organisation or members and the final arbiter of party policy is the NEC. The Wales leader, on the other hand, is a position created by the party, with whatever authority over branches and members the NEC chooses.
Our responses to Gareth’s recommendations
That the Wales leader should be elected
This is of course more democratic and we agree with this recommendation.
Proposal that the Wales leadership and the Assembly Group leadership should be held by the same person
The Assembly group leader and Wales leader are onerous roles. There is therefore an argument that the two should be separate, so that each person can devote sufficient time and attention to their operational spheres.
There is no way to guarantee that the Wales leader would be re-elected to the Assembly, resulting in an otherwise unnecessary leadership election.
Proposal that only AMs should be entitled to stand for the Wales leadership
This is an outrageous suggestion. Excluding members in this way would set the AMs against other members by barring all but an “elite” five members. The national party leadership election does not exclude members who have not been elected to public office and there is no reason why a Wales leadership should be any different.
That the Wales leader & group leader should be automatically placed at the top of the regional list
We are not in favour of any AM, whether leader of the group or otherwise, being treated differently from any other.
Proposal that the Wales leader serve a fixed term
We agree with this in principle.
Proposal that the Assembly group leader should not be liable to removal
This proposal results in the group leader being unaccountable to the AMs they lead and who have to take the “flak” on behalf of the group leader. The question is, why should a group leader who has lost the support of the group, or is unable to persuade them to adopt his policy positions or direction of travel, remain group leader any more than Henry Bolton was able to continue as party leader after losing the support of the NEC and then the membership?
Gareth suggests that there be a membership ballot to determine the composition and rankings of the regional lists. This is how the regional lists were decided before the last Assembly election, so it is not a new idea. No-one has suggested that it should be changed and the group would be opposed to any change.
Gareth’s recommendations in practice
When looked at in the round, Gareth’s big idea is that the Wales leader should automatically become the Assembly group leader, who cannot be removed except by the electorate at the next Assembly election in May 2021, or the membership at the leadership election in November 2023.
For the past 2 years, Gareth has been content that the group leader should be whoever the AMs in the group supported by a majority. That is how Neil Hamilton remained group leader and the recent change in group leader was decided in the same way.
The way forward
An election for a Wales leader would be a step forward. Preventing members from standing because they are not AMs, making the Assembly group leader immune to removal, privileging that leader with incumbency and thereby making the leader unaccountable to the AMs they lead in the Assembly and the members, would be taking several steps backwards.
The members of Wales will decide how they want their party to be organised and led, and the majority of the UKIP Assembly group are playing their part in that process. We are all united in two things: First, we want to see UKIP thrive and continue to challenge the nonsense peddled by the LibLabCon and their Plaid Cymru compatriots. Second, but just as crucially, we want a UKIP Wales that is democratic, libertarian and accountable to its members.