UKIP Assembly Members and staff gathered at Lexdrum House yesterday (Friday 10th August 2018) for the vote count, following Gerard Batten’s decision to conduct a ballot of the Party members in Wales to decide who should take UKIP forward in the Welsh Assembly. The vote count was overseen by Party Chairman Tony McIntyre and Treasurer Sebastian Fairweather in the absence of Returning Officer Piers Wauchope. Ably assisted by Head Office staff and volunteers, who did a sterling job, the count was conducted flawlessly.
The ballot was held under a second preference vote system. This was meant to ensure that the eventual winner (out of the three candidates, Gareth Bennett, Neil Hamilton and Caroline Jones) would emerge with at least 50% of the popular vote. For those readers unfamiliar with the system: out of three choices, voters needed to place their first choice candidate by marking the number 1 in the relevant box, with their second preference marked as 2. All of the first preference votes were then counted, with the result that the person with the fewest votes would be eliminated from the ballot. Their second preference choices were then reallocated amongst the remaining two candidates to decide the winner.
876 ballot papers were issued to UKIP Party members in Wales, and 514 returned. Of those ballot papers, only 4 were spoilt, meaning that 510 members (almost 60% of the electorate) had a say on who should take UKIP in Wales forward in Welsh Assembly.
Once the first ballot preferences were counted, the results were as follows:
Gareth Bennett: 210
Neil Hamilton: 170
Caroline Jones: 130
This meant that Caroline Jones was eliminated from the contest, and her second preference votes were reallocated between the remaining candidates, Gareth Bennett and Neil Hamilton.
The result of this second part of the ballot was that Gareth Bennett won the contest with 269 votes (58%), with Neil Hamilton coming second with 193 (42%).
Party Chairman Tony McIntyre then made a declaration to the assembled BBC Crew (who had travelled to Newton Abbot from Cardiff), indicating that Gareth Bennett AM had been duly elected as UKIP’s Leader in the Welsh Assembly. (See also the notice on the Party website here.)
So, what does this all really mean?
Well, UKIP in Wales now has a leader in the Assembly who is democratically elected by the Party members, rather than by the UKIP Assembly Members deciding for themselves in a closed room. Each candidate had the opportunity to put their own pitch to the membership and promote their policies, and that’s exactly what they did. You can find Gareth Bennett’s manifesto on his website here.
There was a 60% turnout of the membership, so in Welsh electoral terms that is pretty good (the turnout at the last Assembly election was just 45%). UKIP as a whole are, of course, on the up after Theresa May’s failed Chequers agreement and, in Wales in particular, there is growing discontent against the Establishment parties.
Labour in particular have failed the Welsh people since the creation of the Assembly 20 years ago. People want something different and amongst UKIP members, there’s a disquiet about the Cardiff Bay consensus and the lack of action by the mainstream parties. It’s little wonder that Theresa May bangs on about Welsh Labour’s failure to manage the NHS in Wales during PMQs. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething struggles to string a sentence together, let alone string along the Welsh public about his abysmal performance running a Health Service.
UKIP Members in Wales wanted something different. Gareth Bennett simply offered it by saying that he would campaign for a new referendum on the very existence of the Welsh Assembly. It’s an institution which is as mysterious as it is corrupt. The average person in the local pub or coffee shop considers it a glorified and expensive County Council. Even the “Abolish the Welsh Assembly” Party got 4.5% in the last elections, with no taxpayer funded publicity at all!
Faced with a failed devolution experiment, and knowing the mood of Welsh people, Gareth Bennett simply came up with a manifesto that resounded with the majority of the membership of UKIP in Wales.
Maybe fighting an election campaign based on Policy is not such a bad idea. It’s now down to Gareth Bennett to deliver on his manifesto, and for UKIP nationally to get behind him to deliver a real alternative for Wales.