Dawn Bowden, Assembly Member for Merthy Tydfil and Rhymney


UKIP members of the National Assembly for Wales have again generated a lot of media attention, and a backlash, through their contributions to debates in the Senedd Chamber (Y Siambr). Whether the more traditional UKIP arguments about the ‘EU’ or ‘Human Rights’ or more recently issues around transgender identity and, to quote a UKIP AM, other “minority rights stuff”. There is no dog whistle they won’t blow, no barrel they won’t scrape as part of their contribution to debate in our Welsh Parliament.

For many of us we feared that the election of UKIP voices on the Assembly regional list system would prove harmful to the Assembly. A fear reinforced as views and opinions that many of us find abhorrent are normalised in to the very fabric and ‘Cofnod’ (the record) of our Senedd. I must also reflect that the case for more PR is being set back years by these people.

However I have also come to realise there is a pattern to UKIP speakers in the Assembly — at least those who are left, or can be bothered to turn up. They rise to their feet and in a calm manner welcome the statement from the Cabinet Secretary. They might even offer some faint praise for some element or other of Welsh Government policy. But as this pattern has become very familiar to us we also know what follows. Either an element of the policy, or more commonly a large proportion of the policy under debate, will provide the cover for their bile to spill forth.

Of course some problem or other is the fault of the EU, and/or Human Rights. These terms often seem interchangeable in the world of UKIP. The problem is about Ministers pandering to minorities and not being “normal”, it is about sexual orientation or some other “minority rights stuff”. It is wild claims about Labour letting down the working class, and how we must show far more concern for exploited workers. No stone may be left unturned in these speeches: organ harvesting, prostitution, women and fake marriages, our prison population, the churn of desperate people and of course uncontrolled immigration are all used in support of UKIPs case. So whether you want to debate housing, the Welsh NHS, our transport network, policing or employment the themes and topics above are the ones that UKIP will inevitably string together in a speech.

The familiar UKIP “research” is also rolled out, as they often back their arguments with the words “it was in the newspapers”. It is a well-established formula.

That led me to analyse in greater detail a recent UKIP speech. I found that some of the content was indeed in the newspapers. In this case the report of Gangland activity in the agricultural sector in the Fens, and the growth in exploitation of migrant workers. The speech focussed on the gang masters from Eastern Europe and somehow failed to mention the English gangmaster also prosecuted. Yes, I say prosecuted, because the authorities had acted and this particular example of exploitation tackled.

Of course there is more to do. The pace of change in some communities has been very rapid and the Coalition Government abandoning the former Labour Government’s migration impacts fund was a mistake. Austerity policies meant the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is not properly funded. Wales can meanwhile be proud that it appointed the first Anti-Human trafficking coordinator and independent evaluation has shown the value of the work being undertaken in Wales. We don’t hear much about that work from UKIP.

All my working life I have been a proud trade unionist. I will let no one teach me lessons about the need to tackle exploitation in the workplace. There is an absolute case for restoring workers’ rights in the UK.

I am old enough to recall that Neil Hamilton served under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Indeed as a Minister for Deregulation he was a part of that period in which labour laws were rolled back and working people saw their rights eroded. I think we know which side Hamilton was on when Thatcher destroyed the coal industry in Wales.

I suspect there is little interest in the hypocrisy exposed by the detail of such UKIP debate. These same UKIP voices, that are so strident on the EU, yet are happy to turn their back on an institution that has done so much to build a social Europe, assisting workers, in order to offset those global forces that have stripped away rights for working people.

The reality is that UKIP are seeking to make a recurring political noise that only seeks to deepen division in our communities, divide people and generate prejudice against minorities in place of any opportunity to build unity and tolerance.

For my part I recently objected to them partaking in a public appointments process. In my view they do not deserve such a role in Welsh public life. My view did not prevail with some Assembly colleagues, and so a UKIP representative will now be part of an important appointments process. I will not and that suits me as I am clear I would not want to share that process with someone like Gareth Bennett AM.

We must be strong enough to withstand their voices, vigilant against the extreme forces they seek to foster and learn the lesson that when UKIP voices speak to intolerance that should never be welcomed as part of the fabric of our National Assembly. Let us hope that 2018 sees a turn towards tolerance and understanding.



The Fabian Society in Wales

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