Ed: A week in politics is a long time. ‘Events, dear boy, events’ usually blanket out what happened during a week. However, the defection of Mark Reckless which closely followed that of Douglas Carswell deserves to be re-told because it resembles a farce rather than a political thunderclap. The following report is based on information we received by two sources inside the Welsh Assembly who desire to remain anonymous:
Wednesday April 5th:
Source A: Everything began with what seemed, at first glance, to be a reasonably innocuous tweet by a Plaid Cymru AM. He asked when an announcement would be made about Mark Reckless defecting to the Tories. Was this just a snipe at Reckless’s very cosy speech in the Senedd Chamber on Tuesday praising the Prime Minister’s Article 50 letter? Or was it something more sinister?
Source B: Mark Reckless disappeared from the Assembly midway through the morning. His vanishing act began after he had sent his researcher to tell the UKIP chief of staff that Mark had had to go home sick. He had been due to speak for UKIP in a debate in the Chamber later that day.
Over the next two hours, rumours began to circulate on social media – quickly picked up by the mainstream media, of course – that Mark had defected to the Conservatives. Pretty soon, everybody in the Assembly had heard the rumour. People kept asking Ukippers if it was true. But the truth was, we didn’t know. Reckless wasn’t answering his phone, or responding to texts. And he hadn’t told us Ukippers anything.
Source A: Soon the rumour mill in Cardiff Bay went into overdrive. This doesn’t take much, Welsh politics is not exactly known for being high drama. Very quickly, things started to stack up. Reckless had been in a Committee meeting that morning but left before Plenary, saying he was unwell. He’d also been spotted popping in to see the Presiding Officer. This isn’t something particularly unusual for a Committee Chair, but it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence either. Staffers were glued to social media and Reckless was approached for comment. He had, by then, left the building and wasn’t answering phone calls or text messages. Senior Tory AMs denied knowledge of any defection attempt and by the following morning it seemed the game was up, but still no word from Reckless himself!
Thursday 6th April
Source A: Word got out that a press conference had been hastily arranged to coincide with the lunchtime news on that day. TV crews from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 descended on the Senedd steps for what was billed to be the great unveiling. A tweet from Reckless and a press release from the Tory office confirmed the inevitable, but the star of the show was nowhere to be seen.
Source B: We went outside the Assembly, for a fag in the sun, and found camera crews, staffed by media people who had all been tipped off about the 1pm press conference, which they assumed would be on the steps of the Assembly. ITV were there and Channel 4 News. Nick Servini from BBC Wales started asking what we knew about the Reckless situation. What were the ramifications of his joining the Tory group?
Soon it became clear that ‘ramifications’ were all we had. No explanation was to be had from Reckless, as he had chickened out of his press (re)launch as a Tory member. He was nowhere to be seen, and instead he sent out a press release. Timid!
Source A: Reckless was later spotted escaping the Senedd, with a senior Tory aide in tow, heading for a TV camera further along the waterfront in Cardiff Bay. UKIP Staffers and an AM followed, hoping to get some answers from Mark about why he’d decided to abandon ship. In bizarre scenes, Reckless bolted, with the aide furiously on his mobile, and was bundled back into the Assembly by a rear entrance. He later gave an interview to the BBC from their own studio balcony inside the Assembly estate, having been denied the fanfare entrance he wanted to show he was back in the Tory fold.
Source B: So, what are the consequences of Mark’s switch? Annoyance for the voters of SE Wales, who had voted for a UKIP regional member, only to end up within a year with a Tory one instead. Anger for members of UKIP Wales, who had gullibly put their faith in Mark when they chose him as the number one regional candidate for South-East Wales a year ago. Distress for his own staff, neither of whom had any inkling when we quizzed them on Wednesday that Mark was planning to leave UKIP. Both his Assembly staffers are UKIP members, and both started working for him only fairly recently. There was annoyance also for the remaining five UKIP AMs, who will now have to shoulder the burden of more Assembly and committee work. For one of them there is also the problem that he recently opened a shared constituency office with Mark.
Source A: Reckless had confirmed to ITV that he has lost his committee chairmanship, so that entails the extra money that goes with it. The Tories have said he won’t be a Party member. Plaid Cymru, who ironically broke this story, now face losing a Committee Chairmanship (given Assembly rules on who gets what) and are now the third party in Wales. Of course, the natural reaction is to call for Reckless to resign as an AM, as UKIP have done, but this would only mean giving up the seat to the next on the list and he’s hardly likely to give up his cushy £64K salary, given that he’s already lost the short money from being Carswell’s researcher. [Ed: Carswell had sacked all his staff once he’d defected from UKIP.]
Source B: Will Ukip’s Assembly group miss him? Well, he was generally an effective speaker in the Chamber itself, where he will be missed. However, he offered little outside the Chamber. He stopped attending the weekly group meetings early on in the Assembly term, as they were held on Monday, when Mark was employed to work in Westminster as part of Carswell’s policy unit. Mark made no attempt to skype into the Monday evening meetings, and had no input into any policy discussions in Cardiff. Neither did he attempt to link up policy ideas between his Westminster group of policy wonks and the Assembly group. In that regard, he was a complete and utter disappointment. (I almost said ‘waste of space’.)
Socially, he was an almost complete outsider who took hardly any part in the UKIP group’s communal activities. So, in a way, Mark Reckless, the natural loner, simply fell off the edge of that periphery and drifted off into ‘outer space’. Otherwise known as the Tory group!
Ed: For me, the intriguing part of this, and a hint of why Reckless left so soon after Carswell’s “exit” (25th March) seems to lie in the fact that he was employed and paid for by Carswell as part of Carswell’s policy unit. Obviously, Carswell wouldn’t pay a Ukipper once he himself had left UKIP. Therefore it would be interesting to know if Reckless now still works for Carswell. Furthermore, this chain of events leads to the intriguing speculation that those two could have carefully worked on a plan for some time, so that the timing of leaving so soon after each other was calculated to inflict maximum damage to UKIP in the run-up to the local elections on May 4th.