I wish to take issue with the Open Letter submitted by Mr Keith Edwards (see here) and will seek to enlighten him and others as to the true nature of the party in Wales, and why a number of us sought to take positive action in the face of total inaction by any other group, and in view of the disconnect which exists with regard to ordinary party members.
I shall open by saying that I have no personal dispute with Gareth Bennett AM or Neil Hamilton AM and I have no ambition to replace either of them in their respective posts.
I will point out that I, above all others, have attempted time after time, to be a conciliatory figure in the Assembly Group.
First Mr Edwards comment on Nathan Gill MEP being the anointed one by Nigel Farage: Neil was appointed leader in Wales by Gerard Batten, where lies the difference? Incidentally I am perfectly content with Neil being the leader in Wales, just as I accepted his leadership in the Assembly. Neil is well qualified for the part, given his extensive political career, and a long term party member. Anyone who sees his interview technique will acknowledge his expertise in dealing with the media. It is, quite rightly, in the power of the Party Leader to make such appointments.
I wish to make this point, in the face of defections and resignations from the Assembly Group, and it is one which I will also make in a forthcoming article on Caroline Jones’ resignation. We AM’s were not elected as candidates in a personal capacity, we were all elected as UKIP representatives, and we all owe our election to Nigel Farage. I am first to acknowledge that all our campaigning and hard work on the ground, and the record will show that I worked as hard as anyone, would have accounted for no more that 20% of the vote. Nigel and the oxygen of publicity he brought to the party brought the other 80%, anyone who believes otherwise is delusional. I know, because I was the one listening on countless doorsteps and in countless streets rallies, to what the people were saying with regard to Nigel, and why he had persuaded them to vote UKIP.
Let us now turn to the Grassroots movement. First the Constitution. This is a “proposed” constitution and is available for every Welsh UKIP member to see and comment on. We who have set up the Wales Committee acknowledge fully that it would have to be ratified by both Gerard Batten, and the NEC. It is simply a constitutional framework designed to allow UKIP Wales to move forward as a recognized body, and is very much in a test and adjust stage.
Mr Edwards states that he has been advocating the setting up of a regional body which brings members together and give mutual support and guidance and experience to Candidates at election time. This of course begs the question, why has he not instituted its formation? It has been open for any individual or group to do so. The Wales Committee is being formed for precisely that reason. Here again when someone takes action, there are those who are content to snipe from the sidelines.
Yes, Mr Edwards, the Grassroots movement and the Wales Committee has been instigated by members of the South East Region, in the light of inaction by any other group or body in Wales, and I make no apologies for our hard work and effort in trying to establish the Committee in the most democratic way possible. Until recently the UKIP member database was far from satisfactory, so we used it the best we could, and augmented this with asking Constituency chairmen to pass on information with regard to the meeting in Builth Wells. As has been stated by Mr Edwards some were unable to attend, including himself, but this will be the case whatever date, time or venue are chosen.
As to my appointment as Chairman: the vote was unanimous, but taken in the light that this is an interim arrangement, as were the other appointments to the Committee. It was designed solely to get the Wales framework up and running. Incidentally Gareth Bennett will confirm I invited him to be the third member from South Wales Central, as there were only two elected at the time. This, before he became leader in the Assembly. That invitation is of course still open.
As for me being the leader in Wales by way of being the Committee Chair this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. It is simply a proposal that the Chair could be leader as and when a full AGM of the Wales Committee is held, in line with party rules, sometime in January or February of next year, and at which time a permanent chair would be elected.
This again would have to have the approval of Gerard Batten.
As for “appointing people close to me” to key positions: all appointments were made by a vote of the committee and were most definitely not my appointees. Again Mr Edwards is totally wrong in stating one of the representatives for South Wales Central is an employee of mine. This is not the case.
As for the Wales committee formulating policies: this is an utter fallacy. Any policies would of course have to comply with UKIP Central Policies, and any variation the Committee would feel appropriate for Wales would first be put to the Wales membership through their representatives on the Committee. These would then be put forward for approval by the Party leadership at Head Office.
With all due respect to Gareth Bennett it is not in his remit to formulate policies. He can, as can any member, suggest changes to the policies, and can express his personal policy preferences in public, but these should be pointed out to be his own personal preferences, and should not be put forward as Party policy.
I find Mr Edwards comments with regard to overruling Gareth in regard to policies and branch candidate selection, utterly bogus. As I have said before, leadership of the Assembly does not give Gareth the right to implement party policy, nor indeed can the Committee. There is no intention to take away any powers of branches to select constituency candidates for elections.
However, as for the constitution of regional list candidates in Assembly Elections, it should be for the region to decide, which is why we have suggested the framework for Wales should include regional Branches. Perhaps Mr Edwards should familiarise himself with our proposals before making such comments. Indeed I invite him to make the effort to set up such a Branch in South Wales Central.
I shall not comment on Mr Edwards personal attack on myself, and my motivation in helping to set up this Grassroots organization. I am content that my record as a UKIP activist, and my contribution to the UKIP cause over the last 20 years shall speak for itself.
I shall finish by saying this is an initiative to engage with the grassroots of the party and hopefully initiate their greater participation by affording them a forum to have their say in what happens to THEIR party in Wales. Anyone who does not participate has no right to criticise those who are making the effort to institute a truly democratic body in Wales.
Mr Edwards is more than welcome to attend on the 13th as is any other member in Wales. If anyone needs help with transport we are more than willing to try to accommodate them.