Seeking a Senedd breakthrough
Wales goes to the polls in May to choose a Welsh Assembly. We asked Evening Post columnist and public affairs specialist Lawrence Bailey to give a personal perspective on the state of the parties, their policies and how they might fare.
His six-part series continues today with UKIP Wales.
It’s a full ten years since David Cameron dismissed UK Independence Party as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.
Despite claiming not to regret the accusation, the prime minister doubtlessly regrets underestimating their sustained electoral appeal.
Although unable to make any headway in last year’s general election, UKIP could be about to achieve a breakthrough in Wales as the fifth party.
As with Europe, it’s the proportional representation system that will give them Senedd seats. Even so, the party is a lot less negative about Cardiff Bay than they are over Brussels.
As things considered though, their main weakness could turn out be their own candidates.
"We want to be a constructive part of the assembly. We need to make sure that people start to believe in this institution for the right reasons."
Nathan Gill, Wales UKIP leader
Regional seat windfall predicted for Ukip
When it comes to probable outcomes, no-one is describing UKIP as the dark horses any more.
They’re favourites to make the biggest advances and so far tipped to get up to seven regional AMs.
The party gathered 4.6% support in the 2011 Assembly elections. Their Welsh share trebled to 13.6% in last year’s Westminster battle.
Of course percentages don’t always translate into winning performances but proportional representation will deliver tangible results in terms of actual seats.
At present, their success looks likely to be at the expense of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats but no-one’s majority is considered safe given UKIP’s ability to steal second and third spot in constituency contests.
The impending referendum makes perfect timing for the anti-European party. Despite stating they want to fight the election on Welsh issues, there are already very few problems which their candidates have not yet attributed to EU membership.
And as much as leader Nathan Gill may want to avoid having immigration on the agenda, it won’t stop UKIP voters from putting it there - despite counter claims that a rise in Welsh house prices is more likely to be caused by incomers from southern England than southern Europe.
An associate of mine describes UKIP as “the party of effective dissent”. Whatever the truth of that, Welsh Assembly elections are near enough purpose-built devices for registering a protest.
On the other hand, the emerging UKIP manifesto includes egalitarian plans for fully elected health boards and placing greater economic powers in the hands of local authorities. I’m not sure if their pro-fracking stance is a vote winner, but who knows?
It’s no reflection on the sincerity of those behind these Welsh-based policies, but it has to be said that UKIP has a leader in Nigel Farage who doesn’t always seem to be reading from the same script as everyone else.
The consequence is that there remains the question as to whether the possibility of an NHS funded by private insurance lies somewhere in the background.
Welsh leader Nathan Gill has so far managed to navigate his way through a tortuous run-up to the elections, showing a level of astuteness and balance that few of his detractors would previously have given him credit for.
UKIP don’t fit any recognisable mould yet this shouldn’t be readily confused for naïve amateurism. Gill talks realistically about being an effective opposition force in the Senedd. Such an approach compares starkly with other parties who insist on presenting themselves as governments in waiting.
Clearly the biggest problem is his candidates – initially as to their identity, and more latterly their suitability. This is before he figures out how to control some fairly strong characters should they actually get into office.
The internal antics which are still going on at the time of writing this suggest that the possibility of a UKIP bloc vote in the Senedd could be a very rare sight indeed.
It may be that this disruption has little impact on supporters happy to elect AMs eager to do their own thing. I think it could end up being something else.