We live in turbulent, worrying times. Here in Wales economic uncertainty, falling living standards and the increasing helplessness felt by many provide fertile ground for the seeds of hatred to grow and flourish. We must as a society take action to reverse our decline. We must recognise the signs of the times and must not tolerate intolerance.
UKIP, and their presence at the heart of our democratic institutions, represent a most immediate threat to our International reputation and our collective values as a nation (indeed some of their members deny Wales exists as a nation). We must, of course, engage with those who have voted for them, and work towards a better politics that acknowledges the problems that face us.
However, we cannot stand idly by as this party poisons our political institutions and civil society. It is a party that includes racists, as their founder Alan Sked has recognised, which betrays numerous traits of neo-fascism. They have taken advantage of poverty and insecurity to promote their populist, baseless policies, claiming to be on the side of ‘the people’ whilst they themselves are often elites, benefiting from the support of press barons. They project an aggressive and chauvinistic form of British nationalism, fuelled by xenophobia, and their anti-liberal politics undermines rights and tolerance.
We live in a democracy, but in dealing with UKIP since the election of seven AMs to the Assembly, many have misconstrued the requirements that this mandate places on us. As elected AMs these Members have taken up their seats, taking on specific statutory and legal privileges. They will be attending committee meetings and plenary sessions and they will be voting in the Assembly. This, we accept. However, there is no requirement on elected Assembly Members of other parties to afford UKIP privileges and advantages which extend beyond the statutory requirements demanded by Welsh democracy.
In civil society too, there is no requirement to invite UKIP AMs to non-Assembly business, simply because ‘they are Assembly Members. In a mature democracy, civil society enjoys an extensive measure of autonomy from the executive and legislature; it is not merely subservient to them. There is no requirement on the institutions of civil society to bring ideas and ideologies into the public sphere that are anathema to collective values of tolerance and human dignity.
In such circumstances we must take a stand, and seek to strengthen our collective values. As the historian Simon Schama has noted, in these times of trouble the lessons of the Weimar Republic speak to us. In other European democracies to which members of far right, or neo-fascists, have been elected, democratic politicians have taken steps to protect the integrity of civil society and democratic institutions – sometimes by the use of what is known as a cordon sanitaire.
So enough is enough – we must take measures to protect our institutions of government and our civil society from UKIP.
For the good of our values of equality, respect and tolerance we must all – politicians, media and civil society – work hard to ensure that everyone is aware of the threat that UKIP’s politics represents, and that the more their presence is normalised the more neo-fascism becomes a part of our collective life. We have already seen how the Conservatives have adopted UKIP’s xenophobic tones in response to their success. The smiling faces of UKIP AMs turn up in the most inappropriate of places across our social media, and in institutions that their politics works to undermine. This creeping normalization must be stopped before it is too late.
Politicians must take a lead. In the first instance they must challenge UKIP on their policies, and expose the lies and hypocrisy that typify their party. Even more fundamentally, they must challenge UKIP’s presence in the Assembly on a daily basis.
If the requirement to shun UKIP causes our politicians personal discomfort, we ask them to remind themselves of the manner in which their politics of hate has ostracized thousands of people in Wales and has led to an upsurge in disturbing and damaging hate crime. To this end we call on our progressive political parties to adopt the code of conduct set out below with respect to their dealings with UKIP.
Calon Lân: A code of conduct for regulating interaction with UKIP in the Welsh Assembly
- Public appearances with UKIP Assembly Members should be limited to the bare minimum required by law, whether that be on official duty, visits organised by the Assembly or social occasions. Where such appearances are an absolute requirement other Assembly Members will behave with the necessary decorum, neither socialising with UKIP members nor being pictured with them for PR purposes.
- Party staff and officials will likewise be requested to limit interaction with UKIP politicians and staff to the minimum required in order to fulfil Assembly business; should they desire not to have to interact with UKIP this requested shall be respected as far as is practicable.
- UKIP Assembly Members should not be part of cross-party interest groups established in the Welsh Assembly. Bringing UKIP members into such groups not only legitimizes UKIP’s extremism; the values they represent are harmful to those endeavours organized by other Assembly members.
- UKIP are not to be involved with, utilized for, or made party to any inter-party policy negotiations in the Senedd. To allow UKIP influence with regard to the negotiation of bills, measures and the budget is to afford them recognition as a political force that can only be detrimental to the interests of the other parties and Welsh democracy as a whole.
- In a similar vein, it is inappropriate that UKIP members are party to policy recommendations made by Assembly committees. Moreover, in giving evidence to Assembly committees there should be no expectation that witnesses shall have to answer questions from UKIP AMs against their will.
- As regards civil society, there should be no expectation from the Welsh Assembly that invitations to events and lobbying activities should include UKIP. Assembly sponsored bodies, charities and other publically funded institutions should be allowed the discretion to formulate their own guidelines for dealing with UKIP AMs.
The Assembly was founded upon the principle of inclusivity; however, we should ensure that this inclusivity does not extend to the promotion of hatred, xenophobia and intolerance.
Indeed, to this end it is important for politicians to address UKIP with those terms, such as ‘far right’, ‘neo-fascist’ and ‘racist’, which call attention to the underlying nature of the politics they espouse, recognizing their threat for what it is, in particular to assure members of minorities that they take seriously the climate of hate that has emerged in recent months.
In taking this stand against UKIP, we ask the enlightened politicians of Wales to recognize that in aspiring to keep the heart of our democracy free of pernicious and poisonous forces, they are also committing themselves to the improvement of the democratic political culture of Wales, one which can ensure our country remains at the forefront of progressive politics with the support of a thriving and healthy public sphere.
It is only the promotion of a robust, transparent and principled political culture that can help us respond to the deep, problematic and underlying issues that have heralded the return of neo-fascist politics in the UK. We in Wales, following in the footsteps of previous generations, must be at the forefront of the fightback.
The heart of Wales’ body politic must remain healthy and robust.