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 it is the more traditional UKIP arguments about the EU and 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.
Many of us feared that the election of UKIP voices on the assembly regional list system would prove harmful. It was a fear reinforced as views and opinions that many of us find abhorrent are normalised in to the Cofnod (the record) of the Senedd. We must make sure that Welsh Labour’s strong record of delivery is heard above the divisive noises of UKIP.
However I have also come to realise there is a pattern to UKIP speakers in the assembly – at least those who are here, 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 familiar to us, we 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 each problem is seen as the fault of the EU, and/or human rights. These terms often seem interchangeable in the world of UKIP. They claim the problem is of ministers pandering to minorities and not being “normal”, it is about sexual orientation or 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 is 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 UKIP’s case. So whether you want to debate housing, the Welsh NHS, our transport network, policing or employment the themes and topics mentioned 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.
This led me to analyse a recent UKIP speech in greater detail. 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 gangmasters from Eastern Europe and somehow failed to mention the English gangmaster also prosecuted. Yes, I say prosecuted, because the authorities had acted and this example of exploitation was tackled.
Of course there is more to do. The pace of change in some communities has been very rapid and the Westminster coalition government’s decision to drop the Labour administration’s migration impact fund was a mistake. Austerity policies meant the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is not properly funded.
Meanwhile Welsh Labour can be proud that we appointed the first anti-human trafficking co-ordinator. Independent evaluation has shown the value of the work being undertaken in Wales but we don’t hear much about that work from UKIP. Whether in the field of promoting equalities, supporting vulnerable people, social partnership and workplace rights, or repealing sections of the Tories’ anti-trade union legislation, it is Welsh Labour leading the government here that makes a real difference.
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 Britain.
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 are yet 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 is seeking to make a political noise that only deepens division in our communities and generates prejudice against minorities in place of building unity and tolerance.
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 speaks to intolerance it should never be welcomed in the assembly. Let us hope that 2018 sees a turn towards tolerance and understanding.
Dawn Bowden is AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.