Ukip AMs gear­ing up for Welsh lead­er­ship con­test

Western Mail - - NEWS -

THREE of the five re­main­ing mem­bers of the Ukip group at the Na­tional Assem­bly will be con­test­ing its lead­er­ship in a bal­lot open to all the party’s mem­bers in Wales.

Caro­line Jones – who ousted her pre­de­ces­sor Neil Hamil­ton in May – has con­firmed that she will stand as a can­di­date.

Mr Hamil­ton and Gareth Ben­nett have al­ready said they will stand.

An­nounc­ing her de­ci­sion to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion, Ms Jones said she would avoid cre­at­ing con­tro­versy “for the sake of be­ing con­tro­ver­sial”.

The bal­lot of mem­bers was called by Ukip’s cen­tral lead­er­ship in a bid to halt in­fight­ing in the Assem­bly group.

Ms Jones said: “I of­fer a pos­i­tive ap­proach to­wards pol­i­tics in the Assem­bly. I work hard in my com­mu­nity.

“I’ve never been neg­a­tive in the Assem­bly. I work col­lab­o­ra­tively with other par­ties be­cause, to be truth­ful, we’re never go­ing to take the Assem­bly. We’re never go­ing to have a First Min­is­ter of Ukip.”

She added: “I hope peo­ple look at me and think I have hon­esty and in­tegrity, re­spect and dig­nity for ev­ery­one.

“I have never made un­palat­able com­ments in the Assem­bly of a per­sonal na­ture, al­though I al­ways look at the pol­i­tics.”

Her state­ment was a barely con­cealed at­tack on Mr Hamil­ton, who at one of the first meet­ings he at­tended as an AM two years ago de­scribed Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Lib­eral Demo­crat AM Kirsty Wil­liams as “po­lit­i­cal con­cu­bines” when they per­mit­ted the re-elec­tion of Car­wyn Jones as First Min­is­ter.

Ms Jones said she op­posed Mr Ben­nett’s view that the Assem­bly should be abol­ished.

“I honour the peo­ple’s vote for the Assem­bly,” she said.

But she added: “I don’t think it’s the time to be talk­ing about hav­ing more AMs. We are in times of aus­ter­ity.

“That view I have put across quite strongly.”

Ms Jones said she would “al­ways be a mem­ber of Ukip” and would stay even if ei­ther of her ri­vals won the lead­er­ship bal­lot.

“I would never throw my teddy out of the pram if I didn’t win any­thing,” she said.

A re­sult is due be­fore the end of July, but as yet a de­tailed timetable for the con­test has not been an­nounced.

There are thought to be be­tween 800 and 1,000 mem­bers of Ukip in Wales.

At the Assem­bly elec­tion in 2016 the party won seven seats, all on the re­gional lists elected by pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

The num­ber was quickly re­duced to six when MEP Nathan Gill was ousted from the lead­er­ship in a vote con­fined to group mem­bers.

Say­ing he could not work with Mr Hamil­ton, he sat for a time as an In­de­pen­dent at the Assem­bly, be­fore re­sign­ing. He re­mains a Ukip MEP.

Mr Gill’s suc­ces­sor from the party’s re­gional list was Mandy Jones, but she was not ad­mit­ted to the group be­cause she in­sisted on em­ploy­ing some of Mr Gill’s staff who had joined the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Mark Reck­less left the Ukip group to sit as an In­de­pen­dent, al­though he is a mem­ber of the Con­ser­va­tive group.

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