The Senedd’s populist musical chairs continues – but there may be no prize after the music stops
Ifan Morgan Jones
Today former UKIP and independent member Gareth Bennett made his second party switch, this time becoming a member of the Abolish the Assembly party.
However, rather than being a sign of the strength of the populist right in Wales this further fracturing is yet another indication that they are likely to lose significant ground at next year’s Senedd elections.
Bennett’s switch means that there are now almost as many right-wing populist parties in the Senedd as there are members who want to be associated with them.
2016’s UKIP intake has now split four fours ways between them, the Brexit Party, Abolish the Assembly and an independent.
There is also Neil McEvoy’s Welsh National Party vying for the populist, anti-Senedd elite vote, although this is a party pulling in a different direction, towards Welsh independence.
Wales’ electoral system is more generous with small parties but it simply doesn’t have the capacity to reward this many competing offers with seats.
Our proportional representation system just isn’t that proportional. Two-thirds of the seats are still doled out in constituency votes and only four more are available in each of the five regions.
UKIP, at the height of their powers in 2016 just two months before the Brexit referendum, only managed seven seats on 13% of the vote.
However, as a result of the fracturing between UKIP, the Brexit Party and Abolish the Assembly, they aren’t currently projected to win any seats between them next year.
This isn’t just a matter of Senedd Members agreeing to stand for one party as in 2016 either, as for the right-wing populists there are currently no good options.
UKIP seem to be a spent force, long since relegated to the ‘other’ section of any polling roundup.
With no extension of the transition deal on the cards, The Brexit Party face being completely irrelevant by the time the Senedd election rolls around next May.
And Abolish the Assembly face the same problem as any party based solely in Wales which is that very few people get their news from Welsh media and so are unlikely to hear the first thing about them.
Gaining a single member is unlikely to catapult Abolish into the public consciousness or make Gareth Bennett, not the most charismatic of fellows, a household name.
It may well be the case that before next May an alternative party will emerge – Nigel Farage’s long-awaited Reform party, perhaps – and the right-wing populists will coalesce around that.
But it may be too late in the day and simply introduce yet another alternative into the mix, splitting the vote yet further.
Until then, half a dozen Senedd Members, and a host of other hopefuls, will continue their game of musical chairs where no one knows which party to back.
And when the music stops, it may well turn out that there was no prize after all – there may well not get a single seat on offer in the sixth Welsh Parliament elected next year between them anyway.