After a debate about building Royal Palaces in an age of austerity and increasing homelessness, it seemed difficult for Welsh politics to stoop any lower.
However, it came as no surprise when we managed to reach a new low, with Neil Hamilton’s defence of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech on breakfast radio.
Not what you want with your morning cornflakes.
This defence, of course, was brought to us courtesy of dear Auntie, who is in danger of not so much losing her way as the moral guardian of the British establishment, as embarking on what might appear to be a dramatic gin-soaked decline, with the donning of a garish red top – joining less esteemed company in the gutter.
We should not point our accusing finger at her alone, of course. That it should come to pass that a disgraced politician, representing what I have previously argued is a neo-fascist party, elected to the Welsh Assembly, should be allowed to defend on air what was described by Joseph Rees-Mogg (of all people) as an ‘evil’ speech, takes a lot more than just a certain latitude from the state broadcaster.
This is the result of the creeping normalization of bigoted, racist, xenophobic politics for the best part of a decade or more, that became firmly ensconced as a result of the wisdom of a man who allegedly once fornicated with a pig’s head.
I speak of course, of David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the EU, which would inevitably result in a vicious split in the UK, regardless of who won.
In Wales, this normalization has become ever more acute with seven of the vanguard’s finest elected to our Assembly, as a result of an unfortunate (depending on your view of things) combination of proportional representation and a moribund political culture.
A month before the referendum, our ‘progressive’ parties were not where they should have been, ensuring all hands were on deck for the final few weeks of the biggest campaign since Devolution in 1997.
Instead, they were embroiled in post-election political gamesmanship with UKIP deployed as a bargaining chip, as if these cheap purple counterfeits were genuine political currency.
And so the die was cast; legitimized from the off, their arguments for leaving the EU were only strengthened, and following a vote of disastrous proportions for Wales – which they helped bring about – they were happily welcomed into the political fold.
We’ve since, unnervingly, got used to them as ‘normal’ politicians. This is despite their penchant for controversy, idiocy and strong smells in hotel rooms. ITV’s Adrian Masters ended up in the Hamiltons’ kitchen, for goodness’ sake.
Why does this matter any more? I hear you ask. Their voting figures have subsided, as has their presence in the Assembly, with official numbers down to 4. They are nothing more than pantomime villains to entertain us.
This is a comforting thought, until you acknowledge that all that’s left is this rump, because they won. Mission accomplished. Out of the EU.
Furthermore, having smashed the ‘Overton Window’ and replaced it on the far right of Westminster’s right wing, they’ve now begotten the swivel-eyed, monster raving loony Conservative Party.
And sadly, this aggressive, chauvinist, brutish Britishness is no joke.
Witness Alun Cairns scuttling around at the behest of his leader, undermining Wales wherever possible with development projects based around English cities.
And this, of course, is the thin end of the wedge.
Witness the rise in abuse of Wales and its language. Witness the spike in hate crime against minorities.
And whilst openly seeking to dilute Welshness, the British Government has now more ominously been exposed in wasting little time in making Britain white again, setting in train the appalling deportation of the Windrush children.
But what might we have done differently? Well, in Wales, with a significant UKIP presence in the Assembly our politicians could have taken steps to shun their politics in a forceful and meaningful way that could have provided a precedent for British politics as a whole.
Within days of their election in 2016, Simon Brooks was calling for a Cordon Sanitaire. As he stated, this is the norm in Europe:
“In other European countries where the radical Right has gained a foothold, other parties have closed ranks in order to leave those who ramble on about rubbish bags and immigrants without political influence.”
Over the coming months, he, I and others incurred the wrath of politicians for railing against the normalization of UKIP, in particular on social media.
We also worked on a document entitled ‘Calon Lân’, proposing a Cordon Sanitaire for the Welsh Assembly.
It was argued as follows:
“We live in a democracy, but in dealing with UKIP since the election, 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.”
Sadly, we got little traction with our proposal: there was the odd sympathetic ear, but nothing came of our efforts. The main response was that it would only fan the flames and encourage the far-right agenda.
Perhaps they were right; maybe Neil Hamilton would be our Supreme Leader by now had they taken such affirmative action.
Or perhaps he wouldn’t, and perhaps he wouldn’t be appearing on BBC’s Good Morning Wales, bold as brass, defending an evil speech.
Perhaps we should not tolerate the intolerant; perhaps we should stand up and fight for our values; and perhaps our politicians could take unyielding, principled action that shouldered real responsibility and demonstrated a seriousness often missing.
Back in 1998, If you tolerate this, then your children will be next, sang the Manics – advice we should have taken to heart. They’ve now proclaimed Resistance is Futile. But we know that deep down, giving up is not what they’re advocating.
We can still resist; we could still create a Cordon Sanitaire and protect the heart of our democracy fromt UKIP, and by doing so take a symbolic stand against the neo-fascist politics that is threatening to overtake us.
Calon Lân: A Code of Conduct for regulating interaction with UKIP in the Welsh Assembly
1.) 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.
2.) 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.
3.) 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.
4.) 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.
5.) 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.
6.) 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.
7.) 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.