Shhhh there's an election going on

Despite a Plaid Cymru resurgence, Labour need worry not.

YOU might not be aware of the secretive election taking place at the moment. The Welsh one, that is, not that in Nigeria. Most aren't. Least not in Wales itself.

Because in the wake of the possible ramifications of an SNP victory in the Scottish election, the poll that will decide the make-up of the currently Labour-run Welsh Assembly has pretty much passed by unremarked.
The attitude towards Welsh devolution amongst the public in the principality pretty much reflects that among Labour high command - a distinct lack of enthusiasm followed by grudging acceptance. And, as such,
Labour goes into the election with a sense of trepidation.

Polls suggest most don't even know there's an election going on. Unlike Scotland, Wales' indigenous media isn't strong - most people take their news from English sources. Only 15% of people, depressingly, buy a Cardiff, rather than London, printed newspaper; in some parts of the country, particularly the anglocentric north-east, it's easier to pick up English TV and radio than Welsh. It's doubtful whether the ramifications of devolutions have hit home yet and a low turn-out is likely. Low turn-outs favour opposition parties, as Labour knows.

Yet Labourites have reason to be positive. It is not as clear-cut as in Scotland; the Welsh Labour Government is not in such a parlous state as its Caledonian equivalent.

There are various reasons for Rhodri to take heart. That's Rhodri Morgan, by the way. Like Ken Livingstone, the First Minister is known by his first name alone to friends, foes and the public alike.

The opposition is not knocking on the door as hard as in Scotland. Despite an impressive war chest, which has seen Plaid Cymru run its slickest, most professional operation yet, Plaid isn't the SNP. Their policies are eye-catching - free laptops for every schoolchild, up to £5,000 match-funding for everyone looking to buy their first house - but their costings leave much to be desired. And the thirst for a nationalist
solution isn't as strong as up north.

Labour, with proportional representation, holds the trump card in Wales. There is no chance of an anti-Labour coalition. The only other option on the table is the so-called 'rainbow coalition' of Plaid, Conservative and Lib Dems, which some in the Tories would like. Nice idea, but impossible. The idea of Plaid and Conservatives working together is unlikely at best. The idea appeared to be killed off by Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones early in the campaign, saying his party would not serve under a Tory First Minister.
Although this was when the polls suggested Plaid would drop to third place - this week's two polls suggest a Plaid resurgence - sharing power with Conservatives still remains anathema to the nationalist grassroots.

So what's going to happen? Labour will remain the largest party. They will form a coalition by throwing a couple of bones to the Lib Dems, in the form of two cabinet positions (Lib Dem demands for for PR in local elections as a deal-breaker are being slowly brushed aside). Rhodri will be back in power. And life will continue, much as it did up until 2003, when a similar Lib-Lab coalition ran Wales, without the nation grounding to a halt.It's little wonder attention has focused elsewhere with so little surprises
on offer.

Move along now. Nothing to see here.

Matt Withers is Political Correspondent for Wales on Sunday. He lives in Cardiff with his proportional-representation-friendly calculator.
Show Hide image

Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear