Wales politics

Can UKIP's AMs hold it together?

UKIP rosette

On 10 August the three candidates in the UKIP Welsh Assembly leadership contest will cross the border and head to the Devon town of Newton Abbot - UKIP's HQ - to find out which of them has won.

The timetable has already slipped - the result was meant to be declared by the end of July. A problem printing the ballot papers has held things up.

UKIP hopes the vote will settle the row that led to former assembly group leader Neil Hamilton being pushed out in favour of Caroline Jones.

But while the public contest has been very quiet, behind the scenes it seems relations between the key players are as bad as ever.

The party in the assembly has been hit by a row over who within the group of five should do an important job - representing the party on the Assembly Commission.

After Neil Hamilton was rejected from the post by AMs from other parties for a second time, the group has appeared unable to select an alternative.

Sitting leader Caroline Jones has also not been holding, in recent weeks, regular group meetings.

Given they have been struggling to even hold meetings, the question remains whether the gang of five AMs can hold together under the same banner after the result of the leadership ballot is revealed.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Neil Hamilton accused Caroline Jones of "colluding" with others against him

Some of the recent problems have been revealed in a series of emails, seen by BBC Wales, from Neil Hamilton and another AM, Gareth Bennett, that make accusations against Caroline Jones and an aide.

All three are candidates in the leadership contest.

Mr Hamilton alleged that Ms Jones had been "colluding with our political opponents" to undermine the UKIP group's decision for Mr Hamilton to remain the group's candidate for the Assembly Commission despite continued opposition from Plaid and Labour members.

The basis of the complaint is that, after the re-nomination was rejected by senior AMs on the business committee, a proposal for Ms Jones to do the job was brought up at a further meeting of the committee last week.

The paper trail shows that an aide to Ms Jones had sent colleagues an email saying Ms Jones would do the job voluntarily until AMs could be persuaded of Mr Hamilton's nomination, or someone else was found.

With no response to the email, it was assumed by the aide that there was no problem. (Mr Hamilton did apparently attempt to object, but the response was allegedly sent to the wrong address).

Mr Bennett wrote that the matter was raised at the committee as a UKIP group nomination.

"I replied that that was news to me, as I had received no instruction from the Group to nominate anybody," he wrote.

Mr Hamilton accused Ms Jones of informing the presiding officer Elin Jones directly.

A source close to Caroline Jones denied this, saying a clerk to the committee was told, as they had been told before about the push to re-nominate Mr Hamilton that was rejected.

But this was enough for Mr Bennett to claim Ms Jones and an aide had "undermined his position as group business manager", claiming there had been a "considerable amount of back-channelling".

Image copyright Welsh Assembly
Image caption Caroline Jones is one of the three candidates in the UKIP leadership race

The source rejected the accusations against Ms Jones and the aide, and accused Mr Hamilton of "doing everything he can to undermine Caroline to become leader again".

BBC Wales understands that the aide felt they had been following procedures they were taught to follow.

The lack of a further decision from the group on who should be commissioner has not been helped by the fact that the group has not been meeting.

Mr Hamilton claimed this had been decided by Ms Jones unilaterally.

But an email from a group aide said the meetings were cancelled because of their disruptive nature, and that a number of AMs had felt that way.

Mr Hamilton declined to comment on the emailed comments when asked by BBC Wales.

Image caption Gareth Bennett alleged Ms Jones had undermined him

Is there a future for the UKIP group in the assembly after the ballot is over and done with?

Mr Hamilton said he hoped so. "UKIP is on the up, isn't it?

"We've gone up five points in a week in the national opinion polls," he said, referring to a recent opinion poll which suggested the party's support had risen.

Ms Jones has indicated that she would stay in the group if she lost the leadership ballot, a source close to her said.

"It will depend on how she is treated, as well," the source added.

'Happy families'

The source said some of the group's recent troubles - the difficulties it has in appearing to function as a normal assembly group - were a "symptom of the ballot".

"We are getting on with the majority of things - the majority of AMs are doing their committee work," the source said.

"I'm hoping that when the ballot is out of the way we can act like a political party, rather than a protest group."

But another well-placed individual doubted whether UKIP will continue as a group of five - suspecting at least one person will walk after the ballot.

"I can't see a situation where all five of them will stick together and it will be happy families after this," the party member said.

Caroline Jones has declined to comment.

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