Does it really cost £15,000 to be a UKIP candidate?
I act for Mr Gareth Bennett, of xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx
My client is active politically, as a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip). To be more specific, he is the chairman of the Cardiff branch of Ukip, and is the Ukip candidate for Cardiff West for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections, which takes place on 5 May. More pertinent to this legal matter, he is the lead list candidate for Ukip for the South Wales Central region, a position which gives him a very strong chance of being elected as an Assembly member.
The process of selecting Ukip candidates for the Assembly list nominations was a long and tortuous one, which attracted considerable media attention. Initially, there was to be a selection committee headed by Paul Oakden, the party's national Director. However, due to widespread perceptions among the Ukip party membership in Wales that this system was tilted in favour of pre-selected candidates favoured by the party's national leadership, this selection system was ultimately abandoned. Instead, bowing to the wishes of the party members, Ukip's National Executive Committee in London agreed that a ballot should be held of all party members in Wales to elect the list candidates for all five of the Welsh regions.
My client finished top of the poll in his region of South Wales Central, and was duly selected by the Wales party membership as lead candidate for this region. This decision was then endorsed by the party's UK-wide National Executive Committee.
Since that time, my client has become gradually aware of a 'whispering campaign' against him in media circles in Cardiff. As a Cardiff resident and former journalist, he has various sources to call on in this regard. The rumours that reached the ears of my client were that 'there would be a change' to the list positions in South Wales Central; and that his election was being questioned by some elements within his own party. I should add that this last questioning was not coming from the party membership, but rather from some of the party officials who dealt with the media.
Last week, my client was contacted by Ruth Mosalski, the Local Government reporter of Media Wales, by whom he had previously been interviewed when he stood as a Cardiff council candidate (last October). Ruth was interested in doing an interview, as she had read that my client was now a lead Assembly candidate. My client explained that he had been warned that all candidates had to submit all media material through the Campaign and Media Office. He told Ruth that he would find out what procedure he had to follow to do an interview with her, and then get back to her. She acknowledged this.
A couple of days later, my client was contacted by Alex Phillips, the head of media for Ukip in Wales, who wanted him to do an interview with the chief reporter of Media Wales, Martin Shipton. The discussion over this was postponed until Sunday, when all Ukip list candidates were due to meet in Cardiff, where media advice would be offered.
I should state at this point that Alex Phillips 'wears two hats' for the purpose of this legal action. As well as being chief media officer for Ukip in Wales, she is also an Assembly candidate herself, and indeed she was a rival of my client for the lead candidate selection in his region of South Wales Central. In the poll of party members, she finished second to my client by a margin of around 30 votes.
At the Sunday meeting of list candidates, my client expressed his wish to do his Media Wales interview with Ruth Mosalski, who had asked him first. However, Alex Phillips brushed this off, telling him that as Martin Shipton was the chief reporter, he should do the interview with Martin instead. My client then pointed out that Martin did not have a high regard in Ukip, being viewed as a keen opponent of the party who had written several disparaging pieces, over the years, about Ukip as a party and Ukip candidates. My client had been expressly warned by other, more experienced Ukip party members on joining the party not to involve themselves in any press activities involving Martin Shipton. My client therefore questioned the choice of Martin as an interviewer, but this was brusquely brushed aside by Alex Phillips.
My client then asked if any written handbook was available to party candidates on dealing with the press. He was told curtly that this was not the case, and that candidates should have enough 'common sense' to be able to cope with press interviews. My client then angrily interjected that there had been a whole history of Ukip candidates having been deselected as a result of press interviews which had gone wrong, but this point was again peremptorily disregarded by Alex Phillips.
The interview with Martin Shipton took place at 6pm on the following Tuesday. My client initially thought nothing amiss about this interview, although he was unsure as to why Martin kept asking him about the subject of 'robotics'. Oddly this subject had cropped up at a Ukip branch meeting six days earlier, although at the time of the interview, my client thought nothing particularly of this apparent coincidence. Upon being repeatedly prompted by Martin, he eventually gave voice to a general opinion that, as robotics was predicted to take over many jobs, there was even less point in encouraging mass immigration into the UK than was generally accepted - as, in future years, there would simply be less work for the UK-based population.
On Thursday, my client was contacted by Sam Gould, Ukip's Wales campaign manager, who told him that there was bad feedback from the Shipton interview. This surprised my client, who asked for some specifics. He was told merely that the feeling was that the interview would be 'bad for the party', and that Ukip was being shown the piece by Media Wales and was being offered 'the right of reply'.
An hour later, my client was contacted by Alice Key from ITV Wales, who informed him that ITV knew about the Media Wales piece, which was apparently going to be printed on the following Saturday, and wanted to offer him 'the right of reply'. My client responded that he was not very able to give any reply, since he was not yet aware what Media Wales would be printing. He told Alice he would allow 'the dust to settle' after the Media Wales piece, and would speak to her if she rang him the following Monday.
He was then immediately contacted by Owain Phillips, a presenter of ITV Wales. Owain repeated Alice's request for an interview that day, but added that Monday would be too late, as my client would then be involved in a fire-fighting exercise, reacting to media accusations and criticisms that had already been launched against him. Crucially, he also stated that Ukip party sources had already been briefing against my client, and that therefore he needed to take swift action against the imminent possibility of being deselected as a candidate.
My client then reluctantly agreed to an interview with ITV Wales.
During the interview with Owain Phillips at ITV Wales's s studio in Cardiff Bay, my client gave a brief summary of his background and political beliefs. During a 13-minute interview, he was asked if he was really up to the demands of being the lead list candidate for South Wales Central, and stressed the fact that he had been elected to that role by the party membership of Ukip in Wales. Oddly, the interviewer asked him, towards the end of the piece, a question about robotics. This was rather bizarre, as this was the same subject on which he had been quizzed by Martin Shipton two days earlier.
My client is not particularly interested in robotics, as he pointed out in his response. He repeated the general point that he had made in the interview with Martin Shipton, but also expressed his puzzlement that two different interviewers were quizzing him on the subject of robotics.
Following this interview, my client cast his mind back to the previous Ukip branch meeting at which the subject of robotics had been raised, and recalled that Alex Phillips had - unusually - been present at that branch meeting. Consulting his notes for the meeting, my client (who is, as has been mentioned earlier, the Ukip branch chairman in Cardiff) observed that robotics had been raised as an issue. The issue was raised by branch member Harry White, who wanted it to be raised as an issue in the EU referendum. Alex Phillips purported to have contacted Ukip party leader Nigel Farage in the course of the meeting, and to have raised the issue of 'robotics' with him. Alex then announced this to the meeting, and announced that she had alerted the party leader to the issue of robotics.
My purpose in all this is to establish that the briefing against my client amongst the Welsh media was clearly done by xxxxx. She was present at the Ukip branch meeting where robotics was discussed (although the discussion was not even led by my client). And the probability must be that she primed Martin Shipton with the issue of 'robotics'; and then did the same with Owain Phillips. This must have been part of a clumsy attempt to 'prime' the Welsh media against my client, so that he would say outlandish things to the reporters, and be deselected. The person who would be advantaged in this event was Alex Phillips, who would move up from number two to number one list candidate in South Wales Central.
I would add that two separate sources have both named xxxx to my client as the source of leaks to the Welsh media, to the effect that my client was about to be deselected. A third source has named 'a girl in the Ukip press office', but without naming her. I should add that there is, from my investigation, only one 'girl in the Ukip press office'.
I should reiterate, at this point, that Alex Phillips would benefit from the deselection of my client, by moving from second to first place in the regional list. Yet she was supposedly giving disinterested media advice to my client throughout.
My client now suggests that the following actions be taken:
That, due to a gross conflict of interests, Alex Phillips should be deselected as a list candidate for South Wales Central.
There is a case that Ms Philips should also be dismissed from her role as head of media in Wales, given the case we have made that she has actually undermined, rather than supported, Ukip Wales candidates. However, given the difficulties of replacing Ms Phillips at short notice during a busy period, my client would like to propose that she should remain in post in her media role
as long as:
my client is relieved of all further media or hustings roles during the campaign, as he can no longer retain any confidence in the staff of the Campaign and Media Office to support his candidacy, given the foregoing events, as documented in this letter.
Please note that, if my client is deselected, the Ukip political party would face a legal action of £300,000 in lost earnings, and would also face the prospect of paying my client's legal costs, in the event of losing the case.
www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-35841255 link to story about his deselection on BBC