A UKIP Assembly Member has been heavily criticised after a recording of a phone call in which she called a prominent Labour MP ‘a coconut’ was released.
A Labour Assembly Group spokesperson called for Michelle Brown, who represents the North Wales region, to be suspended immediately after the tape was released by her former senior adviser Nigel Williams.
During the course of the conversation, in which she also referred to former Labour MP and current Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum Tristram Hunt as a ‘t**t’, Ms Brown said: “Chuka Umunna is a f***ing coconut.
“He’s got as much understanding of an ordinary black man’s experience as I have.
“He may be black but his mother or his father was British from a very, very influential family.
“He is a coconut – black on the outside, white on the inside, and Barack Obama’s exactly the same.”
Former detective Nigel Williams, who was sacked by Ms Brown in May this year after working for her since her election, told the Daily Post that he had been ‘appalled’ by the recording, which he discovered in his records a year after the conversation took place.
“It’s bad enough coming from anybody, but to come from a newly appointed Assembly Member is absolutely appalling,” he added.
“I’ve seen swearing and I’ve been called all sorts of names myself, but I’ve actually never seen it from somebody in such a position.
“This wasn’t a meltdown. This was just a conversation that Michelle Brown was having, which she thought was OK.”
Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs led criticism of Ms Brown. A spokesperson for the Labour group said: “This is absolutely outrageous language and lays bare the disgusting racism at the heart of UKIP.
“Anything less than immediate suspension would be a clear endorsement of Michelle Brown’s racist slur.”
Plaid leader Leanne Wood said: “This racism reflects poorly on our parliament – the National Assembly for Wales – and that’s why her party should take action on this.”
Speaking to the BBC, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies said: “The language is completely unacceptable and it’s regrettable in the second decade of the 21st Century that that type of language is held by people who hold public appointment.
“From my view, if that person was in the Conservative Party – they would be suspended.
“As I said – it is completely unacceptable language.”
UKIP Chair Paul Oakden said UKIP ‘obviously does not condone the personal views expressed by Michelle Brown’.
“We will conduct an investigation into this matter, the findings of which will be passed through to our National Executive Committee so that they might consider disciplinary action,” he added.
However, Mr Oakden also noted that the party would also be investigating ‘whether a UKIP member and official surreptitiously recorded a private telephone conversation with Michelle Brown and then disseminated it without her consent, more than a year after the event’.
In the meantime, two of UKIP’s remaining five AMs criticised Ms Brown’s language.
Caroline Jones said that ‘inappropriate language is not condoned by myself or anyone else in the party,’ while David Rowlands ‘thought we’d put that racist language behind us as a party’.
Responding, Ms Brown said: “The point I was making is that, because of his considerable wealth and privilege, Chukka Umunna cannot possibly understand the difficulties and issues that the average black person faces in this country any more than I can, and I stand by that assertion.
“I do however accept that the language I used in the private conversation was inappropriate and I apologise to anyone that has been offended by it.”
Solidarity with Catalonia urged
PLAID CYMRU Assembly Members have tabled a statement in the National Assembly sending solidarity with people of Catalonia as they prepare to vote in an independence referendum.
The statement of opinion by Adam Price and Simon Thomas calls on the Welsh Government to send a message of solidarity to the Catalan Government.
The call comes following Welsh Cabinet Secretary Mark Drakeford refusal to back the work of his Governmental counterparts in Catalonia during questions in the Senedd chamber (21 September).
This is in contrast to the Scottish Government that has condemned the actions of the Spanish state that is trying to thwart the independence referendum.
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr AM Adam Price: “Catalunya and Wales have a long history of solidarity dating back to the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The decision of the Labour Government here not to extend a message of support to the Government is ridiculous. Surely they should have the guts to include Wales’s voice in the international condemnation of the action of the Spanish Government.
“The raiding of Catalan government buildings by police and the detention of officials, which is an unacceptable violation of the autonomous institutions of Catalunya.”
Mid and West AM Simon Thomas, who organised a letter on the issue signed by Independent, Labour, UKIP and Plaid Cymru Assembly Members last week added:
“We extend our solidarity with elected representatives of Catalunya, and support the right to self-determination by the people of Catalunya through referendum.
“The Spanish government has to play a constructive role and encourage a solution through political dialogue rather than judicial or forceful means.”
Regional AM invites students to enter video competition
NEIL HAMILTON, UKIP’s Group Leader in the Assembly and AM for Mid & West Wales is encouraging all local A-level students in his Region to take part in the Political Studies Association (PSA’s) Schools’ Video Competition, now in its seventh year.
The annual film competition, sponsored by YouGov, is the highlight in the PSA’s calendar of activities to engage young people in the study of politics, and is open to post-16 students who will be studying during the academic year 2017-18.
Mr Hamilton said: “We cannot undervalue the importance of engaging young people in politics. I would encourage all local A-level students to take part in this competition and submit their ideas and videos.
“It is really vital that more young people become involved in politics and increase their awareness of how our country is run, as our future is in their hands.
“The deadline is October 30 so students haven’t got long to produce a video and I would like to wish good luck to all from Mid & West Wales who take part.”
This year’s competition asks students to explore the question: ‘Fake News: Is this the end of facts?’
Groups of students are invited to submit short videos on this subject, examining what fake news is, what effect it may be having on the political landscape and what it means for expert opinion and ‘factual’ knowledge.
Shortlisted groups will be invited to Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster to discuss the ideas raised in their video with a panel of politicians, journalists and academics. Previous jurors have included Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Victoria Derbyshire.
The winners of the Schools’ Short Video Competition will receive their award at the PSA’s Annual Awards Ceremony in Westminster on December 5. The winning students will also be offered a week’s work experience with the YouGov political team during their school holidays.
CEO of the Political Studies Association, Phil Sooben, said: “The competition is a great way for students to develop new skills, explore their creativity and get in touch with contemporary political issues.
“The added training that winning teams get from YouGov – at the heart of political polling and public opinion monitoring – makes this initiative ever more worthwhile.”
Full details about the competition for 2017 and how to enter can be found on the PSA’s website at www.psa.ac.uk.
Four to tender for rail franchise
WALES’ Economy Secretary Ken Skates has confirmed final tenders have been invited for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service, the Welsh Government’s first.
The new rail service will deliver a step-change in the quality of rail travel in Wales. Since January 2017, officials and bidders have been discussing a range of innovative solutions to find those which best meet the needs of people in Wales and the border regions.
Rather than follow the traditional model for procuring a rail service, with the issue of a set specification that companies bid for, this approach has allowed new ideas to be explored and collaborative working relationships to be developed – setting the tone for the new service.
Proposals for the South Wales Metro are being developed alongside the Wales and Borders service to aid development of an integrated transport system in the region. The deadline to submit final tender is December 21.
Economy Secretary, Ken Skates said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd have all been invited to submit final tenders for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service. From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.
“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.
“We intend to create a rail service that benefits the whole of Wales, communities along the border and in England. One with passengers at its heart and today’s announcement is another important step towards that.”
In inviting final tender for the franchise, the Economy Secretary provided an update on progress with UK Government on fair funding. He said: “There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Border and, following positive talks, a resolution is near. It’s great news for rail users across Wales that this ensures the services modern Wales expects and have been promised, will be fully delivered.”
Conservative Transport spokesperson, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh public rightly expects a truly 21st century rail service that puts the passenger first. Commuters should be seeing the new rail service provide access to free Wi-Fi, built to serve the needs of local communities, and achieve high standards in relation to environmental sustainability.
“The experience of the previous franchise was an acute demonstration that it is absolutely vital to ‘get things right’ during the procurement of a major rail operating agreement, particularly to ensure that it delivers for passengers and taxpayers alike over the course of the entire franchise period.
“Welsh Conservatives are adamant the priorities of Welsh passengers should be at the very heart of the new Wales and Borders Rail franchise namely; an agreement that takes into account the commercial realities of expanding passenger numbers over time, and trains that are reliable, cost effective and contain enough seats to accommodate the travelling public.”
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