The former Conservative MPs Neil Hamilton and Mark Reckless have been selected to stand for Ukip in the Welsh assembly elections.
Polls suggest Nigel Farage’s party could win as many as nine seats in the 60-strong assembly in May’s elections. Hamilton will contest a regional seat in Mid and West Wales while Reckless will stand in the South Wales East regional. The party’s leader in Wales, Nathan Gill, will run for a North Wales seat.
Gill said: “The Welsh membership have now had their say, and I am glad that our list candidates for the Welsh elections have now been confirmed. Now is the time for all of us to move forward united and to campaign to bring real change to the political establishment in Cardiff Bay.
“We have a great manifesto and a great message and I look forward to leading the Ukip Wales team from the front in the campaign ahead.”
The established parties in Wales are concerned at the potential arrival of Ukip on the scene. In an interview with the Guardian last month, the first minister, Carwyn Jones, portrayed Ukip in Wales as an English party controlled by headquarters in London.
He said: “Ukip are a party that are getting the support of people who are generally annoyed. It’s not about Europe necessarily, it’s not about immigration necessarily. It’s a kind of ‘we’re annoyed’ vote.
“We’ll be saying Ukip are not a Welsh party, they are an English party with a Welsh branch. We’ll be saying: do you really think these people have policies that suit you and Wales? Are they are really a party with roots in Wales? They are totally dictated to by London.”
Last week, the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, said the “background noise” of the EU referendum would help Ukip.
She said: “They’re in a mess in terms of their internal organisation. They’ve had to parachute failed ex-Tories into Wales, so things are not great for them. But this background debate around the EU favours them. It poses a greater challenge for us but gives us more of a reason to get out there and knock on more doors.”
After a disappointing general election showing, Ukip sees the Welsh assembly campaign as a way to strike back. Because the elections use a form of proportional representation, the party has a much better chance of winning seats in Wales than at Westminster.
Ukip once called for the abolition of the Welsh assembly; now it plans to fight for every seat. It held its spring conference in Llandudno, north Wales, and its former head of media, Alexandra Phillips, relocated to Cardiff to mastermind the press operation.
The elections may also be a way back into frontline politics for Hamilton and Reckless. While a Tory MP, Hamilton faced allegations that he took cash for asking parliamentary questions, which he has always denied.
Reckless was the MP for Rochester and Strood when he defected to Ukip in 2014, and he lost his seat to the Tories last May.
The Lib Dems in Wales may have the most to lose in these elections. The same poll that suggests Ukip may win nine seats has the Lib Dems plunging from five to two.
Their leader, Kirsty Williams, urged people who have traditionally voted Plaid, Labour and Conservative to give their regional vote to her party.
She said: “Flying failed ex-Tory MPs into these elections simply won’t wash. Time and time again Ukip has tried to divide communities. That is why people must unite. In many regional seats across Wales, the choice for the fourth seat is between Ukip and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. That is the clear choice that many people must make.
“People who traditionally vote Plaid, Labour and Conservative need to lend their regional vote to the Welsh Liberal Democrats to stop Ukip. A vote for Labour is especially a wasted vote as they can’t win and could let Ukip sneak in.”
This article was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th March 2016 19.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010