Trajectories of Failure: Neil Hamilton, Sebastian Haffner, and the Campaign against Welsh Democracy

In his book, Germany: Jekyll and Hyde, the journalist Sebastian Haffner, then a refugee in London from Adolf Hitler’s Germany, reminds us of Hitler’s inglorious beginnings and gradual descent into crime. First, he says, Hitler was an artist; having failed as an artist, he worked as a painter and decorator; having failed as a painter and decorator, he lived in a doss-house; not content with this, he became a snitch for the police; and then he became, first a member, then a functionary, and at last the leader of the Nazi party, thus continuing downward on the trajectory of his failure until he was Führer of the Third Reich.1

Neil Hamilton is no Hitler, of course, yet Haffner’s rhetoric seems applicable in his case. For having been a Member of Parliament, he was branded a liar and a cheat;2 having been branded a liar and a cheat, he became, as he himself might put it, a media whore;3 and having become a media whore, he sought to become a member of the European Parliament, for the purpose of campaigning against the European Parliament.4 Having failed to become a member of the European Parliament, he became a member of the Parliament of Wales,5 who now seeks to abolish the Parliament of Wales,6 even though this consigns him to utter irrelevance,7 and the country he supposedly loves8 to extinction.9 Those who genuinely wish to contribute or create will do so, and will find at least some fulfilment. But those whose motivations are selfish can never be fulfilled, for selfishness seeks not to create or nurture anything external to the self, but only to aggrandise and perpetuate the self. Hence UKIP greeted the referendum victory that completed their campaign, not with satisfaction or joy, but with gloating and self-pity,10 with thuggishness and brutality,11 and now they look for something else to destroy.

For Eric Hoffer, politics reveal character. The selfish, the bored and the over-ambitious are drawn to take part in populist mass movements,12 while for José Ortega, it is the self-appointed ‘masses,’ not defined by class, but drawn from all walks of life, and defined by their materialism, their rejection of knowledge, and their indifference to the life of the mind, who embrace authoritarianism.13 Tacitus said of the barbarians that they confused the material comforts of civilisation with civilisation itself, and the word implies a respect for the human personality in its potential that makes personal freedom, comfort and leisure meaningful and purposeful.14 Neil Hamilton is no Hitler. Yet he has a history of involvement with the Far Right.15 His political career has disgraced, coarsened,16 cheapened17 and degraded18 democracy. And in his campaign to abolish the democracy of Wales he has found a cause worthy of his stature.

  1. Sebastian Haffner, Germany: Jekyll and Hyde: A Contemporary Account of Nazi Germany. 1940. London: Abacus, 2005. pp. 7-8. 

  2. David Hencke, David Leigh and David Pallister. ‘A Liar and a Cheat.’ The Guardian, 1st October 1996. 

  3. James Walsh, ‘Neil Hamilton: disgraced MP to Z-list celebrity to political comeback.’ The Guardian, 10th May 2016. For Neil Hamilton’s use of the word ‘concubine’ to describe his fellow members of the Senedd, Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams, see note 17

  4. Ross Hawkins, ‘Neil Hamilton joins UKIP’s Nigel Farage show.’ BBC News, 9th September 2011. 

  5. ‘Welsh Assembly: Ex-Tory Neil Hamilton elected for UKIP.’ Video. BBC News, 6th May 2016. 

  6. ‘Neil Hamilton calls for end to Senedd.’ Powys County Times, 28th May 2020. 

  7. Will Hayward, ‘The evolution of UKIP in Wales: How the Senedd's Brexiteer politicians turned on each other and the institution that employs them to survive.’ Wales Online, 21st August 2020. 

  8. David Williamson, ‘Former Tory MP Neil Hamilton on “hiraeth” and why he wants to be a Ukip Assembly Member.’ Wales Online, 19th May 2016. Philip Dewey, ‘This is the £1.4m manor house in England from where Neil Hamilton will run Ukip's AMs in Wales.’ Wales Online, 11th May 2016. 

  9. David Williamson, ‘Wales “wouldn't really exist” if we’d voted No in 1997 – Carwyn Jones.’ Wales Online, 16th September 2017. 

  10. ‘Farage tells EU Parliament: “You’re not laughing now.”’ Video. BBC News, 28th June 2016. Jennifer Rankin, ‘Brexit party MEPs turn backs on Ode to Joy at European parliament.’ The Guardian, 2nd July 2019. 

  11. Jennifer Rankin, ‘Ukip scuffle: MEPs Steven Woolfe and Mike Hookem reported to French police.’ The Guardian, 26th October 2016. 

  12. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. 1956. New York: Harper, 2010. pp. 24-25, 38, 39, 51-53. 

  13. José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses: Authorised Translation from the Spanish. 1930. New York: Norton, 1993. pp. 54 ff, 61 ff, 68 ff. 

  14. The passage is quoted and discussed in R. H. Barrow, The Romans. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949. pp. 12-13. 

  15. Mark S. Redfern, ‘From Corrupt Tory to Friend of Fascists: The Story of UKIP’s Neil Hamilton.’ Voice.Wales, 15th October 2020. 

  16. Ruth Mosalski, ‘Neil Hamilton called “heartless” after an interview about hospitalised Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe.’ Wales Online, 6th October 2016. 

  17. ‘I meant no disrespect, says UKIP’s Hamilton on sexism row.’ Video. BBC News, 24th May 2016. 

  18. ‘Neil Hamilton apology for Brexit “suicide” remark.’ Video. BBC News, 29th March 2017. 

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