The mysterious Elwyn Davies has suddenly become one of Wales’ most popular politicians (at the time of writing there are 3 parody Twitter accounts in existence, a sure sign that you’ve made it). The most recent Welsh Election Study data has revealed that Elwyn Davies was the second most recognised Welsh MEP behind UKIP’s Nathan Gill. The problem is – he doesn’t exist. A politician who doesn’t exist is the second most recognised MEP in Wales. It isn’t encouraging.
These findings are a worrying indictment on the knowledge people in Wales have of the EU, its institutions and its members. It is also an indictment of the media here in Wales and its failure to report the work of Welsh MEPs. Professor Roger Scully commented that we will be losing 4 MEPs when we leave the EU but “on these results, it seems fair to say that most of the Welsh public are unlikely to notice.”
These findings should be worrying but instead the joke (and developing cult) around Elwyn Davies is letting the media off the hook. The response has been to laugh about it when instead this should be a period of self-reflection for the media and politicians in Wales. We can blame the public, say everyone is politically illiterate, but there clearly is a real failing to report on the work that MEPs do.
One of the main arguments put forward by the Leave camp during the EU referendum campaign was that the EU lacked democratic accountability. It is not surprising that such an argument resonated with the Welsh public if they did not know who their elected representatives were at EU level, and the important role that MEPs play within the EU. Why haven’t more people heard of Wales’ MEPs who were less recognised than a fictitious character? Derek Vaughan had the opportunity to draw up rules for the next round of EU regional aid but of course that opportunity has been lost thanks to Brexit. Jill Evans has been an MEP for 17 years.
Not only have the media failed to adequately cover the work undertaken by Welsh MEPs their focus on UKIP has further distorted the public’s perception of the European Parliament. Beyond Nigel Farage’s contributions, very limited, if any coverage has been allocated to the work of the European Parliament. During the EU referendum debate, the only MEPs we saw were the ones from UKIP – MEPs whose attendance in the EU Parliament has been appalling.
The blame of course cannot be put solely on the media. Politicians must also accept responsibility for failing to engage with the public. For this reason the somewhat casual response of certain Assembly Members is a cause for concern. Given that fewer than half the Welsh population knew who ran the NHS in Wales in 2014 it would appear that there is a broader problem with political engagement in Wales. It is imperative that Welsh politicians and the media take steps to remedy this.
Serious questions must be asked as to why a fictitious person can become a popular part of Welsh political life. It is not something the media and politicians should be dismissing as a funny joke. It is a continuing problem but the broadcasting of Welsh politics in the media needs to be addressed.