Posted 01 Apr 2016
In 2013, the Electoral Reform Society Cymru published its first annual Welsh Power Report which explored the position of women in public life. The report showed how, a century on from women gaining the right to vote, levels of women’s representation in some parts of Welsh public life remains little changed.
During the last decade, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government were world leaders in women’s representation. From 2000-2005 over half of all cabinet ministers, and from 2005-2007 over half of all Assembly Members were women – a global first. But that early promise has stalled and as this report shows, Wales now risks falling back.
In both of the last two devolved elections, the number of women AMs elected has fallen, as women elected for the first time in 1999 retired and many were replaced by men. Early positive action by Labour and Plaid Cymru created an ‘incumbency overhang’: women first elected in 1999 or 2003 stood more of a chance of re-selection and re-election in subsequent elections, thus boosting the overall number of women in the Assembly. But as Labour and Plaid Cymru shied away from positive measures like twinning constituencies and reserved places at the top of regional lists, men began to replace women. Furthermore, at the 2011 election, some women from the 1999 and 2003 intakes retired and were often replaced by men. This creates a new incumbency overhang which works in favour of men, and challenges further drives towards gender equality.
This invaluable Electoral Reform Society Cymru’s analysis warns that the number of women elected at this election could fall to as low as 22 and projects a ‘high’ of 28. The most likely scenario is that the final tally will be somewhere in the middle, meaning this will be the third election where the number of women has stalled. It remains to be seen whether this lack of progress is a part of an organic change (one that will level itself out in future elections), or a symptom of longer-term decline which will accelerate as the last of the 1999 and more of the 2003 and 2007 intakes retire.
Whilst individual parties are taking some action, it would be naive to be confident about the future. Without a renewed commitment from political parties, Wales will become another mid-table nation in the global gender equality league. The progress made during the early days of devolution will have been a blip, rather than the start of a positive transformation of Welsh public life.
The 2016 election is likely to be the most unpredictable in the Assembly’s history. The semi-proportional voting system, born out of the need for political compromise in the 1990s, has served Wales relatively well, up until now. With six parties in contention at this election, the difference between victory and defeat for many candidates will come down to a handful of votes. Both Labour and Plaid Cymru, parties that have historically done the most to secure women AMs, face an uncertain fate. The Conservatives, whose progress in this area has been relatively poor, enter 2016 with hopes of gaining seats – but new Tory faces in the Senedd are more likely to be male. The Liberal Democrats face a tough fight, with some polls predicting an outright wipe-out. Yet the party out-performed the polls in 2011 and if it maintains its presence in Cardiff Bay this time, it is female Liberal Democrats who have the best chance of re-election. Whilst the Greens battle to secure their first elected member in the Senedd, UKIP look more than likely to finally achieve a breakthrough – but with a largely male slate of candidates, the success of UKIP could determine the overall gender balance in the fifth Assembly.
Fluidity in opinion polls and the fast-moving pace of Welsh politics make it difficult to forecast the final result of the 2016 election. Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have selected proportionately more women candidates in winnable seats than the Conservatives and UKIP. In simple terms, any substantial swing from left to right at this election is likely to negatively impact on the number of women elected (although there are exceptions to this in constituencies like Aberconwy and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire).
To determine our overall projection, we have developed four scenarios; two of which are based on previous election results, the strength of candidates and local intelligence that campaigners on the ground have shared with us. We are grateful to everyone who has helped us in this effort. Our two other scenarios use data from the Welsh Election Study and we are grateful to the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University for making that information available.
Our analysis provides two stark findings:
Women are far more likely than men to contest marginal seats.
We’ve identified eleven battleground constituencies that might change hands in 2016. Of the eleven, ten are being defended by women.
The number of women in the next Assembly will flatline
We project that at this election, between 22 (37%) and 28 (45%) women AMs will be elected (compared to 25 (42%) elected in 2011).
The Electoral Reform Society Cymru has identified eleven battleground constituencies which we anticipate may change hands at the 2016 election. Of the eleven battleground constituencies, seven were amongst the ten most marginal seats at the 2011 assembly election. We project that three of the ten most marginal seats in 2011 are unlikely to change hands in 2016 given recent opinion polling and the parties’ relative performance at the 2015 UK general election.
ERS’ battleground constituencies (defending party in brackets):
Across the eleven battleground constituencies, ten are being defended by female candidates, and just one (Llanelli) is being defended by a man. The Labour party is defending eight battleground constituencies; the Conservative party defending two and primary challenging in seven; Plaid Cymru primary challenger in one, and joint challenger with Labour in two potential three-way marginals with the Conservatives (Aberconwy and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire); and the Liberal Democrats are defending one and primary challenger in one.
Of the seven battleground constituencies in which the Conservatives are the primary challenger, the party has selected just one woman (Jayne Cowan, Cardiff North). Both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are standing women in the battleground constituencies in which they are the primary challenger. In both of the three-way marginals (Aberconwy and Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire) the female Conservative incumbents are defending their seats against challenges from two male candidates (both Labour and Plaid Cymru).
There are thirteen regional list seats that may change hands at the 2016 Assembly election:
Coloured blocks indicate secure seats; grey vulnerable.
Across the thirteen battleground regional list seats, five are being defended by women and eight by men. Of the three most vulnerable battleground regional list seats for the Conservatives2, two are being defended by women and one by a man. Labour’s most vulnerable list seat is being defended by a woman (as was the case last time), although the party has selected a woman to defend its secure list seat, and its most likely regional list gain (North Wales) is being fought by a woman. Of Plaid Cymru’s two most vulnerable regional list seats, men and women are defending one apiece. Plaid Cymru’s Mid & West Wales list seat, held currently by a man, could be lost if the party gains Llanelli (where they are standing a female challenger) and performs relatively poorly across the rest of the region. At the last election, Plaid Cymru’s first seat on South Wales East list was defended by a woman, with a man defending the second seat. At this election, with both incumbents retiring, a man will contest the first list seat and a woman the second for Plaid Cymru in South Wales East. The Liberal Democrats risk losing all of their regional list seats, which would see four incumbents (three men and one woman) all lose.
We anticipate that the remaining 29 constituency seats will stay in the hands of the incumbent party, and we have therefore designated them as secure seats. Secure seats include traditionally safe seats (usually retained by the incumbent party with large majorities) and normally marginal seats which we anticipate at this election are not in play.
Of the 29 secure seats, just over a quarter (eight, or 27.6% in total) are being defending by women. Three women are defending secure constituency seats in which the incumbent male AM is retiring, whilst one man is likely to replace a retiring female constituency AM. This marks a reversal of a trend in 2011 where men replaced women candidates. In 2011, two women defended secure seats that had previously been held by men of the same party whereas five men defended secure seats that had previously been held by women. Women replaced men in two vulnerable list seats.
By definition, turnover of AMs in secure seats is likely to be slower than the turnover of AMs in battleground seats, making it more difficult for incumbent parties to make swift progress between individual elections. Labour’s most secure seat in which the incumbent AM is retiring (Ogmore) will likely see a man replace a woman; however, in the party’s next three safest seats, two (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney and Islwyn) are likely to see women replace men, whilst the solidly secure seat of Cynon Valley is likely to see the female Labour candidate replace the outgoing female Labour AM.
Arfon is Plaid Cymru’s most secure constituency seat where the incumbent is retiring and will likely see a woman replace a man as AM. The party’s second most secure constituency seat where there is a vacancy is likely to see a man replace a man as AM. As with Labour in Ogmore, the new male AM in Carmarthen East & Dinefwr is likely to be a former MP. No AMs in secure constituencies held by either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats are retiring at this election.
Of the seven secure regional list seats, incumbent candidates are defending five seats (four women and one men). The remaining two secure regional list seats are both in South Wales East where both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are defending one secure each and an additional vulnerable seat each. Of the two secure regional list seats, both are being defended by men whereas the two more vulnerable seats are being contested by women. At the last election, one of the two secure regional list seats (Plaid Cymru’s first seat) was defended by a woman.
Whilst some progress is being made by the parties to select women in winnable seats, women are still far more likely than men to contest marginal seats. Of our eleven battleground constituency seats, all bar one are being defended by women; whereas amongst secure constituency seats women are defending just over a quarter. The picture is far better for the regional list, suggesting proportional representation provides greater scope for the parties to take action. However, compared to the previous election, women are still more likely to contest vulnerable regional list seats than men.
Our projections are based on four scenarios. Scenario One might be described as a relatively good night for Labour. The party has moderately decreased its overall share of the vote, but has staved off widespread loses, losing the battleground seats of Llanelli and Cardiff North, but successfully defending Cardiff Central, Vale of Glamorgan, Delyn, Wrexham, Gower and its second regional seat on the Mid & West Wales list. This scenario has been developed using recent trends in opinion polls and electoral performance of the parties, together with local knowledge of the individual races. The overall result for this scenario would see Labour (28), Conservatives (11), Plaid Cymru (11), UKIP (9), and the Liberal Democrats (1).
Scenario Two represents a poor night for Labour, where the party sustains several losses, primarily to the Conservatives. Labour loses Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Delyn, Gower, Llanelli, Vale of Clwyd, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. Its poor performance in Northeast Wales sees Labour winning a regional seat on the North Wales list. Kirsty Williams resists the challenge from the Conservatives in Brecon & Radnorshire. The overall result for this scenario would see Labour (23), Conservatives (15), Plaid Cymru (11), UKIP (9), and the Liberal Democrats (2).
Scenario Three uses data from the March Pre-Election Wave of the Welsh Election Study (2016) and is modeled on a uniform national swing. Labour lose Cardiff Central, Cardiff North and Llanelli. The overall result for this scenario would see Labour (27), Conservatives (13), Plaid Cymru (13), UKIP (7), and the Liberal Democrats (2).
Scenario Four again uses data from the March Pre-Election Wave but is modeled on a ratio swing. The only Labour-held constituency to change hands is Llanelli and the Conservatives defeat the Liberal Democrats in Brecon & Radnorshire. The overall result for this scenario is Labour (29), Conservatives (13), Plaid Cymru (12), and UKIP (6).
Number of women in the Assembly, projected
Number of women in the Assembly, historical
Number of women in the Assembly, historic by term
Since the birth of devolution, the Labour party has deployed a range of measured strategies aimed at boosting the number of women candidates contesting assembly elections. In 1999 the party adopted a method of twinning (whereby two constituencies ran linked selections for one male and one female candidate). The party has also used all women shortlists in constituencies, and reserved places and/or zipping (whereby equal numbers of men and women are selected) for regional lists. As Labour has dominated the devolved electoral landscape, the party’s measures to promote gender equality have impacted enormously on the overall gender balance in the National Assembly.
At each election between 1999 and 2011, women comprised the majority of the Assembly Labour Group. In the first Assembly election 16 female and 12 male Labour AMs were elected. The proportion of women increased at the 2003 election when 19 women and 11 men were elected, falling back in 2007 when 16 women and 10 men won, and falling back further in 2011 with equal numbers of men and women in the 30-strong group.
We have classed twenty of Labour’s existing 30 seats as secure (nineteen constituencies and one list seat) and ten as vulnerable (nine constituencies and one list seat10). Of the twenty secure seats, seven are being defended by women (up one from the 2011 election). The remaining ten vulnerable seats held by Labour in 2011, eight are being defended by women. As with all parties bar the Liberal Democrats, women are more likely to defend vulnerable seats for Labour than men. We’ve identified four seats in which Labour could make gains. Of these four, just one woman is challenging for Labour and that’s on a regional list.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly, between 39% and 52% of Labour AMs will be women, with the most likely result at the upper end of this range.
The Conservatives record on women’s representatives in the National Assembly started poorly in 1999, when famously the group had more AMs called ‘David’ than women. The party’s position recovered in 2003 when two women (Laura Jones and Lisa Francis, both placed respectively third on the South Wales East and Mid & West Wales lists) joined the eleven-strong Conservative group. The Conservatives slipped back at the following election in 2007, with both Laura Jones and Lisa Francis losing their seats. Angela Burns became the first female Conservative to win an Assembly constituency seat and the only woman in the twelve-strong group. At the last election in 2011, the party increased its representation in the National Assembly to fourteen with Janet Finch Saunders, Antoinette Sandbach, and Suzy Davies joining Angela Burns as the party’s only female AMs. Suzy Davies is the first female Conservative AM who has won what might be considered to be a safe seat.
We have classified six of the Conservatives’ fourteen seats as secure, with the remaining eight vulnerable. Of the six secure seats, three are constituencies and three are regional list seats; and all bar one (their first seat on the South Wales West list) is being defended by a man. Half of the party’s vulnerable seats are being contested by women; meaning that overall, of the women candidates defending Conservative seats, 80% are doing so in the party’s most vulnerable seats. The Conservatives could gain up to nine seats (eight constituencies and one list seat); but of the nine, only one is being contested by a woman.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly, between 15% and 46% of Conservative AMs will be women, with the most likely result in the middle of this range.
Plaid Cymru, like the Labour Party, have deployed measures to gain more women selected as candidates. Whilst the party has not used all women shortlists, it has in the past used reserved places and zipping. Of it’s seventeen strong group elected in 1999, six were women. Women topped each of the regional lists for Plaid Cymru, except in Mid & West Wales were the party’s lead candidate Helen Mary Jones had already been elected in the constituency of Llanelli. Of the four seats the party held in Westminster in 1997, three were contested by men in the subsequent Assembly election. At the 2003 election, the party lost five of its seventeen seats, leaving a group of six men and five women. The party made gains in 2007 and retained the near gender balance it achieved at the previous election. Out of fifteen Plaid Cymru AMs elected in 2007, seven were women. 2011 was a difficult election for the party at which the party lost nearly a third of seats. Of the eleven Plaid Cymru AMs returned at the last election, four were women and seven were men.
We have classified eight of Plaid Cymru’s eleven seats as secure, with three as vulnerable, and a further six as possible gains. Women are defending three secure seats and two vulnerable seats. Of the seven possible gains, women are challenging in two seats.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly, between 42% and 50% of Plaid Cymru AMs will be women, with the most likely result in the middle of this range.
The Liberal Democrats have never used positive action measures like reserved seats or all women shortlists to select assembly candidates, and yet from 1999 until 2011 the party had a perfect gender balance in the Assembly. The party lost a seat at the 2011 election (South Wales East) which had it been successful would have been won by a woman. A male candidate was selected to defend the Liberal Democrat-held constituency of Cardiff Central, which was lost to a female Labour challenger. As a result, the party won a regional list seat (South Wales Central) which would have been taken by a man, but following his disqualification was taken by a woman. Had this not happened, just one of the five Liberal Democrat AMs would have been a woman.
At this election, the Liberal Democrats have successfully placed women in winnable seats without any positive measures. The party has selected women in open contests in all four of its target constituencies. Of the five seats the Liberal Democrats currently hold in the National Assembly, we’ve classified all five as vulnerable, with no projected secure seats. The party may make gains in four seats (three constituencies and one regional list). Women are defending two of the five vulnerable seats and are challenging in all potential gains. It is expected that if the Liberal Democrats retain/gain seats it will be either Brecon & Radnorshire or Mid & West Wales list and/or South Wales Central or Cardiff Central. Given the precariousness of this election for the Liberal Democrats, we anticipate that women Liberal Democrat AMs fare a better chance of re-election than the men.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly anything between all or none of the Liberal Democrats elected will be women. However, the most likely scenario in the event of Liberal Democrats being re-elected is that at least half of the bloc will be women.
UKIP have yet to win any seats in the National Assembly, although at this election it is anticipated that the party will achieve a breakthrough. In 2011, 100% of the party’s top four candidates in each of the five Assembly regions were men. The party has however made progress, and it is more than likely that a female UKIP AM will be elected in May 2016. Without any incumbents, the party has no secure or vulnerable seats. We have identified ten seats (two in each region) as potential gains for the party, with the party likely to win at least one seat in each region. Of the ten total possible gains, women had been selected in three; however, the April resignation of the party’s second placed candidate on the South Wales Central list, brings this figure down to two. Women top the poll in just one region (South Wales West). UKIP will enter this election with eight men and two women standing in winnable seats.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly, between 14% and 33% of UKIP AMs elected will be women, the most likely result towards the bottom half of this range.
The Greens, like UKIP, have yet to win any seats in the National Assembly and their best prospect of a breakthrough will come via the regional lists. The Greens have selected women as lead candidates in four of the five regions, including their target region of South Wales Central. Current polling suggests the Greens will probably fail to get an AM elected in May 2016.
Our forecast is that in the next Assembly, no Greens will be elected, but it is more than likely that if a Green is elected it will be a woman.
Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney
*Parts in Conwy
Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire
1 1996-2003; 2 2003-07; 3 2007-11; 4 2011-16
Scenario 1 – ERS projection based on poor result for Labour Party;
Scenario 2 – ERS projection based on better result for Labour party;
Scenario 3 – Welsh Election Study projection on uniform national swing;
Scenario 4 – Welsh Election Study projection on ratio swing.
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