We got a sense of the shocking scale of abuse in Westminster last year. But there has been relatively little heard about the issues surrounding harassment and diverse representation in Wales.
It turns out the situation is toxic.
We had a pretty strong idea about the lack of diversity – which groups are under-represented and put off politics. But until now, we didn’t have a clear idea what the main causes were.
ERS Cymru set about pulling together a report on the representativeness of politics in Wales and exploring what the barriers are.
The results are striking. Of 266 elected representatives who were surveyed as part of the work, 121 said they had been abused or harassed either in office or while campaigning. That’s 45.5% of total respondents.
Alarmingly, a majority – 54% – of female respondents say they have faced this kind of behaviour.
Some of the abuse went beyond what we expected to hear: one person said they had excrement delivered through the post in a Valentine’s card. Another reported inappropriate sexual advances by constituents, during advice surgeries and door-to-door canvassing sessions.
Is it any wonder, given these reports, that people are put off from standing for public office?
ERS Cymru has sought to listen and to learn from what politicians – and those who were put off trying to get involved – have told us as part of gathering the information for our new report.
But mostly we want to ensure that action is taken. It is why we have published 16 recommendations to help diversify Welsh politics.
These range from a 45% quota for women for each party at local government elections, a joint code of conduct on abuse among political parties, better training and guidance on harassment, and looking to improve funding for candidates from under-represented groups.
Others include each political party introducing an action plan on diversity to select candidates for vacant target seats at a Westminster level.
We also think that better political and civic education should be delivered in Welsh schools to begin to try and tackle the negative culture that is currently leading to a lot of the abuse we are seeing.
Politicians in Wales told us that they struggle to maintain a healthy family life, and that they worry about finances.
The abuse they face is one clear example of the barriers to a truly representative politics in Wales.
The Welsh Government and others should read these shocking stories – and act on the need for change.
The report, titled ‘New Voices: How Welsh politics can begin to reflect Wales’, is being launched at the Welsh Assembly on Thursday 12th July.
Read ERS Cymru’s new report ‘New Voices: How Welsh Politics Can Begin to Reflect Wales’