How the new Welsh party leaders can make a difference on diversity

Author:
Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 15th August 2018

Has there ever been such a time of change in Welsh politics? By the end of this year there is a chance that none of the parties in the Assembly will have the same leader as at the beginning of the year.

This period of flux is very interesting for the political nerds (myself included) but it is also one where we have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver some game-changers in the policy world.

As well as the ‘who’, we now need to see the candidates making strong commitments to the ‘what’ – and chief among these should be what they intend to do to tackle issues around diversity and inequality.

In July, ERS Cymru released a report, New Voices: How Welsh politics can begin to reflect Wales, which explored the issues around diversity in Welsh politics. It revealed a pretty depressing picture of how progress is being held back in Wales: councils with consistently slow progress on female councillors (including two in Wales with no women at all on their cabinets,) an Assembly that has gone backwards on equality, and one party never having a Welsh female MP in Westminster.

On top of this were the shocking reports of abuse and harassment, including razor blades and excrement being sent to Welsh politicians. 266 of them took part in a survey for the report and over 45% said they had suffered abuse or harassment. When this came to women alone it rose to 54%.

Wales needs action on diversity – our political system is fundamentally not representative of the country it serves.

Unless the next leaders of the main political parties in Wales take this seriously we cannot move forward.

That’s why we’ve written to the candidates for leadership of each of the three main political parties in Wales urging them to make strong commitments on equality.

These include committing to:

  • Fielding at least 45% female candidates in Assembly elections
  • The introduction of measures to encourage a broader range of candidates from ethnic minorities, a wider age spread and those with disabilities, as well as monitoring processes to ensure progress
    Delivering the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform on gender parity
  • Signing up for a joint code of conduct on intimidating behaviour along with other parties in the Assembly
  • Delivering better political education in Welsh schools to engage a wider proportion of the population in politics in Wales.

The next leaders of the political parties in Wales have a chance here to show what leadership really means. This is a chance for Wales to set about boosting the diversity of our political institutions and to address a fundamental issue with our democracy. If politics in Wales doesn’t reflect our communities then how can it properly represent them?

The commitments we are asking the candidates to make are ones that would make a substantial difference to the way Welsh politics works and the kinds of people that would feel politics is something worth engaging with.

That the three main parties all have a leadership contest now is significant – this is a chance to get all of these parties to make the same commitments and put them all on the same page on this issue.

Those Assembly Members that are now official candidates, or who are trying to get the sufficient nominations to stand in their respective elections should take our recommendations seriously, and stand on a platform of a Welsh politics that is diverse and which properly reflects the people of Wales.

It’s a time of change, and a time for change.

Read the New Voices Report

My letter to the leadership candidates

ERS Cymru
Baltic House
Mount Stuart Square
Cardiff
CF10 5FH

Dear leadership candidate,

The current leadership elections offer an unprecedented opportunity for Wales’ political leaders to step up on the issue of diversity and offer significant new policy commitments on equality.

I am writing today to urge you to consider committing to the recommendations we made in our July report, ‘New Voices: How Welsh politics can begin to reflect Wales’, which looked at how to overcome the barriers to equality in Welsh politics.

We would ask that you commit to the following:

  • A commitment to fielding at least 45% female candidates in Assembly elections
  • The introduction of measures to encourage a broader range of candidates from ethnic minorities, a wider age spread and those with disabilities, as well as monitoring processes to ensure progress
    A commitment to deliver the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform on gender parity
  • That your party signs up to a joint code of conduct on intimidating behaviour along with other parties in the Assembly
  • A commitment to delivering better political education in Welsh schools

Our report found serious issues with diversity in the Assembly, including a complete absence of any BAME woman ever being elected to the Senedd, and the systemic issue of abuse and harassment. In a survey undertaken by 266 Welsh politicians 45.5% of total respondents and 54% of women said they had faced abuse.

This is a serious issue and affects more than just the makeup of our institutions. This is about properly representing Wales and ensuring that everyone feels their voices are able to be heard.

A strong commitment to tackling the barriers to diversity in Wales would be a fundamental step forward.

We are sending this letter to all party leadership candidates and look forward to your response.

Best wishes,

Jess Blair
Director, ERS Cymru

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