Jess Blair is Director of ERS Cymru

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. 266 Welsh politicians 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 to a joint code of conduct on intimidatory 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.

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