Male, pale and stale: Widening the pool

Dr Diana Stirbu and Dr Huw Pritchard present a project which asks “what prevents people from a wider range of backgrounds standing for election to the National Assembly for Wales?”

Concerns are rising over a lack of diversity within our political classes – in Wales and beyond – and rather slow progress in addressing under-representation in elected office, as the three elections held in less than 18 months have highlighted.

‘Male, pale and stale’ is still a pretty accurate description of many local councils in Wales. Even after some small progress for women in the Welsh local elections in May 2017 – only one in four top Council posts are held by women. Despite the National Assembly’s good record on gender representation (the percentage of women AMs has never dropped under 40%), other dimensions of diversity are still far behind the overall make up of Welsh society: disability, race, socio-economic background, faith, to name just a few.

Until 2007, there were no BME Assembly Members for instance, whilst since 2016 there are just three known ethnic minority members. In the 2011 elections, amongst high turnover in the Assembly composition, a significant number of the new Assembly Members came either from local government or government advisory background, whilst the number of members from the legal profession background doubled (from 4 to 8). Recent concerns have been raised in relation to single parents, for instance, being blocked from standing in Assembly elections due to lack of adequate childcare support.

Work is well under way for the Assembly Commission’s Expert Panel on Electoral Reform, whilst the Welsh Government also published its plans for electoral reform in local government. But changing the electoral system is just one aspect of addressing the issue of diversity.  

Understanding barriers to diverse representation is of utmost importance twenty years from the advent of devolution in Wales. After all, one of the promises of devolution was that of ‘new politics’, different from Westminster, more inclusive and more representative of the people of Wales. Equally, understanding what would make standing for elections and being an Assembly Member a more attractive prospect for a much more diverse range of people should be central to the debate on the state of democracy in Wales.

Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has launched a new research project – ‘Incentives & Barriers to Standing for Election to the National Assembly for Wales’, conducted on behalf of the independent Remuneration Board of the National Assembly for Wales.   The project aims to provide insights and understanding of the current barriers deterring people who would wish to stand for elections to the National Assembly for Wales, as well as of the incentives that would encourage them to take this important step.

The Wales Governance Centre and Assembly Remuneration Board research will provide much needed insight into what aspects prevent otherwise politically interested individuals from standing for election to the National Assembly. That could include the initial standing for elections or actually being an Assembly Member. Additionally, it will investigate what aspects of the job of being an Assembly Member, including the remuneration package, make it an attractive prospect for people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

As well as people with experience in politics, we also want to hear from people who have an interest in undertaking a political role but, for whatever reason, have not done so yet. Also, we’re interested in people who have undertaken different elected positions, such as community councillor or school governor, to develop a better idea of how people view political progression.

We will be considering what measures could be taken in future to make the prospect of standing for election, and the role of an Assembly Member, more appealing. We also consider whether the current financial package encourages or deters individuals from deciding to stand for election.

The project wants to hear from a wide range of people and provides four different platforms for  engagement, including a survey, live focus groups, an online focus group, and interviews. Any form of participation by you is greatly welcomed and strongly valued. For further information on getting involved, please contact Dr Huw Pritchard [email protected].


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.


Dr Diana Stirbu is a senior lecturer in public policy at London Metropolitan University. Dr Huw Pritchard is a lecturer in law and governance at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.

6 thoughts on “Male, pale and stale: Widening the pool

  1. Looks like a very interesting and worthwhile project. But can we please drop the ‘pale, male and stale’ line? Pale and male are unexceptionable: but I think- seriously- that there is a good case for saying that ‘stale’ promotes an unacceptably derogatory stereotype because it implies that older people are necessarily somehow past their best.

  2. The real problem is not lack of diversity in skin colour or reproductive organs but lack of diversity in thinking.

    Our whole political class is crippled by conformity and lack of imagination.

    If the Assembly wants to be really radical and different, let it become the first
    legislature to abolish the party system in its elections.

  3. What is the proportion of BME people in the Welsh population? I think it is around 5 per cent, ie one in twenty. In that case if strict proportionately were observed, how many of 60 AMs would be from a BME background? Why, three. The gender balance is also reasonable.

    So JWR is right: whatever is wrong with the National Assembly it is not down to lack of ethnic and gender diversity. I don’t think much of his solution, however. A chamber of independents – you mean like Anglesey? Heaven help us.

  4. ” After all, one of the promises of devolution was that of ‘new politics’, different from Westminster, more inclusive and more representative of the people of Wales.”…. One of the promises of diversity was that it is “our” strength – looking at London, the opposite could be suggested.

    It’s a shame the English didn’t want an English national assembly – some valuable comparisons could have been made.

  5. One way to make the Assembly more representative of the voting population would be to include a ‘null candidate’ on every constituency and regional list ballot paper. If the null candidate gets the most votes then we don’t send a representative so it’s an empty chair and a whole load of overheads we don’t have to pay for. How diverse is that?

    With typical turnout in the low 40% range this may persuade a lot more people to turn out and vote if they know their vote won’t be wasted, or usurped by coalition or unpopular consensus, and it would actually solve the none-problem of having to give a damn what gender/colour/shoe-size or other irrelevant personal characteristics our empty chairs were born with.

    Once there are more empty chairs than talking heads we can say the unnecessary extra layer of legislative devolution is definitely not wanted and we can scrap it with a clear conscience. Every Assembly election becomes a ‘free’ referendum on its continued existence – how democratic is that? Something tells me the Assembly will be gone long before anybody ‘solves’ the none-problem of diversity. Give it a try folks – or is the real diversity problem that we’ve got too many chickens?

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