Monthly Archives: Mehefin 2012

Gender Balance

One of my recent posts – and the response it generated from female candidates in this year’s election – got me wondering about the parties’ gender balance. My analysis revealed that

Labour is the only party that comes anywhere near gender parity. Are the other parties really that bereft of decent female candidates? Or are they somehow alienating 50% or so of the population from their politics? That doesn’t sound like good political strategy to me…

It’s time to look at the stats on this.

Firstly, the only way to get elected is to either stand as an independent candidate or be on a party list. So let’s have a look at the candidates each party put forward. There are a few startling statistics to get us going.

Clearly one of the reasons that Labour returned an even number of male and female councillors was that they put up a roughly equal split of candidates: 52% female and 48% male. Top marks to the Labour party in the Vale.

The Conservatives did very poorly; just 28% of their candidates were women, with 72% men. Of their 11 councillors, 9 are men, which gives a percentage rate of 18% women and 82% men.

Plaid came out even worse. Three-quarters of their candidates were male: 76%, leaving just 24% as female candidates. And the councillors? Just one out of six is female, or 17%.

Of the minor parties we see that all four Llantwit First Independent councillors are men, which is unsurprising given they could muster no women to stand under their banner. The three independent candidates are all men – again, an unavoidable 100% male cohort given that 10 out of 10 independent candidates were men. And the only other party to win a seat – UKIP – also returned one man, although in their case it’s forgiveable because with just one candidate it will either be a man or a woman.

So why should we be bothered about gender balance anyway? Surely the important thing is that we have the best people for the job, and if women aren’t standing for election, then they’ve self-selected themselves out of the contest?

Wrong. Gender balance is extremely important.

Now I think that gender balance is important because it feels intrinsically a good thing. I think that women are less prone to make cack-handed decisions as a body politic. Would UK forces have been sent to Iraq if half of MPs had been women? Maybe not. Would the banking ponzi scheme whose collapse has given us the worst economic depression since time began have happened if half of bankers were women? Perhaps not. And lest anyone believe the myth, it’s not necessarily true that women are more risk-averse than men.

But I’m not the expert in gender balance, so I looked here for inspiration. Drude Dahlerup tells us that the three standard arguments still hold true:

  • That women’s participation in elected office should reflect their presence in the general population (the justice argument)
  • That women’s experiences should be integrated into policy-making (the experience argument)
  • That men cannot adequately represent women because of intrinsic conflicts between specific groups of women and men (the interest argument)

But there are deeper reasons for desiring equal participation in public life: Dahlerup suggests that women’s full participation in politics is a prerequisite for genuine democracy.

Can we in Penarth and the Vale take our lead from Westminster? The UK parliament is currently ranked joint 55th in the world (with Malawi) on women’s representation, with 22.3% of MPs. Pretty poor.

But the National Assembly for Wales – not ranked by the Inter-Parliamentary Union – has 25 women out of 60 representatives, or 41.7%. That means that Wales is an enviable 8th place in the world (although it  has fallen back since becoming the first legislature in the world to achieve parity of gender representation). Perhaps Westminster should take some lessons from Cardiff Bay.

So let’s look at some of the barriers that women face which mean they aren’t putting themselves forward as candidates. There are some particularly gender-specific issues such as child care and work/life balance. Ways to improve the accessibility of council meetings to women facing these obstacles might include having council meetings at family-friendly hours. You never know, this might just help engage a bit more of the population at large in local politics.

But there’s clearly something deeper at play. The fact that one political party has succeeded to attain gender balance while the other two have catastrophically failed is all the evidence we need. So for the Plaid and Conservative parties in the Vale, here’s some advice.

Firstly there may be an issue of role models. This is a frequently cited feature of poor representation, whether it be senior ethnic minority and female police officers or local council elections. So tip number one – request that your few women councillors spend time on outreach throughout the Vale with a specific mandate to encourage more female candidates in 2017.

Secondly there’s the issue of culture and inclusiveness within these two parties. Clearly they’re virtual no-go zones for women given that in both cases the proportion of female candidates was less than 30%. Plaid and the Conservatives need to start asking really hard questions of themselves. On an issue such as this, perhaps the Labour party in the Vale might be willing to offer some advice. And because this is such an important subject that crosses way beyond the boundaries of party politics, I’d like to know if Labour refuses to help you out. And Labour, do let me know if you don’t receive requests for help on this from Plaid and Conservative by the end of this year. We’ve got a problem in Vale politics that needs resolution, and a bit of co-operation could go a long way.

Finally (for Plaid and the Conservatives), here’s a practical way to redress the balance in councillor representation, which will, over time, address the ‘role model’ issue. Each time a sitting male councillor retires, replace him with a female candidate in the following election. Preferably a young woman. Repeat until you reach gender parity. And I don’t want to hear any feeble excuses about worthy male no. 1 who’s been waiting for his seat on council for 12 years.

I’d also like to see a minimum 50 percent quota of women on all selection panels and in the party leadership, both locally and nationally. All political parties and groupings should be putting forward between 45 and 60 per cent female candidates. I err on the side of more female candidates as legitimate compensation for centuries of under-representation. And although it might be nice to see female independent candidates, let’s deal with the party issue first. Who knows, by getting equal representation within parties we might find more women interested in politics per se, with a concomitant increase in independent candidates.

None of this is to decry the talented and committed male politicians that exist. But the chances that the successful male candidates were the best that could possibly be elected are nil.

Through the processes of the parties we support and do not, we participate in excluding – or including – women from social and public life. Isn’t that worth thinking about when you’re next in the polling booth?

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9 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Equality, Labour, Plaid Cymru

Down the Bookies

The news that Alun Michael is the official Labour candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales has important ramifications for us in Penarth. As I mentioned back in January, it means we’ll be having a by-election for “the shortest-serving Cardiff South and Penarth MP in history”.

Life as a backbencher must be especially galling for Alun if he’s risking the Chiltern Hundreds. Because this election is being fought under the supplementary vote system which, for him, is a good deal riskier than the type of elections he’s used to.

Now although the SV system has the merit of not being as undemocratic as ‘first past the post’, it’s widely regarded as being a very poor substitute for the alternative vote system.

Here are some of the Electoral Reform Society’s concerns with SV:

  • Unlike the Alternative Vote, SV does not ensure that the winning candidate has the support of at least 50% of the electorate.
  • If there are more than two strong candidates, voters must guess which two will make the final round, and if they guess incorrectly, their second-preference vote will be wasted. In such circumstances it may even be possible for voters to defeat their preferred candidate.
  • The system can lead to a lot of wasted votes as many of the votes cast in the first round end up not transferring and being counted in the second round.
  • SV does not eliminate the likelihood of tactical voting.

I have no doubt that Alun Michael will emerge as one of the two candidates with the highest number of votes cast after round one of voting. We’re looking at a part of Wales that includes the vast proportion of the safest Labour territory in Wales, after all. Everything therefore hinges on the other candidate to emerge from round one.

The question on everyone’s lips is: will Simon Weston be eligible to stand for election? The current rules – as described eloquently here – clearly disqualify him from the post of Commissioner. And if the law is going to be amended in order to allow Weston’s qualification, we can be fairly sure Alun Michael’s going to be voting against any changes.

Essentially, the law forbids criminals from standing for the post of Police Commissioner. Is someone more of a criminal for being a passenger in car – at age 14 – that he had no idea was stolen, or for enthusiastically voting for an illegal war in Iraq that slew 11 Welshmen, including three from neighbouring Bridgend and one from Cardiff? That’s a discussion that I’m sure will be reverberating around the pubs of Penarth tonight.

But Alun Michael knows that if Simon Weston stands against him, his bid is finished. Alun’s such a divisive character that he can’t even guarantee that Labour supporters in Penarth will vote for him. Let’s add that to Labour supporters throughout the South Wales force area in Swansea, Bridgend, the Valleys and Neath Port Talbot who feel about as much kinship with Alun as with Muffin the Mule. And then an opposition base of poorly supported Conservatives, Plaid and probably not even a Lib Dem candidate. Simon Weston is the stand-out exception.

His qualification aside, the next challenge for Simon is to make sure he’s one of the top two candidates. That means mobilising a very robust media campaign, including lots of social media and getting the young voters out en masse. But then just watch the votes roll in from everyone who voted for anyone else in round one.

That’ll leave Alun with plenty of time on his hands to concentrate on some gardening. It’s probably about time for someone else to get their snout in the Westminster trough.

The next question is: who will replace Alun as MP for Cardiff South and Penarth? Looking at the election result in 2010 tells us the following:

  • Labour – 38.9%
  • Conservative – 28.3%
  • Lib Dem – 22.3%
  • Plaid – 4.2%
  • UKIP – 2.6%
  • Independent – 1.5%
  • Green – 1.2%
  • Christian – 0.6%
  • Communist – 0.4%

And that was in a relatively bad election for Labour. Clearly, this is a very safe seat for Labour.

That means that the real election is the internal Labour party contest to determine the candidate. Some potential candidates have been mentioned here, but I’ll wait until the candidate has been selected to find out more about her/him. I do agree with Cathy Owens that the candidate should be a woman, given the poor female representation among Welsh MPs – as those of you who’ve read this post will recognise.

I expect turnout for this by-election to be paltry given recent experience – in fact, I’d be staggered if it was greater than 40% (although timing it to be on the same day as the Commissioner election would boost turnout).

One point of interest is that this seat will vanish before too long, so if the Liberal Democrats want to stand the remotest chance of taking the new seat of Penarth and Cardiff Central they’ll have to up their activity level in Penarth considerably. Their showing in May’s election was catastrophic.

And talking of the new seat, the Boundary Commission for Wales has at last  published the consultation responses. I’m so disappointed! As far as I can tell (and it doesn’t help that the pdf documents are unsearchable) no-one took up my call to arms on the name of Penarth and Cardiff Central. The only mention of our town seems to be various Liberal Democrats regarding us as a somewhat unsavoury intrusion into the Cardiff hinterland.

Anyway, enough politics. As soon as Simon Weston’s confirmed as a candidate, I’m off down the bookies. And just for the record, my tenner isn’t going to be next to Alun Michael’s name…

2 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Police

Cabinet 2012

I thought I’d interrupt my results analysis to bring you news on the Vale of Glamorgan Cabinet. Don’t worry, it hasn’t taken them this long to get around to it, it’s taken me this long to get around to it!

  • Cllr. Neil Moore (Labour, Cadoc) is the Council Leader. He’s in charge of policy, corporate governance and public protection. Here’s the full list of his responsibilities (and those of his Cabinet colleagues).
  • Cllr. Stuart Egan (Labour, Buttrills) is the Deputy Leader. His responsibilities include adult health and social care.
  • Cllr. Bronwen Brooks (Labour, Court) has responsibility for housing and community safety.
  • Cllr. Lis Burnett (Labour, St. Augustine’s) takes on economic development, planning and transport.
  • Cllr. Rob Curtis (Labour, Gibbonsdown) has the environment portfolio.
  • Cllr. Chris Elmore (Labour, Castleland) takes the lead on schools and child health and social care.
  • Cllr. Gwyn John (Independent, Llantwit Major) looks after parks and leisure.

It won’t have escaped your notice that one of the Penarth councillors has been rewarded with a seat at the top table. Congratulations Lis Burnett! Let’s hope that Lis’ promotion doesn’t mean that she adopts an approach to her ward that previous Cabinet Members seem to have done through neglecting the electorate.

There are two things that immediately strike me about our Cabinet. Firstly, all the Cabinet Members are from urban wards: five from Barry and one each from Penarth and Llantwit Major (although Llantwit Major is nominally a rural ward, it’s fair to say that the majority of the population is in the town itself). That of course reflects the political make-up – the Conservatives have monopolised the rural wards in the Vale for some time. But it’ll be important for the Cabinet to keep an eye on rural goings-on too.

The second point is that there are only two women on the list. That presumably partly reflects the lack of women councillors generally – only 14 out of 47. But let’s look at this in a little more detail. Labour provides an astonishing 11 of the 14 female councillors in the Vale. Astonishing, because it also provides 11 of the male councillors and is therefore the only party that provides gender parity. One up for Neil Moore (equalities portfolio). But Labour is the only party that comes anywhere near gender parity. Are the other parties really that bereft of decent female candidates? Or are they somehow alienating 50% or so of the population from their politics? That doesn’t sound like good political strategy to me. Back to Cabinet – given that this is a coalition Cabinet and one seat had to go to the Independents (all male), I’ll suggest that half of the Labour seats should be occupied by women. So while it’s a thumbs-up to Labour for the councillor gender parity, they need to work a bit to get it right where the decisions are made.

I’ll be sending some of the relevant blog posts through to our new Cabinet over the coming weeks, and I’ll let you know what they say in response. And on that note, I’ve finally had a response from the Welsh Government about our Cogan problem. But I’ll save that for a later date.

4 Sylw

Filed under Elections, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Stanwell 2012

Stanwell comes in as one of the least interesting wards. Given that the result in 2008 was so close, if the Conservatives at the UK level hadn’t been polling so poorly then their local candidates could conceivably have been in with a chance. But given the popularity of their party running up to 3 May, there was little prospect of excitement at the count, and my prediction that the two incumbents would retain their chains of office was uncontroversial. So congratulations to Labour’s Janice Birch and Mark Wilson, and 2/2 for me.

The results themselves are here.

The Conservative vote in Stanwell fell by 33%, slightly more than in Plymouth or St. Augustine’s but in line with the trend. But the most interesting statistic here is the Labour surge – up 36% on 2008. This is looking like a big result for Labour because it’s much more impressive than the increases elsewhere in town. Plaid Cymru’s drop of 20% looks pretty good judging by their results elsewhere, although it’s as well to note that it’s not a strictly comparable result: this was the only ward in Penarth where just one candidate was put up (Sully also had just one).

How did we go for turnout in Stanwell? 1,102 people hauled themselves out of bed to put a cross in a box out of an electorate of 3,245. At 34% this isn’t just the lowest in Penarth, it’s among the bottom wards in the whole Vale of Glamorgan. We’ll see later in this post if there’s a relationship between relative deprivation and turnout.

So Janice Birch got the support of a whopping 60% of voters. With just Sully left to analyse, I’m willing to venture that Janice is the most popular politician in Penarth/Sully. She pipped Mark Wilson, who himself got a 59% approval rating. A stunning victory for Labour in this ward.

The Conservatives’ Ken Lloyd and Christopher Williams got votes from 28% and 27% of the voters, which is only slightly better than the Cornerswell Conservative candidates managed. Adrian Roper for Plaid persuaded 14% of voters of his merits.

The non-voters are potentially hugely significant in this ward with its very low turnout. So let’s remove our 10% from the electorate of 3,245 for a maximum potential roll-call of 2,921. Now subtracting the 1,102 voters leaves 1,819 non-voters, of whom a staggeringly low 37% would need to vote for our independent candidate in order for her to come top of the heap in Stanwell. After all the good news for Labour in this ward, this has got to be cause for some discomfort. After all, if someone really wanted to take this ward (and  Stanwell isn’t the only one to fall into this category), they could theoretically do it with a decent bit of constituency campaigning in the year or two running up to 2017. Hopefully Janice and Mark don’t need to be reminded of this in order to be good constituency councillors.

I’ve been intrigued by the link between turnout and relative deprivation, and it turns out there is somewhere that we can explore the link: the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation.  This index goes deeper than our electoral wards, each of which is sub-set into three or four constituent parts by the WIMD (not to be confused with WMD). So we can go about it by the statistically unsatisfactory way of ‘averaging’ the WIMD rankings for wards as a whole. And this is what we come up with (in order of most deprived first). Note that a ‘higher’ number means that that ward is relatively less deprived:

  • Stanwell – 1,177 (turnout 34%)
  • St. Augustine’s – 1416 (turnout 38%)
  • Cornerswell – 1,420 (turnout 38%)
  • Sully – 1,624 (turnout 44%)
  • Plymouth – 1,722 (turnout 41%)

Well that looks pretty convincing to me. It would be relatively easy to do this for the whole of the Vale, and I’d be very surprised if the statistical link were not very strong indeed.

Of course, that’s also slightly depressing. Does it mean that there’s essentially no hope for us to buck the trend in Penarth? That we’ll never get decent turnouts regardless of the commitment and enthusiasm of the candidates?

4 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Labour, Plaid Cymru, Vale of Glamorgan Council