Has Wales Developed a New Political Elite?

Has Wales Developed a New Political Elite?

 “A group made up of less than 0.04 per cent of the Welsh population has supplied more than 4 out of 10 Assembly Members elected since 1999 finds a new study”

A new study by the think tank Gorwel on the origins and destinations of Assembly Members, reveals a number of important points about the origins of those politicians that represent us in the National Assembly. The study entitled Has Wales Developed a New Political Elite? Reveals, for instance, that almost half of the elected Assembly Members since the Assembly’s creation in 1999 (44 per cent) were county or city councillors prior to being elected. This included all two First Ministers and two of the three Deputy First Ministers.

This pool of principal authority councillors, however, is very small number, currently just 0.04 of the Welsh population. In contrast the other 99.96 per cent of the Welsh population has provided the other 56 per cent of Assembly Members. The study there suggests that Welsh local authority councillors, from the Assembly’s inception have been and remain the most important and central ‘political elite’ from which Welsh Assembly Members are drawn.

As well as revealing the nature and extent of the ‘local government  political elite’ the report also examines other origins of the Assembly Member prior to being elected. Here it discovers that there has been a significant imbalance in elected representation coming from those previously employed in the private sector compared to the public sector.  The situation is even more skewed when Members leave the Welsh Assembly for their next destination. The Gorwel study indicates that whilst those arriving in the Assembly from the private sector are limited in number those leaving the Welsh Assembly to go on to work in the private sector have been virtually non existent. Assembly Members it would appear have tended to shun private sector work in favour of either public sector work or using the Assembly as a ‘key stepping stone’ to a another political career in Westminster, Police Commissioner or local government, as opposed to leaving to work in the private sector. As an example of this the report indicated that for every Assembly Member that leaves the Assembly to take up a career in the private sector eight members go on to take up a new political career at Westminster or elsewhere.

One of the report’s authors Professor Russell Deacon stated that:

“There has been a lot of emphasis since the inception of the Assembly on ensuring that there is equality in elected representation with respect to gender balance and ethnic representation. There has been far less emphasis on examining the representation as a cross section of the occupational areas of the Welsh population. In this respect there would appear to be a massive advantage to selection for and election to the Assembly, for Members who have been an elected member of a local authority. Although this study is not an attack on councillors or their value to the political system, as being an elected councillor does provide an Assembly Member with a number of valuable political skills and experience that benefit them whilst in office. These are of credit to good governance.

The evidence, however, does appear to also indicate that the dominance of those who have been or are councillors does restrict wider entry to elected Assembly Membership for those who are not in this group.   At the same time there is also a lack of entry from people with private sector experience to the Assembly. As a result there is also a lack of transference of  political and governance skills back into the private sector when an Assembly Member leaves office.”

Download the Report here: 2711 GORWEL Destination Report