By Sarah Hazelwood
There has been controversy in the Merthyr and Rhymney constituency as it has been decided that an all-female shortlist will be used to decide the candidate for the Assembly Election in May. Education Minister Huw Lewis will be stepping down from the seat, after 17 years.
All-female shortlists were introduced in 1995 by Tony Blair for the 1997 elections. After they were found in breach of sex discrimination laws, the Sex Discrimination Act of 2002 was introduced which makes selection of candidates for elections exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 .
A Welsh Labour spokesperson spoke to the BBC stating that “Welsh Labour has a proud record of increasing diversity in politics. Labour lead the way on female representation in Wales with more women MPs, AMs, and councillors than any other party and we will continue to do so.”
According to the Electoral Reform Society in 2003, 50 per cent of AMs were women, making the Welsh Assembly “a world leader in women’s political representation”. However in 2011 the numbers dropped to 40 per cent.
Jo Stevens, Cardiff Central MP and Shadow Justice Minister, spoke to WalesOnline in favour of using all female shortlist: “currently all-women shortlists are the only system proven to work to make sure women Labour candidates are selected.”
“When we have 50/50 men and women selected by the Labour Party, and as importantly, this is also equal across the safer seats, we can abandon Labour’s policy of AWS.”
“Until then though, all we’re asking for is a level playing field.”
Councillor Mike O’Neil told BBC Wales that it was “incredibly disappointing”, although he also stated interest in becoming an Assembly Member.
The use of all-female shortlists has backfired in the past. In 2005 there was anger within the constituency of Blaenau Gwent. In protest the former Labour AM, Peter Law, stood independently and won by a majority of 9,121 votes.
A councillor for Park ward, Chris Barry, tweeted that he “would imagine [the] imposition of AWS has disillusioned most of the active women members who achieve what they have via ability [and] not discrimination.”
Merthyr Vale Councillor Darren Roberts said he was “not happy with the decision”, adding: “It should always be the best candidate for the position.”
Mr Barry, one of three Labour councillors for Park Ward, tweeted that he was not “quite sure how the imposition of an all women shortlist will enhance chances of retaining M&R seat come May’s election”.
He ruled himself out of the selection process, saying: “I suspect there will be people I know, like & respect seeking nomination. Regardless, I will not participate in the selection process.”
There are many other organisations that are committed to gender equality in politics, such as the 50:50 Parliament Campaign which advocates better female representation in Westminster, where 71 per cent of the House of Commons is men.
While the Welsh Assembly Champions an almost equal gender balance in Cardiff Bay, all-women shortlists appear to remain the best way to make sure that there is adequate female representation and can lead the example for others in the UK.