Stop snap elections to help diversity, says ex MS

Woman looking at the camera, she has blonde hair and is smiling, she has a black top on that says Moschino
Bethan Sayed said political parties needed to do better with women candidates [BBC]

Stopping snap elections could help to support more women into politics, according to one former MS.

Bethan Sayed, who stepped down at the last Senedd elections to spend time with her newborn son, said women could be better supported by their parties if general election dates were set in advance.

Rishi Sunak's general election announcement last month caught many, including some in his own party, by surprise.

Polls suggest about half of Wales' next crop of MPs could be women, achieving gender balance for the first time.

However campaigners say more needs to be done, with Labour's predicted success and a reduced number of constituencies mainly responsible for the shift.

"It's often a knee jerk situation [for political parties]," said the former Plaid Cymru MS.

"How can we find women to beef up a particular list, so we look better? As opposed to them thinking strategically about why that woman would be a better candidate in that area, for that community."

Ms Sayed said she felt political parties that relied only on candidates to put themselves forward, would find it harder to encourage women.

"If you speak to women, they're going to be hesitant. They're going to be lacking in confidence. They're going to be querying whether they have the time to be able to do all of this. It's a very complex picture and it's not for the individual to have to deal with this.

"I feel it should be for political structures and institutions to facilitate and support women and different people from different communities to come forward. So that they feel supported and they feel emboldened by the process of standing for election."

Woman with a black dress on and her arms across her stomach looking at the camera, there are frames of pictures behind her and an Apple monitor to the left
Cathy Owens said she expected Wales to have 15 or 16 women MPs at the next parliament [BBC]

Cathy Owens from political consultancy Deryn said its research suggested Wales would elect a "decent" number of women MPs in July – but parties still needed to do better.

"We know there will be probably 15 or 16 women out of 32 MPs, and that really isn't bad," she said.

"You know, but that's because Labour have got a very good record on gender equality recently and they will be winning lots of seats. Some of the other parties aren't doing so well."

Changes to constituency boundaries in Wales mean there will be eight fewer Welsh MPs in the next parliament.

"In order to change organisations at every level you have to take direct action," said Ms Owens.

"You have to positively impact equality across parties and not just about women. We are talking also about ethnic minority candidates, candidates with disabilities. We're not doing enough to have a more equal sample of representatives in Parliament."

In the Senedd, the Welsh government is attempting to introduce gender quotas, where political parties would be required to have at least 50% women as candidates.

Susan Banducci, a professor of political science at the University of Exeter, said it was a "problem with democracy" if political parties weren't enabling people to vote for the kind of candidates they wanted.

"We conducted a survey of over 2,000 respondents to ask them what their views were on women's representation [in Westminster]," she said.

"It's quite clear from the answers that we got that over two thirds of the respondents wanted to see more women represented. They agreed that it was important."

Prof Banducci said those surveyed had differing political beliefs – and were drawn to be "representative of the British public".

She said the sample believed "political parties" not selecting and promoting women – as well as "the media" - were to blame for a lack of diversity in politics.

"In the survey, when asked why they wanted to see more women elected, the most popular response is that they wanted women's voices to be equally represented in Parliament.

"We also asked whether they thought it would make Parliament more cooperative, but not many put that as an answer.

"I think their hopes that women would sort out civility was not as high as their hopes that it would lead to better or more equitable decision making."

What do the political parties say?

A Labour spokesperson said almost 50% of Welsh Labour's candidates were women.

"The Labour Party recognises the need to ensure our candidates are reflective of the society they are hoping to represent," they said.

"We are proud to have launched the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, named in honour of a pioneering Labour MP, the late Bernie Grant, which aims to increase the representation of Black leaders in the Labour Party and empower them with all the tools they need to succeed.

"First Minister Vaughan Gething set out his plans to set up the Mari Rees Fund, in honour of Labour activist and candidate Mari Rees, who passed away in 2011. The fund would be focused on the development and training of Black, Asian and minority ethnic members of Welsh Labour and trade unions, designed to empower candidates in selection, election, and progression within the party."

A spokesperson for the Welsh Conservatives said they worked hard through Women2Win and the Conservative Women's Organisation to encourage women to stand at all levels.

"Ultimately, candidates should be selected on merit so that we get the best person for the job representing local people the length and breadth of Wales."

A spokesperson for Plaid Cymru said "our most winnable seats have selected female candidates".

"However, we recognise there is much more to be done to improve representation. To this end, we have backed statutory measures to increase diversity for the Senedd elections and will be developing mentoring programmes to support candidates from under-represented backgrounds ahead of 2026.

"As a party that is proud to represent the whole of Wales, we want to ensure that our candidates fully reflect the demographics of our country in all of its variety."

A spokesperson for Reform UK said the party did not consider anything in candidate selection other than "is this person the best choice to represent the party?".

"Positive discrimination should not play a factor in a society where everyone is equal," they said.

The Liberal Democrats were given the chance to comment.