To truly represent the country we seek to serve, the Conservative Party needs to elect men and women from all backgrounds which reflect it.
David Cameron recognised that when he became leader. That’s why he took steps to promote the brightest and best from all sections of British society as Conservative candidates for the next General Election.
As party leader in the Assembly I am acutely aware that in Wales we have failed to match those bold ambitions.
It is a matter of great regret to me that over three Assembly terms only three out of the 19 Welsh Conservative AMs have been women. Had it not been for Angela Burns’ magnificent win in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in 2007 this poor record would be even worse.
That’s why I’ve felt for a long time that the way in which we choose candidates for the 2011 Assembly elections must be different from previous campaigns. The imbalance in our representation in the Senedd cannot go on, otherwise as a party we will rightly be open to criticism of a boys-only club, a white, male preserve which can only reflect a certain section of society no matter how good the policies and no matter how well-intentioned.
In the coming weeks I plan to take these concerns to the Conservative Party’s Welsh management board for their consideration.
I will be proposing:
The establishment of a priority list of candidates for target seats, with specific emphasis on getting more women and people from ethnic minorities into winnable positions. This list will be drawn up from approved candidates by the Welsh Conservatives’ board of management
Local associations in target seats to ensure at least half of those candidates put forward for final selection to be women or from an ethnic minority background
Mentoring and training for candidates, and also for local associations
For regional lists the first available vacancy should be a woman or ethnic minority candidate. Where there is no incumbent the top spot on the regional list should go to a woman or ethnic minority candidate
We need to get serious about who we choose to represent us in the Assembly. We have had some excellent candidates – men and women – at the last three Assembly elections but I believe we can go further and do more. The 2011 elections will be a key test for the Welsh Conservatives and we must rise to that challenge in what we say, what we do, and how we look.
The experience of our selection for the European Parliament is a salutary one. We have an excellent new MEP in Kay Swinburne, who started her role representing Wales and Britain just a few days ago.
In Westminster terms we have selected several women in winnable Welsh seats for the next General Election. It has not gone un-noticed, however, that there has never been a woman Welsh Conservative MP. We aim to change that whenever Gordon Brown has the courage to call the election.
That said, in terms of Parliamentary selections in Wales the balance is still predominantly towards men, and we have so far failed to select any candidate from an ethnic minority background this time, male or female.
I understand some members of the party may be uncomfortable with my proposals. But let me reassure them that I do not support the introduction of all women shortlists as Labour has done to their cost.
Local associations must still be allowed to choose the candidate they think will best serve their interests. What I am proposing is giving local associations a helping hand in making the Welsh Conservative Party more representative and more diverse.
We have allowed the other parties in the Assembly to steal a march on us in terms of the representation of women and people from ethnic minorities. I believe it’s high time we played catch-up.