Thursday, 11 November 2010

The thoughts of Adam

I’m not quite sure what Adam Price was thinking when he made his comments yesterday about the lack of skills and experience amongst Assembly Members.  It’s not that the point isn’t a relevant one, it’s more that there is a danger that a politician making such a criticism of other politicians can give an unfortunate impression of superiority.
I was on a course once (to prepare us for impending redundancy, as it happens), and one of the key messages was that “Negative criticism is a dishonest form of self-praise”.  It’s a useful thought for people to bear in mind.
Having said that, does he have a point?  Certainly, as the Assembly gains more power and influence, I think all of us, whether involved in politics or not, would want our AMs to be of the highest quality. 
But what do we mean by that – and who decides how to measure ‘quality’?  And how do we balance ‘ability’ and ‘experience’?  These are not simple questions; ultimately, they are matters for the political parties to consider as part of their selection processes.  It’s an issue which much exercised me when I was trying to reform Plaid’s selection processes and introduce more objective candidate assessment processes.
I cannot, of course, speak in detail about the selection processes of other parties, but there does seem to be something of a ‘cult of youth’ affecting all parties.  There’s an increasing tendency for people to go straight from university to politics, with no wider experience of the world outside, and I’ve never been convinced that’s an entirely good thing.  Some adapt well, but others can sometimes appear to be stuck in a rather more simplistic approach to politics, and, as Adam suggested, lack that broader background which comes from outside experience.
That cult certainly affects Plaid Cymru.  When Ieuan told me in June that he did not want me to be a candidate for next May’s Assembly elections, my age was one of the issues he raised.  It was his view that, with Ron Davies likely to be selected in Caerffili, the party simply couldn’t afford to have any other old men standing as candidates where we might win, because that would send the wrong message about what sort of a party Plaid Cymru is.
It’s a valid viewpoint, but it owes more to getting the right image than the right mix of skills and experience, it seems to me.  In that sense, I’m not sure that Plaid’s response to Adam’s comments was quite as complete as it could have been. 
I very much doubt that Plaid is the only party which is concerned to choose candidates who project the ‘right’ image, and in an increasingly policy-lite style of politics it’s probably an inevitable development.   It adds weight to what I think is the very valid point which Adam raised.  It would be better, though, if his comments were to be interpreted as a criticism of parties and their selection criteria, rather than of the individuals selected as a result.  Otherwise, his comments will not receive the consideration which they deserve.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

May be Ieuan Wyn Jones should take a look at the image that people outside Plaid have of his party
I think it needs some gravitas.
It looks like a party run by youn turks and turkesses with a large measure of student politics.
maybe thats the images that have carried on from the language protests etc.
he isnt in his first flush of youth either bye the way.
Experience and common sense would be good for any job and more so a political one.

Anonymous said...

I don't care for the age or sex of the candidate. Experience outside politics is an important asset.

I remember standing election and an old boy asking me, 'beth y'ch chi wedi ei wneud' (what have you done [with your life]). I couldn't really answer him, though looking back, I had had many experiences which were valuable but felt a little too embarrassed to divelge them for the fear of sounding pretentious or conceited.

But it was a good question and one I think all candidates should ask themselves. It doesn't bar young people from standing - Adam was an example of an old head on young shoulders. Nor is being old a certificate for wisdom either. But it's a question which needs to be asked. It's not the 1960s anymore, it's not the baby-boom generation in full flow, people are looking beyond youth.

Gareth said...

It seems quite a circular argument at times. I remember the US elections where it was one half asking for more experience and the rest asking for fresh voices.

In the end any chamber is meant to be representative of the people as much as it can be so if you concentrate on either too young or old or politically experienced or experienced in business etc you are creating an inbalance.

Jeff Jones said...

John are you really serious that your party leader mentioned your age ? Amazing considering that by 2015 the majority of voters in the UK will be over 55. By 2025 out of the 650 present UK constituencies 466 will have a third of their voters over 65. The other point to bear in mind is that the over 55s are more likely to vote compared to the under 35s.

Anonymous said...

By politicians coming straight from Uni, you mean Nerys Evans and Bethan Jenkins. There aren't any in any other party, in the Assembly or among Wales' 40 Westminster MPs. Those are the only two. Both of them have proved themselves. They can speak on TV and radio, in the chamber, can explain and defend their party policies, can do casework and can campaign.

It's also true that Price has been misquoted.

As for Anon 12:02 'It looks like a party run by youn turks and turkesses with a large measure of student politics.' Most people wouldn't recognise that view of Plaid at all. It's safe to say a large minority of the Welsh electorate know what Plaid Cymru is- maybe 30-40% of them and that's being generous (I support Plaid btw). They will associate Plaid with- Ieuan Wyn Jones, Elfyn Llwyd (those two are on TV the most), Dafydd Wigley, and some might recognise Helen Mary Jones, Elin Jones or Leanne Wood. I am not sure what part of that recognition conveys student politics or young turks at all. The public face of Plaid is older men. As much as I mentioned Nerys Evans and Bethan Jenkins, most Welsh people won't know who they are, let alone see them as the face of the party. Nor is there any reason they should be. They are backbenchers proving themselves and doing a good job.

This thread is just the usual lazy, unqualified comments about Plaid women, by the looks of things.

Martin Wilding Davies said...

Membership of political parties in Wales is what, less than 1% of the population? Of the total membership, only a small percentage want to stand for office. They're people of a certain type and skill-set. Understanding how to run a country isn't necessarily going to get you elected. Introduce a competency test and the parties won't have enough candidates. If Wales is to solve its problems we need to pool our skills, experience and judgment - all 3 million of us. We need to adopt a different way of governing ourselves. We need to take an entirely different approach to our economy and we need to have these kind of debates free of professional politicians taking snide pot shots in an attempt to protect their own interests. (I'm not at all referring to Adam Price who, I find, is almost unique in Welsh politics in that he speaks his mind without first weighing up the electoral value or otherwise of what he has to say.)

John Dixon said...

Jeff,

I tell it as it is.

Anon 14:48,

"There aren't any in any other party, in the Assembly or among Wales' 40 Westminster MPs"

I wasn't restricting my comments either to the Assembly or to Wales; and I think you'll find that the incidence is higher than you think in general - in all parties. I seem to recall that other politicians - including some from Plaid - have made similar comments in the past as well. But my objective was not really to get into a list of names, nor to criticise any individuals, either by name or by implication. It was to talk about the processes at work which lead to the sort of situation which Adam seemed to me to be talking about.

I would not associate myself in any way with "lazy, unqualified comments about Plaid women"; I have long been one of the most vociferous supporters of efforts to ensure gender equality.

Anonymous said...

"By politicians coming straight from Uni, you mean Nerys Evans and Bethan Jenkins. There aren't any in any other party, in the Assembly or among Wales' 40 Westminster MPs. Those are the only two."

Nerys Evans didn't come straigh from uni she worked as a policy officer for the party amongst other roles for a number of years between uni and selection

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeff. The political parties had better not forgett those of more mature years. The boomer generation I believe have just started retiring. I think I just about make it into the group at 45 yearss. They (or should I say 'we') will be around for quite a while yet. I like to see a politician who has actually got experience of life and of business or something else rather than just university and then a researcher and then straight into contesting some seat. But what do I know eh?

Talking of IWF, I thought he had gone. He's been so quiet of late. Shouldn't he as transport minister or somebody from Plaid have been phoning into Radio Wales yesteraday when they were discussing the Severn bridge tolls? Some Lib Dem was quite vociferous on there.

Anonymous said...

"Nerys Evans didn't come straigh from uni she worked as a policy officer for the party amongst other roles for a number of years between uni and selection"

Exactly. So what has she done in th real world. I've heard a talk on the radio and on TV and in my opinion she does come across very well. But I would like to see people in the Assembley who have done things in business......not uni then some damn advisory/policy roles. Hey, but maybe I'm old fashioned and believe that experience in the real world counts.

John Dixon said...

It was, and is, no part of my intention for this thread to become an open season on criticising the experience, or lack of, of named politicians in any party; I'd prefer comments to be kept to the general issue rather than specific cases. ALL parties have elected members who have worked as policy advisors etc between full time education and becoming elected members.

Anonymous said...

The trouble is, Plaid does not look after all it's candidates. I suppose all parties are like this, but I can only speak from Plaids point.

There are a few high up people in the Party who pick their favorites and back them, no matter if they are the best person or not. All time and effort is spend on this 'selected few' and sod the rest of the candidates/potential candidates.

The best person should do the job, no matter what age/sex etc, and these people should be supported. I know a few people sho feel the same.

I am very loyal to the Party and believe that Plaid is the best one for Wales. Saying that, theres a few things that needs to be sorted in the party. I would start by ending the practice of shafting people who have given their all to the party, just because their face doesn't fit.

Anonymous said...

A generous politician would accept that a new and younger generation has something fresh and different to offer. As part of a team, we need old heads and youthful enthusiasm - a mixture of talents in other words. Apprentices must learn from the experienced ones in any walk of life.
Much of these comments are coming over, consciously or not, as the offerings of bitter middle-aged men.


(I speak as a middle-aged man, by the way)

Valleys Mam said...

I would like to see candidates chosen for what they can give to the party they represent and more importantly to the wider electorate
I think that in all parties there are too many mates of mates given opportunities not just as candidates but SPADS etc.
This should not be gender or ageist.

Glyndo said...

John
“There’s an increasing tendency for people to go straight from university to politics, with no wider experience of the world outside, and I’ve never been convinced that’s an entirely good thing.”
Like it or not, true or not, this does smack of a comment on the candidate that replaced you in your constituency.
I feel sorry for IWJ in this, he was carrying out a function, as leader, that the local big wigs bottled. An influential group in the Party locally thought that you had had your chance. But nobody could bring themselves to tell you, or ask you to step aside.
As a side issue, why did you remove yourself from the Regional List? Looks an awful lot like sour grapes and lacking an explanation, that’s what people will think.

John Dixon said...

Glyndo,

"Like it or not, true or not, this does smack of a comment on the candidate that replaced you in your constituency."

Not intended. See also following words, "Some adapt well". Nerys and I have worked closely together, and in a recent hustings meeting, I described her as "one of the party's brightest young talents". I have not changed my mind on that.

On the side issue, I was asked not to make any comment on the Regional List until the party made an official announcement on the names. It has yet to do so; any comment that I make will follow that announcement.

Anonymous said...

So which politicians do not 'adapt well'? As people have said, the only two that can really be the ones you are attacking are Bethan Jenkins and Nerys Evans. Nerys is the 'new star' as her face is everywhere, so I assume you are attacking the other AM? This is so petty and typical of what Plaid is becoming. Who do you and Adam Price think you are exactly? The superiority in tone is off putting to electors, oh, and by the way, especially young people who actually like to see a mixture of young and old in elected positions.

John Dixon said...

Anon,

I have no intention of starting to compare and rate politicians, particularly those in my own party. And my comments do not relate just to the Assembly or just to Plaid Cymru either.

Nor were they intended to be an attack on anyone - that's the sort of personalisation of politics which I have long argued against. As I said in the final paragraph of the original post, I'd prefer the comments to be interpreted as an issue around why the pool of potential candidates is so narrow and restricted than about the individuals in that pool - it's a very clear distinction.

Whilst we may be seeing more apparent variety in terms of image, we're also seeing more homogeneity in terms of message, content, and background. Where are the great parliamentary characters of the past - like Bevan, or SO? Individuals with a passion and conviction are amongst those being squeezed out by the rise of the machine politicians who may look different, but who sound increasingly alike.

"Who do you and Adam Price think you are exactly?"

I'm afraid that I can't answer for Adam. For my part, I'm a retired candidate who still retains a conviction about the sort of world I want to see, and I want to see a livelier, more challenging, and more radical form of politics than we currently have. In the process, I'm expressing personal opinions - and you have every right to disagree with them if you choose.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that there is a need for a greater mix of people as AMs (and MPs etc).

I would say internally in Plaid that this needs could be addressed by how the party looks after its candidates. All parties struggle with attracting good candidates. It takes a lot of commitment and personal investment which is rarely rewarded. The cost excludes many from poorer backgrounds, people with young families or those in business, for example. The trouble in Plaid is that their candidates in many cases are treated very poorly, especially in areas which are not target seats. There is little support for these candidates and this is worse if there is a weak local branch.

This needs to be addressed as many people I know who have stood for the party in the past will never do so again. How many good potential AMs have the party lost?

It comes back to a point which was made by an anon on this blog last week. Some people higher up in the party pick their favorite candidates. So longs that you're one of the favourites, you will do well in the party. From what I've witnessed, not all candidates have the same fair play which, externally, plaid likes to champion. Until this is sorted out, and until there's more encouragement for people to stand, and then supported fairly, then I think that they will struggle to find more decent candidates.


I must add, Ive also witnessed other parties being crappy, but in other ways. I believe that Plaid has more than its fair share of great AMs. They could have more, though.