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.