There is a danger, though, of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. There are two valid points being made by the Institute which are in danger of being lost because of the rather silly suggestion of using MPs to fill the gap.
The first point is about whether the talent pool in the Assembly is big enough to provide enough choice for a First Minister to select his cabinet. The Institute isn’t the first body to conclude that it isn’t. And the fact that the turnover of ministers has been as low as it has suggests that successive first ministers have recognised that their scope for change isn’t enormous.
One can identify several reasons for the situation. Not least among them is the fact that the Assembly has so few members. 60 is a very small number to start with. The largest party has had around half of those at all the elections since the establishment of the Assembly – choosing 9 ministers and a couple of deputies from a pool of 30 means that a very high proportion of the governing party’s elected members will also be ministers. Increasing the numbers to 80 or 100 would help, but there is nothing in the electoral process which guarantees any concomitant increase in ability.
Another important reason is that, for at least 2 of the parties in the Assembly (the two largest as it happens), the Assembly is seen as a second rate institution. The most ambitious (although I entirely accept that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the most able) tend to seek their careers in ‘proper’ politics, at Westminster. Merely increasing the numbers in Cardiff might not actually resolve the problem in its entirety.
A third reason hat I’d add here is whether the political process is actually going to attract a sufficiently diverse group of people into the Assembly. I have similar doubts about Westminster, in fairness; politics increasingly seems to be populated by career politicians rather than people with varied prior experience elsewhere. It’s not just the numbers which are limited in Cardiff, it’s also the background which they bring to the job.
And that brings me to the second valid point which the Institute is implicitly raising. Why do government ministers have to be drawn exclusively from the pool of people elected to the largest group in the legislature? They confused the point by suggesting adding members of another legislature to the pool, but the point is a more general one. I can understand, of course, why elected politicians want to reserve such roles to themselves, but it means that in Cardiff, as in Westminster, there is considerable confusion between the legislature and the executive.
It’s an unnecessary level of confusion. And it isn’t the only way of doing things. It’s not the way that government works in the US for instance. But one doesn’t have to go all the way down that route to see that bringing people into the executive who have not themselves been elected doesn’t lead to the end of democracy. Holding ministers to account does not require them to be members of the body doing the holding.
Why shouldn’t the first minister be able to draw on talent and ability from outside the narrow pool of 50% of the membership of the Assembly if that will contribute towards achieving the government’s objectives and improve the government of Wales? If the Institute had got that far, and not added the silly idea of using MPs, they might have struck rather more of a chord. As it is, they’ve made it far too easy for the politicians to avoid discussing the real question.