A Woman Has to Be Twice as Good as a Man to Be Judged a Success; Regardless of Who Is Announced Today as the New Leader of the Liberal Democrats, the National Assembly Will Have Its First Female Leader. Senedd Correspondent David Williamson Explores the Implications of an Historic Moment in Welsh Political History

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Woman Has to Be Twice as Good as a Man to Be Judged a Success; Regardless of Who Is Announced Today as the New Leader of the Liberal Democrats, the National Assembly Will Have Its First Female Leader. Senedd Correspondent David Williamson Explores the Implications of an Historic Moment in Welsh Political History


Byline: David Williamson

IT FEELS somewhat strange to burden a Liberal Democrat leadership election with such a weight of importance.

But in the corridors of the Senedd - traditionally a leading forum for gender equality by the male-dominated standards of British politics - there's a sense that today's announcement of the new leader of the Liberal Democrats could really change things.

Throughout their campaigns, candidates Jenny Randerson and Kirsty Williams have pledged to work together for the good of the party and Wales, regardless of who won.

But when one of them prevails, the Assembly will have its latest "Obama moment" - of sorts, anyway.

Not that the victor will be blessed with a smooth transition into power.

"Women are judged much more harshly," says Laura McAllister, professor of governance at the University of Liverpool and an expert on Welsh devolution.

"A woman has to be twice as good as a man to be judged a success."

She added that the victor will face a "tough job" dealing with "subtle inequality" which still exists in organisations.

But that did not discredit the importance of the achievement.

"I think this is a breakthrough - there is no doubt about that," she added.

Twenty-eight of the Assembly's 60 AMs are women.

John Osmond of the Institute of Welsh Affairs said this number could fall if gender equality initiatives were dropped.

The Assembly famously has a less confrontational atmosphere than Westminster.

He believes this may be because it has less than a tenth of the members, instead of a result of gender balance.

He said: "It's difficult to get really angry and cross with each other if you run into them every day in the corridor."

For her part, Ms Randerson, who was a minister in the first and only Labour-LibDem coalition cabinet, said her campaign recognised that the party was entering unchartered territory.

She said: "We've been well aware since the start we were making history.

I'm very proud of the Welsh Liberal Democrats that we are blazing a trail."

She added: "I'm the only female Liberal in history who has ever been a minister so I have this sense of history...

The final step will be a female First Minister."

The climax of the campaign also marks the end of Mike German's time at the helm of the party. He has led the Lib-Dems in the Assembly since 1999.

Mr German welcomed the arrival of a female successor, saying: "I believe it will be very significant and should bring a change of character to the Assembly. …

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A Woman Has to Be Twice as Good as a Man to Be Judged a Success; Regardless of Who Is Announced Today as the New Leader of the Liberal Democrats, the National Assembly Will Have Its First Female Leader. Senedd Correspondent David Williamson Explores the Implications of an Historic Moment in Welsh Political History
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