It’s not often that I come to the support of the Lib Dems – in fact I think it's a first. But the criticism of that party in the editorial in Monday’s Western Mail was wholly unfair; and that’s a second first in a single post – agreeing with Peter Black about anything.
This is not the first time that the Western Mail has attacked parties for making efforts to achieve a degree of gender balance in Welsh politics, but it is probably the first time that their leader writer has shown so clearly how little time he has for the notion that parties should be actively seeking the best people rather than sitting back and waiting for them to appear.
The Western Mail seems to think that ambition is the key attribute that we should be looking for in our politicans, and if women simply don’t have the ambition, then we should stick to the people - largely men - who do. On this point, I'm afraid that I have enormous sympathy with the standpoint of Billy Connolly, who once said that anyone who actually wanted to be a member of parliament should for that reason alone be automatically disqualified.
I don't particularly want our elected institutions to be stuffed with people (aka macho men) who are bursting with ambition. That’s exactly what we’ve had for generations, and look at where it’s got us. Ambition is not at all the same thing as ability - and an unkind person might even suggest that there's some evidence that the two can be mutually exclusive.
I want the most able and talented people; people who are willing to give of their ability and talents to serve the people who elect them, and to present alternative visions of how things can be, rather than just fight each other for the top jobs. And I want parties which are willing to go and look for those talents and abilities even amongst – no, especially amongst – groups of people in society who might be reluctant to put themselves forward.
Now, the Western Mail might argue that not all of the people whom we have elected, whether to the Assembly or to Parliament, or to the European Parliament, have the necessary talents and abilities to do the job. That’s a different argument entirely (although I am far from convinced that it’s a problem which applies solely, or even predominantly, to the female members of those institutions). If the people we have in our elected institutions are not the best or most able available – and I suspect that a lot of people might actually agree with that suggestion – then we should be asking ourselves why those able people are not interested, rather than simply making do with those who are.
That’s a real challenge for all of the parties.