Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Every Tuesday morning the political parties in the Assembly set their stall as to the issues they wish to highlight for the week. Today all the parties flagged up issues relating to health matters. But as is the custom journalists raised other matters.
Not surprising Kirsty Williams had to field questions on the Lord Rennard affair. Not least because one of the women who has made allegations against the Liberal Democrats' former chief executive is a Welsh party activist.
Alison Goldsworthy confirmed she was one of the anonymous women interviewed by Channel 4 News who said they had been harassed by Lord Rennard.
Kirsty Williams played the conference absolutely straight. Such behaviour was totally unacceptable and it was right that the party should look into the matter. "These are very serious allegations and I am satisfied that the investigations set up are an appropriate response."
When replying to a question by myself had Westminster anything to learn from the Welsh Assembly on the matter of equality and the way it treats women. Her answer was robust. She said “only a man could ask such a question.” People would be "naive" to assume that alleged sexual misconduct in politics is something only confined to Westminster.
"If you think that this (allegations of sexual misconduct) is something only goes on in Westminster, then you are taking the eye off the ball.” In response I asked whether inappropriate behaviour had happened in the Welsh Assembly. "It's a distinct possibility that it has happened," she replied. "If you think that this (allegations of sexual misconduct) is something only goes on in Westminster, then you are taking the eye off the ball."
So admonished I was.
Of course, unacceptable behaviour can happen in any institution, certainly journalism is no exception. And why would the Assembly be immune. On that point I’d certainly agree.
Whatever other criticisms can be made about the Assembly, its commitment to equality cannot be faulted. It’s had a balance of the sexes from the start (although since the last election there are now slightly less women, 25 out of 60). In that very balance a different attitude arises one based on respect.
Not so in Westminster.
Talking to women there, from MPs and their aides, Ministers and journalist and you get a picture of a very hostile work environment.
Working in the place is like going back in time. Out of the 650 MPs there are only 142 women. With the male dominance comes a testosterone culture. Often in the chamber itself women are patronised and talked down. Even the Prime Minister hasn’t been immune from such patronising language.
Power is held by men and they certainly have been known to use it to gain sexual ‘favours.’ As C4s Cathy Newman who worked in the Westminster lobby for 10 years said in today’s Telegraph Westminster is "more public school than public service.”
Her view one that I echo is the only way to change the sexist culture is to have more women MPs.The institution is antiquated and needs to brought out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty first century. It has lesson’s to learn from the Welsh Assembly. Yes, despite Kirsty Williams views.