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Bishop of St Asaph warns clergy over proposed electoral changes in Wales

08 March 2024

Church in Wales

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron

PROPOSED changes to the Welsh electoral system represent a huge shift of power from the people to the politicians, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, warns in an ad clerum issued last Friday.

The wide-ranging Senedd (Members and Elections) Bill was due to be debated this week at its second stage. It seeks to increase the size of the Welsh Parliament to 96 members, all of whom must be resident in Wales and elected via closed-list proportional representation. If passed, it will come into force for the 2026 elections.

People would vote for a party, not an individual — an aspect of the Bill that Bishop Cameron describes as “bad news” for democracy and accountability. “It severs the link between local representation and individual Senedd members’ performance,” he writes to his clergy. “An individual who may be loathed by the electorate can still be elected because they are loved by the party. It promotes ‘company men’ (and women) over locally accountable politicians.”

It would be the politicians, not the people, who would decide which personalities would work in the Welsh Parliament, the Bishop writes. “I can see why a government of any complexion would like it because they can choose a membership of party ‘yes’ people, rather than those personalities who command the confidence of their constituency.

“It was sometimes said that in certain parts of Wales, a particular party could nominate a donkey and that they would still get elected — but my point is that they would have been unwise to risk it. No longer — the majority party in an election would get exactly those politicians who curried the favour of the party and not of the people.”

The Bishop reflects in the ad clerum that his selection for St Asaph in 2009 was as an individual, “not someone chosen by particular Church party I was believed to represent” — as in “an Evangelical’ or “a Catholic”.

“We should be able to eyeball our politicians and decide whether we trust an individual and not a party,” he concludes. “It’s perfectly acceptable for an individual to be chosen by a party and put forward as their candidate, but they know — for now — that they have to choose someone who can win the support of their constituency, and not some faceless party favourite.”

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