On the evening of Thursday May 5 2011, 23 men and women discovered that they had been elected for the first time to the National Assembly for Wales. In one fell swoop the membership of over a third of the Assembly had changed, the greatest turnover of representation since the institution was founded in 1999.

Within a week Assembly Members (AMs) would take their seats at the first sitting of the Fourth Assembly, and be expected – by the public, their party and the media – to hit the ground running as effective representatives.

But what is it like to make that rapid transition from being a member of the public to being an elected Member of the Assembly? How do AMs learn the ropes in a new and challenging political environment? How do they decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it? And do they have the resources to carry out their role effectively? How do they balance the expectations and demands of their constituents, their party, the media and others? What are they hoping to achieve, and how does the reality of the experience match up to their expectations? In short, what is it like to be a Member of the National Assembly during their earliest months in office?

As the Assembly nears its 15th anniversary in 2014, the question of the experience of new AMs has added pertinence. It is still a relatively new democratic institution but in its short life it has undergone considerable change in its powers and structures, and there is a live debate underway – both inside and outside the Senedd1 – about the need for further reform. With this Fourth Assembly being referred to by some as a ‘transitional Assembly’2 the views of Assembly Members will be crucial to shaping any future changes. From the outset the Assembly aspired to be different from Westminster; not just in its structures and processes but also in seeking to establish a more open and consensual politics, and inclusive and family-friendly working culture. So what do the new Members think about the way the Assembly operates and the powers at its disposal? What would they like to see changed? And how do they feel their role is perceived both by the public and the media?

Since the summer of 2011 the Hansard Society has been monitoring the role and work of the new AMs through surveys, interviews, and personal observation of their work, supplemented by discussions with Assembly staff, to try and answer these questions. Details of the research methodology can be found in the appendix. Kindly supported in part by the Assembly Commission, this study forms part of a wider comparative study the Society has conducted into the experiences of newly elected representatives at Westminster, Holyrood and the Dáil Éireann, the full results of which will be published later in 2013. In the meantime, this briefing paper sets out the core findings of our research into the stark realities of life as an elected member in Cardiff Bay. Like most other elected roles, there is no real job description; indeed, as this research shows, it is a job that perhaps defies a job description.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • The new AMs: their background and the road to Cardiff Bay
  • Arriving at the Senedd
  • The role and work of a new Assembly Member
  • The workings of the Assembly
  • One year on
  • Methodology