Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Kirsty Williams faces the music

Kirsty Williams
Kirsty Williams has found it tough defending the EU on the doorstep

After nominations close in the Welsh Liberal Democrat leadership race, the two candidates, Jenny Randerson and Kirsty Williams, face our probing questions designed to get a little bit closer to who they really are.

As the pair of assembly members prepare for hustings across Wales, we ask them some questions that might come up over the coming weeks, and others that almost certainly will not reach the podium.

On Thursday we heard from Jenny Randerson, and now it is the turn of Kirsty Williams, who admits to loving seventies disco beats, reading in the bath and her grandmother's cawl recipe.....


What's your vision for Wales?

First of all I want to see a prosperous Wales because all our people deserve better. I also want to see a Wales which is rich in its diversity and culture and pluralist and vibrant in its politics. A Wales in which the Welsh language is secure, a Wales which is green and sustainable, and a Wales which is outward looking and which plays a key role in a reformed UK and in the wider world.

What one change would you make to Wales if you were in power now?

Break the link between poverty and educational attainment. We are never going to succeed in making Wales a more prosperous place to live if many of our young people from more deprived homes continue to leave school without the necessary skills to get into and stay in the workforce.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
Kirsty Williams believes Roy Jenkins did much to make Britain more liberal

What difference does a woman leader make to a party?

I am really proud that it is the Welsh Liberal Democrats that will achieve this first in Welsh politics. It would mean another breach of the glass ceiling and demonstrate our party's own commitment to equality of opportunity. I also hope it will provide a role model for other women that they too can play a role in public life.

Why has the party failed to get more than six AMs elected in three assembly elections in a row?

A mixture of reasons. Despite having the best manifesto, and one which is always costed, we have been too preoccupied with winning regional list seats. We have sometimes overcomplicated our messages. We have not always been bold enough and, despite our massive input into the coalition government in the first term of the assembly, we failed to capitalize on the successes in policy delivery with the electorate.

How would you define liberalism in 21st century Wales?

I start from the principles which are the bedrock of my party - individual freedom, fairness, and internationalism. A party that defends civil liberties in an increasingly authoritarian age and does not just tolerate diversity but celebrates it. We need to plant these values and principles in the rich soil of a small nation which has a radical and bilingual heritage, and a strong commitment to social justice.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your political career?

Appointing Peter Black as my agent in the 1997 General Election, you never know with someone else I may have overturned that huge Labour majority in Ogmore! In general I think it is best to learn from your mistakes and not dwell on them.

Kirsty Williams
Born: Taunton, Somerset
Age: 37
Previous occupation: Marketing executive
AM for: Brecon and Radnorshire
Supporters include:Mark Williams MP, AMs Mick Bates and Peter Black, Powys councillor Liam Fitzpatrick, Cardiff councillor Gareth Aubrey

How do voters see the Lib Dems and how can you change that?

Far more people share our values than vote for us - I am told this so often by people I meet all over Wales. We need to reach out to people like this - but also to listen to and learn from them. There are also some parts of Wales where we may be seen as not competitive enough electorally. Under my leadership, we would have no 'no go' areas.

Do you and your family drive environmentally friendly cars and have you ever felt irritated by the need to recycle?

To be honest I don't drive a particularly environmentally friendly car at the moment. However we have been looking into replacing it and will certainly be taking fuel efficiency and emissions into consideration when we make our choice. I don't feel irritated by having to recycle but sometimes it can be confusing in knowing what can and can't be recycled by my local council.

Do you expect to ever become First Minister?

Why not? My campaign for the leadership is based on real ambition for our party and I have absolutely no intention of saying what we can't do - this is about what we can do. But, of course, this is in the hands of the people of Wales ultimately. What we must do is to listen to people and to develop policies which are both attractive and can achieve real change.

Which country could Wales learn most from and why?

All countries can learn from the strengths (and weaknesses!) of others, but all countries are different, with different histories - this is the nature of nationhood. The economic development policies of Baden Wurtenburg in Germany can teach us lessons, as can the healthy living policies and very high literacy and skills levels in Finland. The environmental policies in the Canadian province of British Columbia are interesting and instructive also.

Who's the best prime minister we've never had?

There are two, Jo Grimond and Roy Jenkins. Grimond was a man of principle, an exceptional communicator and as one biographer put it "gave politics a good name". Jenkins did much to make this a more liberal country.

Do you have any private health plans or policies?

No, and I am committed to a National Health Service, paid for by progressive taxation and which is free at the point of delivery.

Leadership campaigns cause inevitable rifts - how would you re-unite the assembly group?

I have no doubts that that the assembly group will unite around the new leader. If Jenny wins, I will be absolutely committed to backing her as leader, and I have no doubt that she will do the same should I be victorious in this contest.

recycling bins
Kirsty is sometimes unsure what her council wants to take away to recycle

What's been the toughest policy you've ever had to defend on the doorsteps?

Britain's role in the European Union. A Euro sceptic tabloid press has made this issue a difficult one. However we are an internationalist party and we should not shrink from arguing the case for reformed but strong European Union tackling issues on the world stage.

What's the worst job you've ever had?

I had numerous waitressing jobs while a student and when I first graduated. The job itself was not the problem; it was just that I was terrible at it. I also had to help in the kitchen. Anyone who knows me would tell you I am no cook!

What's your favourite food & drink?

Mexican at The Honey Café in Bronllys, Italian at the River Café in Glasbury or, on autumn days like these, my grandmother's recipe for cawl.

What's your favourite non-news tv programme / film / books (fiction/non-fiction)?

Favourite films would include Twelve Angry Men, Hotel Rwanda and When Harry Met Sally. On TV, like most people in Wales I love Gavin & Stacey. Most of my reading these days is taken up with bedtime stories for my girls, so I read The Gruffalo often, but my personal favourite is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Seventies disco music, reading in the bath, and singing loudly and badly in my car. I get some very strange looks from other car drivers who are stuck on the A470 coming into Cardiff in the morning!


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