Bethan Jenkins: I was elected as Plaid Cymru regional Assembly Member for South Wales West in May 2007, and I am the youngest Assembly Member at the age of 27. My office is based in Neath, but I live in Rhos, Pontardawe.
My political interests include international affairs, women’s rights, asylum matters, the safeguarding of local services, and eating disorder provision in Wales. I currently sit on the Petitions Committee, the Audit Committee and the Communities and Culture Committee at the National Assembly for Wales, and I am the Plaid Cymru Spokesperson on Child Poverty and cultural issues. I am also the founder member and chair of the Cross Party Committee on Eating Disorders at the National Assembly.
I was born in Aberdare in 1981, but lived in Merthyr with my family until I went to study at Aberystwyth University in 2000. My political activities have included being a member of the Welsh Language Society’s Senate, President of Aberystwyth’s Guild of Students, and an activist in numerous campaigns including Aberystwyth Peace and Justice Network and CND Cymru. I also sat on the Graham Review which assessed the fee structure and student support for part time students in Wales.
Outside the political arena I enjoy swimming and going to the gym, as well as watching football. I also enjoy music, and play the viola as often as possible. My blog can be found here.*
What made you decide to start blogging?
My brother, who was writing the blog blamerbell briefs at the time (early 2007) which everyone still refers to as one of the best blogs on Welsh politics. I saw him blogging away, and was intrigued by this World I knew very little about. I also wanted to raise my profile as a new candidate for Plaid Cymru, and thought that starting a blog would be a novel way of going about it!
What is your best blogging experience?
Blogging about eating disorders, and the fact that a mother had to send her daughter for treatment in South Africa as she could not afford the treatment in Wales, and the press picking up on this story- highlighting the need for more action and services for those with eating disorders in Wales. Best blogging moments are those that help to further the campaigns I am passionate about.
I also enjoyed the recent opportunity to chair a blogging 4 change event at Plaid’s Conference with Iain Dale, Heledd Fychan, Dyfrig Jones, Huw Thomas and John Dixon. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity had I not started a blog, and kept it up.
And your worst?
When I was a candidate, and not too familiar with being in the public eye, I used to hate all the bitchy, sexist comments about me that appeared on comments sections of a lot of Welsh blogs. I still don’t appreciate that women are targeted in this way, probably because most of the blogs are dominated by men, but now I try and shrug off any sexist or sleazy comments and definitely block any that appear on my blog moderation pages!
I also have too many spelling mistakes, and have an unhealthy obsession with exclamation marks as you may, or will notice…
What do you regard as your best blog entry?
In terms of addressing the personal, and how I was inspired to take part in politics, it is the blog entry ‘Do parents shape your political belief?’
I talk about how they inspired me to get involved in politics from an early age, their background, and how that will always shape who I am as a person.
Also,blog entries on my aim to initiate a debate amongst politicians on a yes vote on a parliament for Wales before the National Convention finishes, because it started a lively debate on the blogs.
I tend to read most blogs about Welsh politics- although I scan them when I’m really busy at work... I enjoy reading Betsan Powys’s blog, Vaughan Roderick from the BBC, Welsh Ramblings because it always riles the Labour voters, Sweet and Tender Hooligan as Marcus Warner is always ready for a good debate. I am pleased that Heledd Fychan who is standing for Plaid in Montgomeryshire has started a blog- it is entertaining and personal. I also read Slugger o Toole, Iain Dale’s Diary, Politics Cymru, the feminist blog the F word, the blog ‘A mother from Gaza’, and some gossipy ones on celebrities when I want to unwind!
What inspired you to go into politics?
I was always political as I grew up attending demos against the apartheid movement and so on, but I transferred my interest to music and playing the viola/piano for years until I went to University. I got involved in student politics and became President of Aberystwyth Guild of Students. I also joined the peace group in Aber, and helped organize many of the All Wales Peace Festivals during the height of the Iraq war. It was organizing campaigns against top-up fees while President that inspired me to get involved in party politics, however.
What is it like being the youngest assembly member, or indeed nearly the youngest member of any major legislative assembly in the British Isles?
It’s a massive privilege, and I’m always eager to get more young people into politics. I’ve also made links with other young politicians such as Aileen Campbell the youngest MSP at the Scottish Parliament, who is a close friend.
It is good to be able to promote issues that politicians of different ages may not prioritise, but you have to be so careful not to typecast yourself. There are negative sides, I can’t shy away from that- sexism still exists unfortunately, and initial criticisms of me when I was first elected were demoralising- something which I think a male politician of my age would not have experienced, or at least not to the same extent.
As I become more established as an AM, organizations and charities are aware of the hard work that I put in to what I do, and are positive in working with me as an AM regardless of my age or sex.
What can the Welsh Assembly do to help alleviate child poverty?
I believe that the Welsh Assembly Government is working very hard to alleviate child poverty, but I sincerely believe that the targets will be very hard to reach without more investment from the Westminster Government. The new child poverty measure initiated by the Welsh Assembly Government is a positive step forward; increasing the civil servants who work on setting the priorities for the government on child poverty is to be welcomed, putting investment in to free childcare provision, the foundation phase- this will all help alleviate child poverty. The benefits take up scheme will also help children in poverty gain access to the benefits that they need. On an Assembly level, the newly formed Children and young people’s committee has recently undertaken an investigation in to child poverty and education, and this committee is working hard to scrutinize the government on its policies. I have also recently called for the establishment of a child poverty summit to take place in Wales to mirror the work that the Welsh Assembly Government’s economic summits are doing, and the Minister is looking in to this as we speak.
Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?
There are so many places that I would love to go to, despite my fear of flying. I would like to visit Canada, specifically Quebec to look at how language legislation works in practice there. I would also like to visit more of the former Eastern bloc countries such as Romania, Estonia and the Ukraine. I still haven’t been to Paris, and for someone who loves the film Amelie, this is truly shameful!
Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?
I would like to revisit Bratislava, as I went inter railing a few years ago with a friend around Europe but we only had time to spend an afternoon there. I would also like to go back to Moldova, especially given the political excitement there at the moment.
Who do you regard as the best Plaid Cymru leader, and, if possible, the best British Prime Minister?
Gwynfor Evans. On the second part of the question I can tell you that the worst was definitely Margaret Thatcher.
Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?
I really couldn’t attribute inspiration to one particular person. I’ve been inspired by movements and organisations the World over, people who may not have been ‘leaders’ but played roles in the issues that they were part of at the time.
Favourite Bond movie?
The latest ones with Daniel Craig are my favourites as they are far more realistic than other Bond movies, although I still get angry about how women are depicted in Bond movies. We need a female Bond!
Favourite Doctor Who?
I have to admit that I only ever really watched Doctor Who in the early 80s as a small child…My sister who is 8 is obsessed with the current Doctor Who, however.
Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?
Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?
Well I would say the Manic Street Preachers while Richey Edwards was playing with the band. I’d also love to see Ashley Maher, a Canadian singer, live in concert someday.
In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?
I’ve only been to Cambridge out of the list above. I enjoyed visiting Chester, but I’d choose London for a weekend break of shopping, concerts, and good food.
Favourite national newspaper?
Well I read Western Mail which is our national newspaper of course. On a British level, I sometimes buy the Independent, Guardian, The Times. It varies. If I read the Daily Mail which is given out free at my gym, I end up getting very annoyed at its outright racist views on asylum seekers and refugees, but at least I get my anger out on the running machine.
What would you say your hobbies were?
I enjoy playing the viola at Swansea Community Orchestra on a Monday evening, swimming, going to the gym when I have the time, going out with friends, going to gigs, and shopping of course! I would like to start writing short stories again, but I don’t seem to have the time. I also like photography.
And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books
(Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?
Very difficult to choose only 3…
Manic Street Preachers- A Prologue to History
Ashley Maher- Honeycomb Grey
Joni Mitchell- All I Want
Y Stafell Ddirgel- Marion Eames
Ten Men Dead- David Beresford
The Snow Spider-Jenny Nimmo
*Thanks to Bethan for suggesting I use the bio on her website.