Kirsty Williams on building last year’s elections and building an education system that inspires pride and confidence

Kirsty Williams has been speaking to the South Wales Argus about her role as Education Secretary in the Welsh Government. She has great ambitions for the role.

I want to have an education system that the profession are proud of and parents and learners have confidence in.

That is quite a high bar, and she wants to work in partnership with those groups, unlike a certain former English education secretary whose tenure in office seemed to alienate everyone.

I am confident that by working together we can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to have a first-class education system for Wales and one which people around the world will want to come and look at, what were the changes we undertook and what were the reforms we put through that led to that system.

But I can’t do it on my own. I can only do it in partnership with parents, learners and educators.

What was it, though, that inspired Kirsty to get involved in politics as a young woman?

Growing up in Llanelli, Ms Williams cited watching family members working in the steel industry lose their jobs and seeing a lecture by Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP Roy Jenkins, later a Lib Dem peer, as one of the biggest influences on her political development.

“I just remember listening to the lecture and thinking ‘I can’t say it in the same words he can but that’s the kind of community and society I want to live in’,” she said.

Being brought up in a family where politics was discussed and debated sparked her interest:

On Sunday the family would go to my grandma’s house in Swansea for Sunday lunch, we’d sit down and there’d be a wide variety of political opinions around the table and my grandma would say ‘Oh please not politics today ‘.

“There would be arguments and I learned very quickly to be part of that, you had to have an opinion, so I was very lucky to grow up in that sort of household.

“That made me aware of the existence of what was then the Liberal Party and the SDP alliance and that’s how I got involved.”

The conversation turned to the “devastating” election results last year. In 2011, the Welsh Liberal Democrats had been insulated from the effects of the coalition, but were punished for it last year;

“It’s a huge regret to me we weren’t able to do that last year, but we found ourselves in a situation where the party was at a very low ebb in the polls and in a different political situation with more political parties being in a state to be able to get into the Assembly.

“We were under no illusions about the tough battle we were in, but we were determined to give it our best shot we could knowing we could end up in that situation.

“But it was a devastating night for the party.”

And she went on to talk about why she took up Carwyn Jones’ offer to join the Cabinet:

She added it was a level of trust and understanding between her and the first minister which ultimately led her to accept the role.

“We have worked together before and we had worked together in the previous administration on budget deals,” she said.

“I think we’ve established a level of trust and a level of understanding between the pair of us and I think all those things led to the situation where he could offer this and I could take up the offer.

And there may be a new way of working, but she remains true to her Liberal Democrat principles:

“From a politician’s point of view it’s certainly an adjustment when you’ve been used to operating in a certain way as an opposition member for a long time,” she said. “Certainly there are changes to your daily routine in that you don’t get to ask questions any more, you have to answer questions.

“But so far I have been able to speak freely in cabinet and in my regular meetings with the first minister.”

You can read the whole interview here.

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  • Education, after health, is probably the second biggest responsibility in Wales and it’s so important that the wider party supports Kirsty as she goes about her work. Thus far she seems to be saying all the right things and hopefully this means results and subsequently more trust in the Lib Dems when they’re in office.

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