Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Should politics be more professional??

. David Cameron's little local difficulty over his 'part-timers' detailed below got me thinking about the above topic. So, should politics be more professional in the sense that it is a career for life?? My first instinct is to say yes for many reasons; one of the main reasons being that it would end politics being a 'special case' where you are expected to have 'life training'. The next election will see a couple of PPC's stand who are 18/19, something that to my mind is a good thing.

Westminster politics, allegedly, is based upon the notion of representation so it seems to me a complete nonsense that a whole generation should be effectively denied representation because of in-built prejudice about having to 'experience life first'. The notion that this experience makes you able to better function as a representative strikes me also as nonsense. Some people can go through life in it's entirety and still lack a basic ability to empathise or understand anything beyond the five feet in front of their face.

However, the above candidates are sadly unlikely to be elected and that is where the second-half of this equation comes into play. Namely, the prejudice of the average voter who seems to me to feel that their MP's should some how be better than them; a mentality you see mostly in effect when a serious scandal breaks. If a scandal points to hypocrisy or to actual corruption then of course the indignation is actually justified. Hypocrisy is never taken kindly too, especially in authority figures so those Tory MP's that suffered during the 'Back to Basics' campaign cannot really complain if the press and the media tears them to pieces; they have set themselves up to be torn down. Corruption is a breach of the representative contract. However, if they reflect what can be described as essentially human failings (which we all have in our own ways) then I have less sympathy for the climate of outrage which ensures.

People cannot have it both ways; complain that they feel alienated from politics and then expect their representatives to be somehow above humanity. If people want politicians that are connected and grounded then they have to accept the price of that being the fact that politicians are human. Professionalisation of politics, or in other words bringing it closer to being a profession like any other, might well help reduce that distance. It would also attract people who instead of seeing it as something to do after having made pots of money actually want to do it because they love it.

This is not to cast doubts about the current crop of MP's and say that in any way they are less committed than they should be (although some on all sides of the House probably are) but more to suggest it would make things better; and bring politics closer to the people. It should also draw more people from all walks of life and make Westminster more representative. I am well aware that there is an argument that the reverse would actually be the case but I don't see it myself; the above example of younger PPC's being a good one of where politics being a 'profession like any other' would actually encourage greater representation.

In reality, a balance of the two kinds of politician would perhaps produce the best results with each bringing differing perspectives to the mix. However, the more measures that are taken to open-up politics and make it more representative have to my mind be good for politics and political engagement.


wit and wisdom said...

I'm completely against the professional political class and I think this is one of the key reasons why nobody trusts the New Labour hierarchy - or the new Tory crop of Eton graduates.

I'm afraid that I want people who are making the laws of this country to have lived a little and I therefore think that an 18 year old cannot be prepared for this role.

The best evidence I have for this is me at 18 - I knew nothing but I thought I knew everything. I only really consider that I matured in my 30s. I'm pretty confident that I'm not a special case in this.

Sure we have a number of very good young MPs in our own ranks but I would still have liked them to have worked in a shop or assembled a car or two to gain a wider experience of the world out there.

Darrell G said...


How do you answer the point that such a stance deprives an entire generation of representation in an allegedly represenative body?? Why is it ok to positively discriminate for gender or ethnic groups but negatively discriminate on age grounds??

What you were like at 18 is neither here nor there because you are not asking voters to elect you. Generalisation on that level is unfair. Also, as I understand it these PPC's are struggling to have a candidacy and study which seems example evidence of fortitude to me...if somebody is old enough to vote then to my mind they are old enough to be an MP.

On your top point I disagree; nobody trusts them because they think they on the make and 'second jobs' of the kind the Tory shadow cabinet have only add to that impression...

Julian H said...

An "entire generation" are not deprived of political representation - they have all means of participating in the political process, as being an MP is not the sole way of doing so. Being an MP means having a considerable amount of power in forming laws which are then imposed on the population, and it's perfectly reasonable that it is therefore considered a very senior position that people should have to work up to. In the same way, other positions of high responsibility (such as being CEO of a large organisation) are not simply dished out to 18 year olds so that "a generation" are "represented" in the private sector.

As for politics as an industry, populated by career politicians, this is a breeding ground government expansion if there's ever been one. In every industry in which people work, it is in their interest for it to expand - so if I'm a car mechanic, I want more people driving cars. Therefore career politicians have incentives for politics and government to be larger, to offer them more power, more possibilities, more prestige - more utility in general. And who decides how much government does and how much it taxes to fund its activities? Aye, the politicians. And when politics is all that someone has (as a career politician) of course they'll think it's all absolutely necessary and in the public interest bla bla bla. Hence public choice theory, of course.

Darrell G said...


Your argument falls at the first hurdle. Individual MP's do not have the power you suggest they do unless they occupy high positions within an executive so err ye, doesnt really work out like that does it. They have the power equating to one vote in a legislature.

The private sector is not a body that is allegedly there to represent society though is it so again your argument comes crashing down.

And again with the err...why should it when I was making a point which should apply to all parties be they government or opposition. What it might actually do would be to increase the authority of the legislature which would be no bad thing at all...

Julian H said...

I was (and still am) suggesting that one vote among 600-odd is "a considerable amount of power". That vote is on behalf of around 100,000 people.

My comparison to the private sector is not based upon any premise of it "representing society" - my point is that positions of large responsibility have to be earned, typically through years of work (and yes, the subsequent gaining of experience).

"And again with the err...why should it when I was making a point which should apply to all parties be they government or opposition."

I have no idea what this means.

My point is quite simple - people in politics have incentives for the political domain (ie. government) to grow, as this offers them chances for greater personal utility. Career politicians, as they are involved in no other area, have especially high incentives for government to grow.

Darrell G said...


Well it really isnt when you put it like that is it; yes there is an element of power and responsibility but to argue having a 1/600 odd share of forming a law is an earth-shattering amount of power is to lose all sorts of proportion. Being frank, if the law feels 18 is old enough to have control over whether you drink (and a say in who actually represents you) then I think it is a more than fair amount of power to invest in the right person. :)

Well in that case as we have seen your perspective is rather flawed from the outset. My point is that the role of government is restricted to one party; the one with the most seats. The rest of the MP's form part of the legislature it is true but it is not true that they have complete determination over the laws passed because they are not the majority party. So, to say they are the 'government' is totally misleading.