Britain and Ireland: Innocence versus experience?

Fascinating couple of pieces on the major shift in British politics in the last decade, which would seem to be a shift in preference towards young and inexperienced leaders… First this paper from Phillip Cowley of Nottingham University on the rise and rise of career politicians…

In a précis on his university’s school of politics blog:

The current trance of leaders are not as exceptional in their youth as they are in their inexperience. It is not the case that the leaders are inexperienced because they are young, more that they are young because they are so inexperienced. Nor does this change appear to be the result of changes in the way parties elect their leaders (although this has had a small effect).

The article concludes that instead the explanation lies in the changing nature of ‘experience’, with all three of the current leaders having significant political experience at a reasonably senior level before they entered the Commons. The ‘career politician’ remains a minority in the Commons as a whole, with plenty of MPs who have a broader experience of the world. But for those who want an accelerated route to the top, the career politicians now looks like the only game in town.

By contrast, Irish political leaders have for the most part accumulated considerable political experience in their climb to the top:

  • Eamon Gilmore is 56, and has been through several political incarnations.
  • Gerry Adams is 63 and has been leader of his party since 1986.
  • Enda Kenny is 60, and has served in the Dail – where the average term is about 20 years – for more than 35 years.
  • Micheal Martin is 51 and has held no less than four cabinet level posts in government.
And Northern Ireland is run by two men who have been close to the top of their respective parties/movements for most of the last forty years…
So what does this say? Is Ireland advantaged by its preference for experience at the top?  Chris puts half a dampener on it:

…there’s a massive difference between entrepreneurship and politics. We have found a way of improving the odds of entrepreneurial success. We allow many entrepreneurs to compete against each other, to see who succeeds; this is why free entry into markets and access to capital are so important.

In politics, however, competition is much more limited and entry restricted. So the natural selection we have in markets operates much less well. In this sense, political activity offers us the worst of both worlds. It has neither the body of experience, evidence base and precedent that sportsmen, engineers, bureaucrats, lawyers or some artists can draw upon. Nor does it permit the ruthless natural selection that well-functioning markets do.

Ireland would seem to have the advantage in experience. Though, considering the fact that the Taoiseach’s experience has mostly been of opposition or the parliamentary back benches it may be of limited use to him in government. It would be interesting to find out just why the two countries have become so vastly divergent in the two countries. And which, ultimately, begets the better strategies?

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