“Nor was it her disconcerting resemblance to Ruth Kelly…”

I was speaking to a member of the House of Lords last week, who reckons this expenses scandal (which is still trundling on btw) may have prematurely ended the careers of up to 200 parliamentarians. The draconian rules now being brought in, are also having the undesireable effect of ramping up the continuing homogenisation (and venalisation, if there is such a word) of parliamentary politics, by rooting out anyone who earns money from anything other than politics. As Matthew Engels, no man’s fool, notes of the ‘historic’ Norwich North Bye election:

The voters of Norwich North could hardly have elected anyone who was more of an obvious recruit to the old politics. In her short adult life, their new MP has worked in the Cabinet Office and for three Tory politicians, one of whom, Baroness Shephard, met her when she was 16. “She made no secret of the fact that she wanted to be an MP,” said Baroness Shephard. If Ms Smith is a poster girl for anything, it is for that dismal political class who dominate Westminster and have achieved stuff-all anywhere else. Being only 27, she is an extreme case.

More soberly, he points out the underlying reality of Norwich is rather more unstable than the Conservatives returning to their pomp:

Fifty years ago Britain had an electorate that was intensely committed to parliamentary democracy, voted overwhelmingly for the two main parties and shifted from one to the other with remarkable uniformity.

We now have an apathetic and alienated electorate that regards its politicians with contempt, associates democracy with reality television rather than the ballot box and moves in mysterious ways that vary wildly from one part of the UK to another.

Despite a method of election that overwhelmingly favours the two main parties, we now have what is effectively an eight-party system (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, two lots of Nationalists, the Greens, UK Independence party and the British National Party) even excluding the Irish and the local insurgents who have emerged recently in places as diverse as Tatton and Blaenau Gwent.

The most likely outcome is that Mr Cameron will be in Downing Street a year from now. But the most important potential game-changer lies in Labour hands – firing Gordon Brown. And a long, fascinating, unpredictable political season lies between now and the election. Ms Smith’s triumph changes that not one iota.

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  • Zoon Politikon

    Interesting article by Matthew Engels. It seems by manipulating the system the minority of the politicos have caused the see-saw to tip to the other extreme. I doubt very much if these are Draconian conventional rules but they do highlight and ring fence a new class of persons: that being the political class.
    Do we want someone like Ian Paisley; someone with baggage and life experience, or someone born into the Westminster village scene?

  • Brenno

    Zoon Politikon –
    Do we want someone like Ian Paisley; someone with baggage and life experience, or someone born into the Westminster village scene?

    Ah, Jaysus, Zoon but there’s more in between those two extremes/ Even in this, currently reviled parliament there are ex-teachers, lawyers, doctors, postmen, soldiers, trade unionists, businessmen, distinguished academics, policemen, DJs, etc, etc.

    This is not an exhaustive list but it shows that parliament can still be a cauldron of a wide spectrum wider experience, skill and talent.

    I agree that the current trend for a ‘political class’ is disturbing. I have been active in London young Labour politics for about three years. It has disheartened me a lot that pretty much all my peers in the party are involved in political jobs, spend all their time campaigning, and have as much craic as a wet Sunday afternoon in the Outer Hebrides. Of the Conservatives/ Lib Dems I’ve met, they are not much better.

    As much as political diligence is important in keeping parties moving, I think that all these future MPs, advisers, researchers etc are missing out on the real world life experience that allows our leaders to make the judgement calls that good governance demands.

    The classic example is the Ten Pence tax row: an idea which seemed smart at the time as a way to subsidise a tax cut for the middle class. But out of all the tens of people who worked on crafting the policy, was there anyone who had real experience of living on the Minimum Wage? If any of these buggers had any experience of what it is like to struggle in a poorly paid cafe job, do you not think they might have gone, “Hold on here..”

    It took Labour Mps, from the real world (a la Frank Field) to pull them up.

  • Zoon Politikon

    I was being Devilish I must admit. The classes of persons you state are put off for some reason, probably because they can make more money elsewhere and for less hassle; who can blame them: e.g. Retired Colonel Tim Collins OBE for instance, however I note TV personality and Childline founder Esther Rantzen has thrown her hat into the ring. I am sure our local politicos will criticise the latter to court the populist vote here since the penny has now dropped that a few are not principled but would sell they granny to get elected.

  • cynic

    Brown is only half the problem. The other half is a morally and intellectually bankrupty Labour Party. We ares tuck with Zombie Government where the political undead roam Westminister waiting to for release

  • Drumlins Rock

    I agree about their being too many career politicians, how many of Labours new face were true socialists in the last (oops sorry still current) government many just saw which was the party on the up, and the same story goes with the new tory party, I think politicians should have at least 5 yrs in the real world, and political degrees should be scrapped!
    There is only one thing worse than a career politician that a celebrity politician, tell me would you vote for a woman who is promoting ambulance chasing lawyers?

  • sj1

    Why doesn’t one party use the slogan ‘change’ and be done with it. Renaming and rebranding old merchandise is definitely the in thing in politics now-a-days. In the health service too, and in the police, everywhere we look. (Here is a trolley on a corridor, lets call it a bed,and extend the ward out into the corridor. Here are crime figures that are well manipulated, lets make things look better than they are, unemployment figures too.) We could even have a re-run of the American election on our screens, and not notice the difference. For all this talk of ‘new politics’, and ‘change’, its looks more like ‘same old same old’. Or is it same song different singer.

    How about, calling a spade a spade, and giving some honesty, or better still vote for Esther Rantzen, same as MT except for the teeth….????

    British democracy with no sleaze, as someone said in an episode of the wire, ‘lets show them third world fuckers how its done’.

    Word verification ‘soviet’.

  • meet the new boss
  • Get real Mick

    An unelected member of the house of lords “regrets the continuing homogenisation (and venalisation, if there is such a word) of parliamentary politics. ”

    You could not make this up! Kick me if I am wrong but is there a more homogenisation or whatever the bloody word is) chamber that the UK house of Lords. All the members are from the same unsavory bottle. Perhaps you should have told them to F—- off and try that three card trick eleswhere.

    It is perfectly possible to have full time MP’s from all walks of life, the reason we do not is Blair/Brown and Cameron insist on having clones of themselves selected as candidates.

    Norwich Tory candidate, I rest my case.

  • sj1

    Mick, it looks to me, like the lords member was merely saying that sleaze had ended up costing 200 careers, the added on bit is Mick’s view, at least that is how it reads to me.

    It is perfectly possible to have full time MP’s from all walks of life, the reason we do not is Blair/Brown and Cameron insist on having clones of themselves selected as candidates

    Mick, the leaders of the parties do not select candidates, theres usually a committee of party members.

  • Mick, the leaders of the parties do not select candidates, theres usually a committee of party members.

    SJ1
    If only life was as simple as that, a year or so before the last two general elections were called, a number of MP’s who had safe labour seats had a phone call from downing street, suggesting if they retired they could have a seat in the Lords, all the PM asks in return is you recommend ‘this’ candidate to your local party.

    Or

    A young woman of 26 with no work experiences beyond working in the conservative leaders office, is offered a winnable Tory seat. What made her such an attractive candidate, her blonde hair, her vast political experience, or perhaps a life time of working in business, or could the party chairman have had a phone call from the party leader, enquiring how his good lady was, perhaps if you up in town we could have lunch in parliament, oh by the way Mr Chair about young Samantha etc, etc.

    or

    You could do worse than look at the biogs of the younger ministers in Browns government, amongst them,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Balls

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Miliband

    Need I go on?

    OK the name of the woman SFs Gerry Adams parachuted into a winnable seat.

    Or

    The wife of a successful author who contributed a sizable lump of wedge to a certain political party, hey presto his wife gains the nomination in a safe seat.

    I’m sure all of the above are wicked lies, whatever next, politicians telling lies about their expenses, an outrageous slander I’m sure.

  • AskJeeves

    I agree about their being too many career politicians, how many of Labours new face were true socialists in the last (oops sorry still current) government many just saw which was the party on the up, and the same story goes with the new tory party, I think politicians should have at least 5 yrs in the real world, and political degrees should be scrapped!

    Now now there’s a very clever fellow on the Northern ireland political scene who just got his politics degree (with Modern History). He got third class honours and is off to work for a high profile DUP politician. That party is just bursting with talent

  • cynic

    Do we really want MPs who are truely representative of their constituents?