Iain Dale writes passionately about the financial perils of being a parliamentary candidate and he is right to do so. No matter how correct he is, I fear his warnings will fall on deaf ears as the issue of political recruitment is one where “the powers that be” make all the right noises without actually having any answers to it and, in some cases, making it more difficult for folk to get involved in politics.
David Cameron once said that he wanted a British Parliament that looked more like the people it represented. The public anger towards politicians is about more than just expenses and betrayed promises; I believe strongly that part of the issue is the kind of people that end up becoming MPs. More and more of our “representatives” are young, professional politicians. The MPs of old had the route through Oxbridge and then via Daddy’s firm; the new breed of politicians are the think tankers, the well connected, the party goers and those with the disposable income and location to put themselves at the centre of the action. Go out on the High Street near you and see how many people that pass you who look, sound or act like the average parliamentary candidate.
It isn’t just those without money , Iain. It’s those who live too far from London to attend the right parties. Those who have demanding jobs and cannot take weeks off to camp out at by-elections. Those who have family commitments which mean you can’t dump the kids and dash off to conferences here there and everywhere. Those who aren’t asked to pose for tattler or write for the Spectator. We have a new generation of those “born to be MPs”.
Forget “diversity” as you know it. Where are the MPs who were once firefighters? What about the computer programmers or the restaurant owners? Where are the teachers on the Tory side or the business leaders in the Labour ranks?
Answer me this.
Michael is an ambulance driver. He isn’t well paid and lives, with his wife and 3 kids, in a northern town. He works a full-time, usually 6 days a week, and takes pride in caring for his family and his young children in particular.
Is Michael the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament? If we do, what do you think his chances of getting selected and elected are?
Tom is a graduate from central London who earns a decent wage in a job that gives him flexi time and plenty of holidays. He is single and has no kids. He attends all of the party events and conference. Using this he knows the right people and has the time and effort to put into the leg work. Is Tom the kind of guy we want to stand for parliament? If we do, what do you think are his chances of getting selected and elected are?
If we want a representative parliament we need Michael and Tom in parliament. The trouble is that the system is so stacked against one of those candidates it isn’t just money we ought to be concerned about.
The cash rich have an advantage, yes, but so too do the time rich and the contact rich. And what do the party machines plan to do about this? Don’t hold your breath for anything to change too soon ... but we do need a national debate about how we support a more diverse group of people to stand for parliament and serve as our MPs.