What sort of MPs do we want?

House of Commons

In 2011 a newly elected Labour councillor in Liverpool launched a vicious diatribe about the Coalition Government’s Cabinet. She claimed it could not work and understand what ordinary people thought because the majority of them had a private education. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Tony Blair’s first Cabinet had more privately educated members than David Cameron’s!
Last week we had the experience of Ed Milliband showing how worldly wise he was by pointing out that he has worked for a think tank and as a SPAD before becoming an MP! Well he might think that this is ‘outside’ work but I think it is all closed circle stuff. A political elite ensuring that a political elite gets elected. This is nothing new. 40 years when Mr. Speaker Wetherill first got elected to the House of Commons he was making use of the cubicles in the Gents when he heard two patrician voices discussing him. “The place has gone to the dogs”, one said to the other, “they’ve let my damned tailor in!”
I am making these points not as a party political one but as a note of despair in what is going to become a tedious election fought out sea by seat by apparatchik clones. Never mind where are the tailors? – where are the firefighters, joiners, business leaders, trades union leaders, council leaders, carers? In fact where are all the ordinary people who can bring to debates in the House a touch of realism and practicality which is so obviously missing in the quest for sound bites?What we   clearly have in all three main parties is a progression of people from private school to Oxbridge (or at least a red brick university) to think tank, to adviser to MP to Minister. If you think it is much different in the other Parties look at Farage. Someone who went to private school and ended up as a stock broker taking on the establishment – I don’t think so!
Look at the professions of the current Parliament. Are you depressed or impressed that the list is led by people from the legal profession? Are you impressed or depressed that there are only 6 MPs that seem to have a ‘trades-based’ life before becoming an MP? Are you impressed or depressed that the House is not reflective of the demographic balance of our nation in terms of not only profession but also race, gender and faith?
Frankly, I don’t know what can be done about this. All the political parties develop elites. They have to if they are to make policy and behave as a disciplined organization. Everyone discussing everything can only work when you are small and irrelevant. As the Green Party are now finding out the bigger they get – the more they will be scrutinized. The more they are scrutinized the more it is seen that their policies made with great democratic fervour don’t stand up to the harsh light of reality.
Perhaps we could have a primary system in which different people have the option to put themselves forward so that the electorate can make a first choice of the type of candidate that stands instead of just being able to vote for the product of the Party’s clique.
Perhaps we could change the terms of Parliament so that MPs couldn’t stand for more than 3 sessions so that being an MP would be seen less as a career than a vocation.
Perhaps we should institute a rule that all MPs should have no paid jobs other than being an MP. I really do not know how you can look after the needs of 100,000 people, take a due role in the legislative and scrutiny process and have outside business interests.
Perhaps there could be public funding to encourage people to understand the parliamentary system and get involved. We do that to encourage people to become councillors why not do it to encourage people to become MPs.
So I admit to an element of failure in this. I see the problem but I cannot readily see an answer. But it is a problem. Turn-outs are dropping the whole time for both national and local elections. When I first got elected to the Council in 1975 the average turnout in Liverpool for a local election was 60%+ now it is about 30%. I am sure that the reason many people do not vote is that they do not see anyone like them standing. They see people with at best sympathy for the concerns that they have but certainly no empathy.
I am pleased that these factors do not apply for the Lib Dems in Liverpool.
In West Derby we are putting up Paul Twigger a former Councillor who now runs a successful business.
In Walton we are putting up Pat Moloney a former councillor and former shop steward who now represents employees on a pension fund.
In Garston & Halewood we are putting up Anna Martin who runs a business in Garston.
In Riverside we are putting up Paul Childs who works as a steward for a major international airline.
The only slight difference is in Wavertree where we have got Leo Evans standing. Leo is a politics undergraduate from Northern Ireland, studying at Liverpool Uni, and is 20. He may be the youngest Lib Dem candidate in the Country.
I wonder if I am the only one worried about the creation of a political super class in the UK. Please tell me what you think. Even better tell me what solutions you have!!

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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One Response to What sort of MPs do we want?

  1. Nonconformistradical says:

    “Never mind where are the tailors? – where are the firefighters, joiners, business leaders, trades union leaders, council leaders, carers? ”

    Or the scientists – apart from Julian Huppert.

    “Perhaps we could change the terms of Parliament so that MPs couldn’t stand for more than 3 sessions so that being an MP would be seen less as a career than a vocation.”

    I really don’t see why someone who has demonstrated their competence as an MP over 3 terms should be denied the right to put themselves before the electorate for a 4th term or more. It is denying the electorate their free choice. That MP might, after all be the best MP in Parliament.

    “Perhaps we should institute a rule that all MPs should have no paid jobs other than being an MP. I really do not know how you can look after the needs of 100,000 people, take a due role in the legislative and scrutiny process and have outside business interests. ”

    I’m inclined to agree in principle – it might also help to cut out those people who don’t understand that the job of an MP involves a considerable element of public service.

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