Career politicians take over Commons

Author: By Andy McSmith

The survey of 782 prospective parliamentary candidates ? 94 per cent of those selected so far, excluding sitting MPs ? shows that a greater than ever number are political professionals who have gone directly from university into a political job as an adviser or researcher, and are now in line to enter Parliament.

One in three Conservative candidates are employed full time as party functionaries or MPs’ advisers despite David Cameron’s efforts to recruit more MPs with real-life experience of the world over which they will legislate.

In May, Mr Cameron announced that he was re-opening the Conservatives’ candidates list, making it open even to those who were not paid-up party members, in the hope that fewer “robots” would be elected to Parliament.

The one cheering piece of news for Mr Cameron in the survey compiled by the New Local Government Network think-tank is that 46 per cent of Conservative Party candidates have a business background compared to just 18 per cent of Labour candidates.

But given how many people are employed in business in the country as a whole, compared with the numbers working full time in politics, the figures suggest that the surest way into Parliament is to follow a career path like that of Mr Cameron, or the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

Mr Cameron went straight from university into a job at the Conservative Research Department when he was 21, and has held only one job outside politics, with Carlton Television. Mr Miliband joined the Labour think-tank, IPPR, when he was 24, and went from there to Tony Blair’s private office before being selected for Parliament.

The research shows that almost a third of the next batch of Conservatives and more than a quarter of Labour candidates have taken similar paths. On the Tory side, 18 per cent work for the party and another 12 per cent are working for MPs. The figures for Labour are 14 per cent and 12 per cent.

The full-time professional politician is a relatively new phenomenon in British life. In 1950, when a Labour government was battling for re-election, an Oxford academic named Herbert Nicholas carried out a detailed survey of the professional backgrounds of the Conservative and Labour candidates, and could find only what he called an “irreducible minimum” of fewer than 30 out of more than 1,200 “whose entire life had been so soaked in politics that no other label would have meaning for them,” including Winston Churchill and Herbert Morrison, grandfather of the current Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson.

They were easily outnumbered by 37 coal miners running for Labour, or 39 Conservative candidates whose inherited wealth meant that they had not had to work at all.

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