It occurred to me in the wake of my recent post about politicians holding down other jobs whilst acting as MPs that my views might be held to be inconsistent with my oft-expressed contempt for professional politicians, so I thought I had better clarify why in my view there is no inconsistency.
I think it is extremely useful that MPs have significant experience of life outside the political bubble before they enter Parliament. It seems clear from the frankly bizarre tax legislation that frequently emerges from Whitehall that both MPs and senior civil servants have only a passing acquaintance with the real financial and economic world that faces those of us who run small businesses, and that intellectual niceties appear to count for more in drafting legislation than a practical, common sense approach.
Also, the world of politics strikes me as a frankly very odd place indeed. The modern 24-hour news media and consequent endless demand for a story has led to a regrettable tendency for governments always to want to do something, or more accurately to be seen to be doing something. Indeed, quite often it appears that they are happier to be seen to do anything, however irrelevant or counter-productive, than nothing. If the country is crying out for anything at the moment it is crying out for some stability, to be allowed to get on with the difficult process of emerging from our double-dip recession without being faced with constant changes to legislation and bureaucracy.
In my own field of taxation we are currently ‘enjoying’ the early stages of what threatens to be a disastrous transition from tax credits and various other benefits to Universal Credit, under a system that appears to have been designed by someone intent on creating the maximum inconvenience for small businesses. Recently in Taxation, respected national insurance expert David Heaton issued heartfelt one word plea to government: “Stop!” Stop the endless legislation, regulation, tinkering, political posturing and sound bites, and just do what is necessary to get the country onto, and keep it on, an even keel.
The big problem with people who have been inured too long in the political bubble is that they think that what they do is vitally important, and that they can successfully micro manage the economy and all other aspects of life in the UK. They are ‘busy fools’, who would be much better advised taking a step back and applying a gentle and occasional hand to the tiller rather than the constant heavy hand of regulation and interference.
By and large I think people who have experienced the other end of this process, perhaps in another context what David Lloyd George memorably referred to as “the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe”, have a better understanding of how counter-productive and frankly annoying it is to be on the end of ‘big government’. Also, I think it is easier for the electorate to relate to the achievements of Parliamentary candidates outside politics than inside, and thus easier for them to elect the appropriate person to represent their interests.
If someone has, for example, run a successful business, held down a responsible job, brought up a family in difficult circumstances or faithfully cared for a sick relative over a significant period, it is much easier for a voter to relate to what that means than to relate to the life experience of someone who has been a political researcher, political agent or private secretary to a senior politician. Certainly I would always be inclined to vote for a candidate, of whatever party, who I felt had significant credible experience of real life in this country.
However, having considerable experience of the rich tapestry of life before becoming an MP is very different to continuing to do so after becoming an MP. If MPs believe that their role is so important (and they do) then it must be a role to which they are prepared to devote the whole of their working lives, without distractions. No-one is forcing them to be MPs, and if they want to do it badly enough then they will make the necessary sacrifice in terms of business, job etc.
And of course, if we are attracting the right quality of person to be MPs, they will be of sufficient calibre to find their way successfully back into ‘ordinary’ life again when and if their constituents grow tired of them. And if someone who aspires to be MP does not have the self-confidence to believe in their ability to achieve this, then I will save them the trouble by not voting for them.
It inevitably goes along with this that we should pay our MPs properly, which we do not do at present. And if we did that, we might even solve the recurring issues of MPs expenses, as well as attracting a higher calibre of candidate to Parliamentary elections. I mistrust people who regard politics as a career, not least because when they lose their seats they are likely to be fish out of water in the real world. So give me candidates who have proved themselves outside the Westminster bubble, and I believe they will give us better government than we enjoy at pres