Harriet Walker: What counts as a 'proper job' anyway?

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Politicians are more like us than we ever knew: according to recent research, one in seven of them has never had a proper job. Well, hands up, neither have I – as commenters on this newspaper's website frequently like to remind me.

The rise of the "professional politician" is an ongoing storm in a hand-painted teacup. Those who move upward from the bowels of political parties as assistants and special advisers are deemed never to have experienced the pressing crush of career in the same way that other people have.

But what qualifies as a "real job" any more? Working among ministers and civil servants from an early point in one's career strikes me as singularly visceral – if anything, it stands one in good stead to deal with them from a higher vantage point later. Most of us complain about "office politics" in our own chosen paths; what is that in Westminster but the same issues writ large?

The likes of John Prescott and Arthur Scargill brought a certain knowledge to their posts. Their ilk has been succeeded, as society has evolved, by a viable modern alternative: MPs like Stella Creasy, who has a doctorate in social psychology, began as a youth worker and sat on the local council before claiming her seat in 2010, and David Lammy, who started out as a barrister before sitting on the London assembly and making it to the Commons.

These are our "professional politicians", surely – people who have been involved with the cause of social justice before making it their main focus. But the criticism more widely levelled at those in the House who haven't had "real jobs" pertains to a perception that, unless you have worked in the private sector, you are unfit to direct so much as an am-dram end of season panto.

"Proper" implies we're all out there getting our hands dirty. It's a fake argument created to fudge the fact that it's not our politicians who are ill-equipped to know what's best for the country, it's us.

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