From hack to MP: a blurring of the line

Is a journalist who becomes an MP - the ambition of Michael Gove of 'The Times' - really gaining that much power?

Michael Gove, Assistant Editor of 'The Times' and familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 4's 'The Moral Maze', was last week selected as the Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Surrey Heath at the next election. From journalist to politician is a well-trodden path. But what is the transition like? And how do the two worlds compare? We asked five of those who have done what Gove is aiming to do.

Ruth Kelly, Economic Secretary at the Treasury, Former economics writer, 'The Guardian'

Politics is hugely fulfilling, more fulfilling than journalism. It's more like a vocation than anything else. People go into politics because they want to make the world a better place. It sounds a bit trite to say that, but I believe it's true. There are really huge opportunities to make a difference in politics that you don't have in journalism. There are on the backbenches and, of course, there are in government. That's why it's so rewarding. In some respects, journalism is a good training for a politician. But politics does carry with it a tremendous amount of gossip and a great deal of emphasis on personalities rather than substance. That's something I very much regret about it.

Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe, Former radio journalist and president, National Union of Journalists

I love writing. My computer is full of articles in favour of Europe that I can't get published, perhaps because I was never a very good journalist, but I find being in government the most thrilling part of my working life. The chance to do something is infinitely more rewarding than the chance to write something. Those who can become government ministers - those who can't write about government ministers. In journalism and in politics, you find people fighting the same battles. I've heard far more vicious criticism of politicians from journalists than from other politicians. I've always regarded political activism and journalism as two sides of the same coin. Trevor Kavanagh [political editor of The Sun], a lobby journalist whom I hold in high regard, is a politician to his fingertips, with the overarching ideological aim of taking Britain out of Europe. If you look at the greatest politicians, such as Winston Churchill or Willy Brandt - or even Mussolini or Trotsky - they all started life as journalists and editors. Politicians who can't write will not convince.

Martin Bell, Served as an Independent MP for four years from 1997, Former foreign correspondent for the BBC

I found the transition a bit uncomfortable because some colleagues felt I'd crossed a line you shouldn't cross. I had no problem arguing that one. Anyone is free to stand for Parliament, and just because you are a journalist is no reason not to. As an MP I did find it useful having been in the media - you know who the ill-intentioned journalists are, and you know how to do the necessary soundbite. But I wouldn't say I ever played the media game - in four years in Parliament I only ever issued two press releases - and one of those was about a penny-farthing race. In many ways, politics and journalism are very similar worlds. They both attract rather driven, competitive people - the kind who feel it's not enough just to succeed - you have to do so at others' expense. As to whether one has more influence as an MP, I'm not sure. If you can be both - like Boris Johnson - it's obviously better than just being one or the other. I'd say Boris has far more influence as a journalist than as an MP. That's why there are so many politicians who are now writing columns in newspapers - I'm sure it's connected to the decline in the influence of the House of Commons. MPs are taking out their frustration at being marginalised.

Shona McIsaac, Labour MP for Cleethorpes, Former sub-editor on women's magazines, including 'Bella' and 'Chat'

Being an MP edges it over journalism on the fulfilment stakes because you get to change people's lives for the better. Since I was not exactly John Humphrys when I was in the media I have to say I have more power now. I know Humphrys thinks he's one of the most powerful people in the land. Life is far bitchier in the media - and the gossip is much better too. I knew more about what was going on in the Commons when I was outside. The media is a very good preparation for politics. It teaches you what matters to people and the effective use of language. My advice to Mr Gove would be: "Don't behave like a hack if you get here or you'll get torn to pieces."

Julie Kirkbride, Tory MP for Bromsgrove, Former political correspondent for 'The Daily Telegraph' and 'The Sunday Telegraph'

Journalism is great for throwing stones but not so good for actually doing anything. I wanted to be a doer not a scribbler. A backbench MP may have less power than a local councillor but even the most successful editor can't change things, whereas an MP has the possibility of becoming a minister. Both are rough rides, but MPs are more prone to personal attack. The editors' club mentality tends to protect journalists. Although getting your message across is vital, there is one way in which journalism isn't a terribly good preparation.

The ability to see something from all sides might be useful in a newspaper office or when drawing up a policy. But once the line is out, MPs must stick to it and that sort of tribal loyalty is more valued than one's power of analysis.

Interviews by Andy McSmith, Francis Elliott and Simon O'Hagan

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back