Janet Street-Porter: Our politicians know nothing of real life

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The Independent Online

What sort of people become MPs? If Gordon Brown had called a general election, I wonder what would have happened to the guys and gals in the marginals who lost their seats? Are they actually employable in the real world, outside the hothouse atmosphere of Whitehall?

When you watch Prime Minister's Questions on the television, or listen to any of the Select Committees in action on Yesterday in Parliament on Radio 4, you have to wonder. Have you ever heard such a childish bunch of name-calling poseurs in your life? If they are not shouting at each other, they are interrogating our captains of industry like washed-up versions of Columbo, with all the incisiveness of a wet tea towel.

In a real job, you have to turn up at 9am or earlier, work at least an eight-hour day, don't get a protected pension, and have to produce sick notes if you take a day off. In Parliament, you can be self-obsessed and pompous, go on endless junkets in the name of "research", employ your wife as your secretary and claim loads of expenses.

There are no qualifications required to be an MP – all you have to do is convince your local party (or the person drawing up Mr Cameron's A list) that you are the right person, and that's it. We've had Tory candidates switch to Labour, we've had football mascots stand as candidates. We've even got Boris Johnson as the official Tory candidate for London, a man who delights in offensive remarks.

What we don't seem to be able to attract into politics are enough women, people from ethnic communities, anyone who has actually done a real job with any kind of responsibility. Quite correctly, they've worked out they would not fit in to the weird world of the modern parliamentarian.

Yesterday, I heard that only one in five MPs has any experience of the world of business – at a time when they are voting on changes in taxation that will affect small companies, and on private pension schemes that many of their constituents now see shrinking (while those paid to parliamentarians are protected). In short, you could argue that our parliamentary democracy is in the hands of a bunch of gifted amateurs.

Whenever you meet MPs, you can tell they are not of our world. They only watch television programmes like Newsnight that they might be on. They listen to Today on Radio 4 for the same reason. Stick a politician like Alan Johnson on Desert Island Discs and his taste in music is embarrassing.

In an attempt to bring them up to speed, a course about marketing designed specifically for MPs is being run by professionals this week. You might think that anyone in politics is already an expert at spin and PR, but one of the organisers claims the course gives MPs an understanding of good business practice, and what successful organisations need to deliver to their customers.

I took part in a debate in Bolton the other night, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce and attended by several hundred local business leaders. Former CBI chairman Sir Digby Jones was the star attraction – witty, articulate, and funny. A most unusual minister – but then he wasn't elected, but gained VIP entry into Gordon's new multi-talented big tent as our "skills envoy".

Perhaps MPs need a course in everyday living; things haven't been going swimmingly at the Commons since the officials who work there have been told to stand aside in the lifts, canteen queues and shops in order to let MPs go first. Nothing like democracy in action!

Feet off the desk, please

Is Natasha Kaplinsky worth £1m a year, the price Five News have allegedly stumped up for her to defect? It might have been cheaper to post viewers pound coins.

The BBC plans to save money by not replacing the over-groomed presenter and George Alagiah will be reading the autocue by himself at 6pm. I hope that, as a solo anchor, George will not perch on the desk to seem more viewer-friendly.

Current attempts to "personalise" news presentation are off-putting in the extreme. Anchors want to be taken seriously – hence Natasha's appearance on Who do You think You Are? and – horror of horrors – Huw Edwards' series about classical music on Radio 4.

* Kate McCann's mother says her daughter feels she is being "persecuted" by the media because she doesn't look sufficiently maternal. Her daughter remarked: "If I weighed another two stone, had a bigger bosom... then people would be more sympathetic".

Kate and Gerry McCann are attractive parents. Their missing daughter is beautiful. So were Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, murdered in Soham in 2002 – the photo of the girls in Manchester United football shirts was reproduced round the world. Eleven-year-old Rhys Jones, shot dead in Liverpool in August, was also beautiful, and his parents well-spoken and articulate. Like the McCanns, they endure the daily torment of not knowing who has ended their child's life.

The parents of Rhys, like the McCanns, have used the media to appeal for help in finding their son's killer, but they have kept a dignified silence on other matters. Kate McCann's mother should have kept quiet about her daughter's state of mind. It does not help the family's cause.