Letter from the Political Correspondent: Though often hard to believe, our politicians do do more than conduct slanging matches in the House of Commons


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There is so much more to politics  than the unseemly shouting match  into which Prime Minister’s Questions often descends. Unfortunately, that is the aspect of parliamentary life that the public sees most often. It conveys the impression that there is no point in entering the alien world of Parliament unless you are armed with exaggerated self-confidence that a private education and early training in university debating societies can give you.

If that were all there is to politics, it might not matter that a third of the current crop of MPs, and almost a third of candidates in winnable seats, are drawn from the seven per cent of the population who have been privately educated.

Actually, braying across a crowded debating chamber is only a tiny part of what MPs do, and by  no means the most important. The  best MPs spend countless hours helping constituents with every- day problems, or helping scrutinise  proposed new legislation line by  line, or contributing to the detailed  reports compiled by select committees, or fighting good causes.

To do this well, it is not necessary to be the master of cutting repartee. What the work requires is a sympathetic understanding of how people live and what they want from government. No one needs to have been a pupil at Eton College or to have read PPE at Oxford University to acquire that basic wisdom.

If too many MPs come from the same small section of the community – whichever community that is – then attitudes and forms of self-expression that appear rather odd or downright unsympathetic to most people will seem normal inside the confines of Parliament.

The political system we live in is called representative democracy, but we are far too short of representatives whose experience of life is closer to what counts in most people’s eyes as normal.