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Harriet Walker: What's so great about 'proper jobs'? And do they even exist?


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 august website frequently like to remind me.

The rise of the "professional politician" is an ongoing storm in a hand-painted teacup that spills over every so often, mainly when we feel those representing us in Westminster have lost touch with reality. 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. Having tasted only the backstabbing, stress and RSI of working in or around Parliament all their adult lives, goes the argument, they can't possibly know of the struggles encountered by the rest of the country.

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?

Union men like John Prescott and Dennis Skinner brought a certain knowledge to their posts. As society has evolved, the modern intake have a viable 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.

What about David Cameron, who used to work as Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton television? If anything, his time working in the "real world" has left him significantly less qualified to run the country than if he had been in a think-tank or behind the scenes in Westminster during those years. Pressing media palms will get you into office but it won't expand your political literacy or give you the view from the ground.

And that's before you even consider that very few of us even do a "proper job" now anyway. Working in an office, a call centre, uploading data or selling people things they don't need? "Proper" implies we're all out there getting our hands dirty, while jobs become more abstract than ever and figures state our collars are now more white than they are blue anyway.

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.

Creepy-crawling all over me...

If the world is going to end in 2012, perhaps the current plague of creepy-crawlies is our first warning. I've had flies the size of jumbo raisins hurling themselves against my windows, moths feasting on everything I hold dear, and brazen snails who scale the walls and try to come in the window to watch telly with me.

I had to scoop one off the lintel with a Kettle Chip in the end, feeling blessed that I had not, as my friend recently did, discovered him and his sluggy mates nestling in the kitchen sink. But I was even chased down the street by a bumble bee as big as a rolled pair of socks last night.

Where have they all come from? And when will they all go away? Never mind the Olympic hordes, I'm being crowded out of my own flat.