Politics as profession

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It is no more than coincidence, of course. But just as Japan shows signs of opening up its entrenched political system, there comes evidence that we in Britain are developing our own self-perpetuating political elite. A new study shows that a significant proportion of the next intake of MPs will have come up through politics alone, with scant experience of any other walk of life.

In one way the figures are unsurprising. To be selected as a parliamentary candidate in a party-political system, a party pedigree is likely to be necessary. What appears to be changing is that party activism is less and less a sideline for prospective candidates and more and more their main source of experience and employment. Among Conservatives, almost one in three candidates have worked either in Parliament or for a political party.

Becoming an MP, it seems, is developing its own career track that leads from university to a job with a party organisation or think-tank, thence to a parliamentary office, and finally to election as an MP. And the implications are obvious: the more fixed an MP's career path, the fewer opportunities there will be for others to join later. It will be like training for any other job.

Some might say this does not matter; that professionalisation is a general trend in the modern world and that political skills have to be honed, like any others. What surely does matter, however, is that those who have eyes only for the Westminster prize, may forget that they are elected to represent us, the voters, not to further their own interests. The wider their experience of the outside world – "our" world – the better qualified they should be to legislate on our behalf.

From time to time – the creation of the SDP was one such moment, the recent Conservative Party primary another – politicians seem to sense a need to reconnect with voters. To many people, the expenses scandal, along with MPs' complaints about their pay, proved how detached the honourable members had become from the way their constituents lived. A large pay rise, though, might only encourage the career-track tendency. Broadening representation in the Commons will be more difficult than it looks.

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