Paddy: So you want to be a politician? Get a life (first).

That’s Paddy’s view, as reported in the Independent’s diary here:

Paddy Ashdown, the first leader of the Liberal Democrat party, has remarked on how politics has been taken over by people who have never had a job anywhere else but in politics, giving the strong impression that he does not approve. “The difference with politics today, and politics when I was leader of the Liberal Democrats, is the people working in politics,” he said. “I worked in the military. I was involved in business. I have been unemployed twice, working as a voluntary youth worker. Today’s politicians have simply only ever been politicians.”

Of course not every politician has Paddy’s rather exceptional CV, as his fascinating memoirs demonstrated. But at the 1992 general election, all three main party leaders had held jobs previously unconnected with politics: John Major as an executive at Standard Chartered Bank, and Neil Kinnock as a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association. Even Tony Blair had worked as a barrister before becoming an MP.

The media yesterday was full of snarky references to David Cameron ‘chillaxing’ on Sundays, as if the prime minister should detach himself from any sense of an ordinary life balancing work and family. Of all the concerns I have about Mr Cameron as PM, this is the very least of them — it is the thin homogeneity of our leading politicians’ (in)experience which is much more concerning.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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38 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 20th May '12 - 12:46pm

    I have noted before that having a career before politics is something that distinguishes Vince Cable and Chris Huhne from most other LD MPs – is it a coincidence that these two have been consistently regarded as the “heavy hitters”?

  • Paul Reynolds 20th May '12 - 1:02pm

    I agree strongly. Well I would, wouldn’t I ? ha ha. But there are two very delicate and diificult questions for the LibDems. First, whether being an unpaid Councillor for 10 years is regarded as having a job outside politics or inside politics. Second, what do we do about it ? It’s very tricky topic indeed – how the party improves the quality of it’s psrkiamentary candidates. The two questions are closely linked, of course. Experience does not necessarily equal quality, obviously, and to a great extent PPCs can be trained in key policy issues and the machinery of government. Can we buck the general cross-party trend towards populists who, when Ministers, can only really ever be PR spokespeople for the civil service establishment ?

  • Richard Dean 20th May '12 - 1:17pm

    Sure it’s good to know what it’s like to work for a company, be unemployed, be in an NHS hospital, get arrested, etc. It’s also good to travel, to live in a 3rd world slum without hope, to experience the victim end of prejudice. But these experiences have limitations – they are unique, personal, and they don’t cover everything. Everyone can’t be farmer, but politicians may need to take decisions that affect farmers. Not everyone wants to get divorced just to know how it works.

    Politics is life too, and has its own set of unique skills. Developing vision. Balancing the short, medium, and long term, and the local, regional, national, continental, and global scales. Making fair decisions when information is uncertain and many around you are there for self-interest only and are quite willing to distort your perceptions of reality. Identifying interest groups. Building consensus. Getting elected. Handling opposition, abuse, the press. Identifying self-sustaining options.

    A lot of what people “know” isn’t from experience anyway – most of what we read in newspapers or see on TV is a mediated experience, and even if not, is not a direct personal experience of the actual thing at all. While it seems obvious that some experience outside politics is very useful, it’s far from the whole story. And politicians surely can learn from listening and interacting with non-politicians. Or can they?

  • If we want politicians with non-political experience as leaders, then we either need to accept politicians with less political experience, or older leaders.

    Ed Miliband, for instance, did a three-year degree, a two-year taught masters, so that’s 23 before he started work. He was working as a special advisor by 27, and leader at 40.

    Nick Clegg also did five years between finishing school and completing his education (gap year, three years at Cambridge, one-year diploma in Minnesota). He also became leader at 40, and got his first political job (at the European Commission) at 26.

    David Cameron was 39 when he became leader, and got his first political job at 21, straight out of University, though he did work outside politics for Carlton from 28 to 34.

    So, in each case, they had 13-14 years political experience (ie of politics as a full-time job) when they became leader.

    Paddy, by contrast, was 47 when elected leader and had only five years in professional politics behind him – that’s how he found the time to do so much else first.

    Blair was 42 when elected leader, with 12 years in professional politics – he was a practising barrister for about five years.

    If you’re going to elect someone at 40 or so, and you’re going to want at least a first degree and 12 years of professional political experience, then you only leave about seven years to do anything else. With the rise in postgraduate eduction, many more of those of the calibre to become party leaders will be spending at least two of those years doing a masters than was the case in the past, and many other careers have a couple of years’ postgraduate education before you really get started (e.g. law is normally three now if you did an LLB or four if you did a non-law first degree).

    If you have a normal career and you don’t become a full-time politician until being elected MP in your mid-to-late thirties (giving enough time to have a real life first), then 12 years in politics means that you’ll be around 50 when you’re ready to stand for leader.

    It’s also the case that it’s pretty good for politics to have some MPs in their twenties, but they will inevitably have no experience of the working world outside politics. Unless they leave to develop some non-political experience, then they will become older MPs with no experience outside politics. Of the six former Babies of the House in the post-war Liberals/Lib Dems, two became party leader (Kennedy and Steel), two left front-line politics in their forties (Taylor and Alton), one and we wait to see what happens to Sarah Teather and Jo Swinson. Roy Jenkins was also a former Baby of the House.

    I’m not sure that many would argue that David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Roy Jenkins needed more extra-political experience.

  • Simon McGrath 20th May '12 - 2:53pm

    “I’m not sure that many would argue that David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Roy Jenkins needed more extra-political experience.”

    Roy Jenkins served as a captain in the Royal Artillery and at Bletchley Park during WW2.
    Hes case rather supports the point Paddy is making.

  • Keith Browning 20th May '12 - 4:58pm

    I find it interesting that the 40 somethings now think they are mature enough to run the country. That wasn’t true in previous generations and you have to go back to when life expectancy was under 40 for a similar situation to have occured in the political process.

    It could be why so many of the government policy is naive in the extreme – born of lack of understanding of the real world. We obviously need a range of people and experiences, or perhaps it isn’t obvious to the ones who want to short circuit their careers by missing out on the time consuming stuff – the experience.

    We need ability, experience and good judgement in our politicians but ability and judgement on their own is worth very little without experience of what policy decisions mean in practice.

  • tony dawson 20th May '12 - 5:24pm

    @richard gadsden:

    ““I’m not sure that many would argue that David Steel, Charles Kennedy and Roy Jenkins needed more extra-political experience.”

    Simon M has referred to Roy’s extra-political experience. Both Steel and Kennedy were far better parliamentarians than they were leaders. Maybe a bit of broader experience might have made the difference?

  • Richard Dean 20th May '12 - 5:41pm

    We only have one reality to judge by. While the 40-somethings might be making a mess, it doesn’t follow that the 50- or 60- somethings would have done better. One thing a mess needs is energy and flexibility to clear it up. Maybe those older folk would’ve done much worse.

    It strikes me that some of responsibilities of democratic politicians are not ones that people get much experience of outside politics. While everyone has experience of the NHS, and managers even have experience of managing, some of the political decisions are [or should be] of a different type altogether, such as about mission, accountability, fundability, electoral acceptability.

    For these decisions, the relevant training needs may be different, and the experience of politics might be as essential, if not more so, than the experience of life outside politics.

  • Keith Browning 20th May '12 - 7:34pm

    @ Richard Dean

    The irony is that 80 year olds now behave like old 65s, 70 year olds behave like 60s and 65s like 50 year olds.

    However, something has gone into a reverse time warp somewhere as the new 40s are now trying to behave like the old 60s. Can you imagine having to put up with Cameron and his gang for another forty years.

    Will DC and the gang like being usurped by a load of 30 something ‘Facebook’ millionaires?

  • The problem I have is that I don’t feel that Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Ed Miliband can represent me in any way but name. I don’t have a problem with their living elite lives and being educated at elite institutions per se, the problem I have is that without experience of the world most people have to deal with, I don’t trust that they actually recognise, understand or genuinely sympathise with the needs, wants of most people. Now I am not saying I do either, but they are meant to represent the country. To me, and to many others as well I think, it seems that they only share the concerns of a fairly homogeneous elite.

    Men like Clement Attlee went into politics with a purpose, and men such as Harold Macmillian led others in the trenches. I genuinely wonder why exactly Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Ed Miliband went into politics? What can be their aims apart from simply ‘achieving’ something more for themselves? I am sure that they do have some ideological views, but I just don’t think their politics is as ‘real’ as the politics of men like Attlee or Macmillan or even Magaret Thatcher. Perhaps I am merely being bigoted and cliched, but it just seems primarily more of a profession or a game for them.

  • @Richard Dean
    I’m rather surprised by your selections for “different type”. Assuming you aren’t and haven’t been a politician, are you saying that you’ve never been in a job that required focus on a mission, accountability (in the real sense – i.e. being out on your ear if something goes wrong, as opposed to the political sense which seems to be a resignation and big pay off). As for fundability, perhaps experience in the real world where things have to be funded from sources other than the tax payer money tree may help politicians. Electoral acceptability could probably be taught by focus groups and advisors, but why not get a real feel by spending time on planet earth as opposed to planet politics?

  • John Roffey 20th May '12 - 9:46pm

    The experience that age brings must be a great advantage to a leader of a political party and to a prime minister – the ambition of most party leaders.

    Quite what that should be depends on the individual. However, since it is important to have a family to be sufficiently rounded to understand the difficulties of the people, ideally all of the children should have at least reached secondary school.

    Young families are too demanding to allow full attention be directed towards the very serious job of party leader or PM. This can be offset if the individual’s partner is prepared to take virtually all responsibility for the children’s upbringing.

    It can only be seen as insulting to the electorate and to the nation, if a cabinet minister, particularly at critical times, chooses to be a ‘modern father’ and views their parenting responsibilities equal to those of the job they have accepted. Generally this will push the necessary age towards 50.

    It would also be useful if those wishing to rise to the top had direct experience in the activities they hope to administer. Health – working hands-on porter, for 3-6 months, in a busy hospital.

    Home Office – 3-6 months stint with the police, out on the beat on Friday or Saturday night in an inner city patch.

    Foreign Office – lengthy period working with a charity in some badly disadvantaged location. Or perhaps working with GJW for a year -lobbying on behalf of Col. Gaddafi!

    Defence – 3-6 months on the front line of a conflict we are engaged in.

    MEP helping Greek pensioners search rubbish dumps for food and living on the resultant meals for a few months!

  • Jonathan Walls 20th May '12 - 9:49pm

    @Richard Dean

    What you describe as skills “unique” to politics are in fact highly transferable skills. They’re usually put in a single bucket labelled something like “general management”, and are highly sought after in most if not all industries.

    The notion that they’re unique to politics is, perhaps, an example of how insular the field as become. That can only make it that much harder for politicians to see the world through their constituents’ eyes.

  • I am a great fan of Paddy, but this is demoralising and dis-heartening. (Declaring an interest, though I do have a job and a life outside politics.) These statements almost (almost) seem to value age above reason, logic and liberty; something I would have thought Paddy would have valued. And considering how powerful his speeches against vested interests in the past few weeks have been, this surprised me; and if he didn’t mean it to be about age, then he did not clarify this enough.

    On the wider point of age which seems to be being discussed in the comments, ‘my’ generation, for what it is worth, will rarely own property, suffer drastically reduced pensions, a diminshed health service and undermined society all to support the profligacy of the last few decades, so I really do wish we had more young [and more old] politicians, and fewer homogenous 40-something MPs protecting their unsustainable assets.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th May '12 - 10:16pm

    @Rebecca Hanson: ‘The situation in education is worse than average. The canyon between policy, government and anyone at all with ability or credibility in education is vast. Who the heck is advising Nick Clegg at the minute or is he just personally making it up as he goes along – which is rather what it sounds like – and in the process aligning himself with those on the other side of the canyon?’

    I couldn’t agree more, though I contrast the incoherence, incompetence and bully-boy tactics of schools policy under this Secretary of State, supported by our Leadership, (particularly enthusiastically by David Laws), with the excellent Sarah Teather, who is doing a grand job for Early Years Education.

  • When people say things like “politicians need more real life experience” the near-universal subtext is @and then they would agree with me about what the best policies are”.

    Of course, the problematic thing is that a whole lot of people with a whole lot of very different policy ideas all believe that simultaneously. They can’t all be right 🙂

    If a doctor is going to operate on my kidney I don’t want him to have spent 10 years running a corner shop and gaining “real life experience” before studying medicine, I just want him to know everything there is to know about kidney operations.

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 1:10am

    I agree with Catherine. I suppose the political analogue of kidney operations might be the operation of bringing together and making sense and agreements and decisions with the “whole lot of people with a whole lot of very different policy ideas all believe [they have the best policies] simultaneously”.

    That does seem to require a unique combination of skills, knowledge, and experience. It does seem to suggest that the best approach is get people started in politics young. Politics may have some similarities with actions in industry, but is not the same – for instance you can’t fire the electorate or change who your customers are.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st May '12 - 5:26am

    Brilliant and entertaining debate ! I especially love the idea that experience outside politics has little value for politicians. This is a winderful concept. For example, this would apply to civil servants’ experience, the experience of some SPADs, the experience of those on policy reviews or helping parliamentary committees. It has a house-of-cards fkavour about it. Or maybe more ‘Matrix’. But most importantly it implies that if an individual has bad experience of poor or poorly managed government services (eg NHS, the courts…) then that experience is irrelevant and should be cast aside in pursuit of the civil servants’ and politician’s plans.

    The key point however is that experience in a politician enables her or him to spot the unintended negative consequences of ‘perfect’ policy, and to empatise with those who are victims of state incompetence or self-interest. Politicians, inckuding ministers, are representatives of the population, not representatives of the bureaucracy. That is why we are liberal democratic not socialists or nationalists.

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 6:54am

    Sometimes in industry we explore propoals by looking at their opposites, I wonder therefore whether experience outside politics might actually be positively damaging?

    All experience is limited, so to use it is to run the risk of genealizing from a special, unrepresentative case. For instance, my moher was given the wrong blood after a routine NHS operation and nearly died. But this does not mean the entire NHS is a shambles, and it gives me no wisdom at all in spotting what the unintended consequences will be of changes in the way the NHS is managed – though obviously I can imagine what one might be.

    Most experience can also be limiting, even misleading. My good experience as a university student in a familiy of university students may limit my understanding of what it’s like to be on the dole from 16 to 21. My friend who was out of work for three years now owns a successful small business and claims that being out of work really motivated her to succeed. As a politician, should I now welcome an increase in unemployment ?

    Any worthwhile HR manager in a big company will pro-actively design the experience that its high flyers are given. The aim of the design is to produce individuals who have the knowledge needed to drive the business forward, and the right mindset. What kind of experience should we design for future politicians?

  • John Roffey 21st May '12 - 7:52am

    @ Paul Reynolds

    ‘Politicians, inckuding ministers, are representatives of the population, not representatives of the bureaucracy’.

    I agree entirely, however, this does not seem to be a very popular concept amongst LD’s generally. If it were the Party would not be heading for significant losses at the next GE – but for significant gains!

    http://theghostofthomaspaine.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/there-is-no-way-back-for-representative-democracy-in-its-present-form/

    Under this system – Jeremy Hunt would have been cross questioned by his constituents, early on, and if he could not give satisfactory answers to those about his relationship with NI – he would have been kicked out as their MP.

    Democracy in action!

  • I’m not convinced that a life outside politics is necessarily beneficial to any given politician, but I’m quite convinced that a political class composed mostly of politicians without such experience is harmful to our democracy.

  • Keith Browning 21st May '12 - 8:27am

    No-one said life experiences had to be about jobs. Interesting that the ‘loads a money’ culture is all about experience in business and making money. Surely experience of life is about being alive during landmark events, both man-made and natural. Reading about them in a text book at Eton isn’t quite the same as being around for Man on the Moon, Live Aid or 9/11. Droughts in 1976, the death of Diana or the Japan tsunami, they all effected our society in a real way. Vietnam and the Korean war are being repeated in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Experience teaches you not to make the same mistakes twice – thats how the world makes progress – at least that was what I was taught at school. The frustration with the modern politicians is that they consistently repeat the failures of the past and rarely the successes.

    I dont always agree with Paddy but he always says it as it is and makes more sense than most of those who sit around the Cabinet table. It might be time to have a revolution and bring back some of the old guard.

  • @Catherine

    “politicians need more real life experience” the near-universal subtext is @and then they would agree with me about what the best policies are”

    I don’t think this is really the case. I think what a lot of people feel (what I feel at least) is that they simply can’t respect the current crop of politicians in parliament at the moment. What exactly have Miliband, Clegg or Cameron done in their lives, prior to becoming party leader, that is worthy of respect? All of them have lived charmed lives with everything going in their favour. If you don’t feel that your self-proclaimed ‘representatives’ actually represent you in any meaningful sense, or really understand what it is like to live with the kinds of difficulties (financial and otherwise) faced by most people every day, then it seems hard to consider these politicians anything other than status obsessed professionals.

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 10:26am

    Actually I think becoming leader is worthy of respect. Also, if you watch PMs questions, even though you might not agree with one side or both, it’s pretty clear they’re far from amateurs and far from inexperienced about the things they fight about. That’s worthy of respect, and is one of the great things about our system.

    A liberal politician could probably gain from experience defending a collective freedom, but that’s a political experience – they may as well be in politics acquiring it

    Democratic politics is perhaps not about an individual’s life experience at all, but about collections of experiences. A democratic politician probably requires expertise in listening and in combining other people’s experiences in ways that make sense for everyone going forward, but that category of expertise isn’t something that life outside politics necessarily offers much experience of – unless you reach senior management, but then whould we insist that all politician’s have prior senior management experience?.

    LibDem conferences are experiences – are they life or are they politics? They also offer various forms of training. Maybe this could be expanded to address Paddy’s concerns? Maybe LibDems could organize training in politics for ordinary voters? Might be a way to get funds as well as support!

  • The problem with the ‘current crop’ (in all parties) is that they all are esconced within the ‘Westminster Bubble’.

    Tinkering with the unemployed/disabled under the umbrella of ‘Back to work’ (when there are few real jobs) is something that only those completely divorced from ‘real life’ can espouse. The idea that halving job security, attacking ‘health and safety’ and reducing tax on the wealthy will lead to a more productive business model is another political myth. These ideas come from the ‘business lobby’ (the same group who had proof that the minimum wage would destroy companies) and are the only voice that Tories (and now LibDems) listen to. The UK needs entrepeneurs who are, in the main, initially not big earners; their profits go into their business and they don’t need two years to discover that an employee is unsuitable. …………. Experience outside politics and the media might not be a cure all but, at least, those with such experience know their limitations.

  • @ Richard Dean

    Judging from the articles selected by LDV, the amassing of L/D’s together, whether here or at conferences, seems to ensure that the real issues of the day are avoided assiduously.

    The problem for the Party is that NC is leading it to disaster, either by accident or design – and, as the deputy PM in the Coalition, is helping to lead the nation to the same destination.

    I have little doubt that the majority of members know this is the case and suspect that PA’s comments are aimed directly at NC, for he will be greatly dismayed if the party he has worked so hard to make a success, effectively disappears from the political map after the next GE.

  • Even when the public elects MPs with real world experience in specific spheres, these people are typically kept away from decision making or even shadowing in those areas.

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 12:43pm

    Were Paddy’s remarks referring to Nick Clegg? Is it possible to discuss an issue without turning it into a campaign for or against someone? Let me put it another way: Does being a Royal Marine and working as an Intelligence Officer qualify you in some special way to be politician? Does it give you that essential experience of unintended consqueances? In most professions, experinence doing the actual job is considered more valuable than experience doing something else – the kidney operation argument.

  • John Roffey 21st May '12 - 1:42pm

    @ Richard Dean

    One quality that cannot be truly learned, even through the most advanced management training course or from the most sophisticated masters degree is grit. NC gives the impression of being Cameron’s ‘fag’ and that he is completely dominated by him.

    Perhaps PA’s concern is NC’s apparent absence of the courage that he would have had to develop in the life threatening situations he would have found himself in his career outside of politics.

    You Gov/Sunday Times Survey – Fieldwork 17 – 18 May.

    Con 32%; Lab 43%; Lib Dem 8%; UKIP 9%

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/

    I am sorry to be so brutal, but a well balanced third party is needed in British politics – even if it does not change enough for me to rejoin.

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 2:10pm

    John Roffey. Why is it that so many arguments end up with the valuable part of the debate lost as people simply swap insults? Ok. Here goes. You’re outside this party for a very good reason – it doesn’t want you. I don’t really mean to be as rude as that, I’m just showing you that we can have this discussion in the sewer if you wish, but maybe the oxygen of a place in the fresh air might be more illuminating? If oxygen illuminates of course!

  • @Richard Dean
    ” Does being a Royal Marine and working as an Intelligence Officer qualify you in some special way to be politician? Does it give you that essential experience of unintended consqueances? ”

    Perhaps to the first question and Yes to the second. The military (all Services) try to teach people from all ranks all manner of things, both through standard learning and experience. This training covers all sorts of areas e.g.; leadership, management, discipline and the list goes on. One lesson that used to be pushed in my old lot (RAF) was the danger of “press-on-itis”, it’s killed quite a few people over the years. Perhaps this “mission or bust” lesson needs to be learnt by all off the political classes (from party members through to prime ministers)?

    In regard to your “kidney scenario”, wouldn’t you also like to know that the surgeon also had knowledge of other things? Perhaps it might be a good idea to know that the blood has to still flow around the body, or perhaps that he’s had some other medical training? Perhaps it would be nice to know that he had a hobby that helped enhance is manual dexterity? If I was going under the knife and I thought all the surgeon knew was kidneys kidneys kidneys, I think I’d be rather worried.

    “Actually I think becoming leader is worthy of respect”
    Maybe part of the problem and the diconnect is caused by this belief that respect is a right. If a politician were to back stab his way to the top (which does seem to be quite common in politics) then you would obviously still respect him, but I’m not certain I’d want to hold such a person up as a role model for my kids.

  • John Roffey 21st May '12 - 4:32pm

    @Richard Dean

    I am sorry you see , what I would describe as forthright, as insulting.

    However, there is clear evidence that the Party is heading for a calamitous GE – since it is agreed by the majority of respected commentators that the austerity measures will not succeed in their aim before the election [or if ever] and that they will be needed for at least a decade.

    Have you any alternative view on how the Party can support austerity, but not be sacrificed in the process?

  • Richard Dean 21st May '12 - 6:38pm

    @John Roffey. I am sorry that you see as forthright what I see as damaging.. But anyway, I apologise for any offence caused. I agree with your diagnosis on direction. I think the solution is in terms of policies rather than personalities. But also we need to recognize that austerity is an issue whose scale is contentiental at least, if not semi-global, and that the problems need solutions at that scale. What we do inside the UK can only have a very limited effect.

    One thing we should be doing is preparing for the recovery. Doing things now that would get in the way if we put them off till when the recovery comes. Building infrastructure that is financed in some separate way that avoids adding risk to our credit agency rating. But not any infrastructure. Only infrastructure whose cost now will be less than its cost then, so that charging the present cost to the future is a positive benefit rather than the worst of a lot of negatives.

    One thing we should NOT be doing is using the uncreliable (if not downright incompetent) Treasury or OBR forecasts to assume a growth which we then rely on to achieve our solutions. Instead of wishing growth into being, which won’t work, we need to be forcing it to happen. IMO.

  • @Rob
    “If you don’t feel that your self-proclaimed ‘representatives’ actually represent you in any meaningful sense”

    I see what you mean but I think you’re talking about a different issue. I completely agree that parliament should be more demographically representative in terms of gender, ethnicity and the income bracket into which MPs are born.

    But that’s a different issue to suggesting that having a non-political career before entering parliament is somehow beneficial. How many people have multiple careers? Some do, sure, but not the majority. Does an accountant need to do a stint in a factory or on a shop floor first in order to gain “real world experience”?

    And isn’t politics itself something worthy of respect? The process of trying to change your society for (what you believe to be) the better? You’re right that Clegg, Cameron and Milliband have all had privileged upbringings (though the loss of a child hardly counts as leading a charmed life). But for that very reason they could all have chosen other careers with higher status – banking, law, management consultancy and many other options all pay better and carry a lot less headaches than politics. Not to mention less chance of getting publicly demonised, ridiculed or heckled in the street. But they all chose to enter parliament and stand up for their vision of a better society. I may not always agree with those visions but I respect their decisions to fight for them.

    As Richard Dean has been arguing, politics – like any other job – requires a unique skill set, and while some of those skills are transferable to/from other careers ultimately the best way to become a good politician is to practice politics. 

    Richard also makes an excellent point about the potential down sides of relying on expertise in one particular field – politics is about looking at all sides of an argument and balancing many competing interests. Being a good surgeon  means you’re the best person to operate on a person’s internal organs, but it doesn’t make you the best person to decide how the NHS should be structured. Obviously politicians should listen to doctors’ input but they then have to weigh it against the input of nurses, patients, managers, and of course civil servants and other experts who spend their lives studying different health service structures to try and figure out what works best. A Health Minister who spent half their life as a doctor might be at risk of tunnel vision. 

  • @Catherine 21st May ’12 – 10:59pm

    “How many people have multiple careers? Some do, sure, but not the majority. ”

    I would be interested in finding out your source for that statement, I wouldn’t class myself as an exceptional case and I’ve recently started my 3rd career. Over the years I’ve met plenty of people who, for one reason or another, have ditched one career to pursue something else.

    “As Richard Dean has been arguing, politics – like any other job – requires a unique skill set, and while some of those skills are transferable to/from other careers ultimately the best way to become a good politician is to practice politics.”

    Actually Richard seemed to suggest that some skills are unique to politicians, however as has already been pointed out that isn’t the case (in fact, some of the things he mentions would be expected of junior managers in other organisations). Perhaps a previous career may make politicians realise that as well?

    Although one of his questions (” Does it give you that essential experience of unintended consqueances?”) did cause me to smile, after all the LDP actually created a trap of “unintended consequences” for themselves prior to the election, so all of the political training and experience really worked for them didn’t it?

    “And isn’t politics itself something worthy of respect?”
    You can respect what politics is supposed to be about without having to respect the current crop of politicians, surely that is understandable?

    “A Health Minister who spent half their life as a doctor might be at risk of tunnel vision. ”
    Well, they’re all humans at the end of the day, so why wouldn’t someone who has only ever done politics get sucked into tunnel vision regarding the “game”?

  • Richard Dean 22nd May '12 - 2:43pm

    Perhaps some the experiences Paddy is talking about are things like recognizing the wideness of people’s views, the difficulties of finding solutions in a confused world, the ability for people to misunderstand, the need to continually push, the need to reassure, the value of the opinions of others, the reality of pride as well as prejudice and self-interest often getting in the way of apparently simple solutions for progress. You can get these experiences in many spheres, and the political sphere too – it’s a good place to learn.

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Recent Comments

  • Michael 1
    @Peter Martin I am a little surprised at your comment coming from I believe a "leftie". There are of course millions who make a very strong "financial" contr...
  • Joe Bourke
    Peter Martin, what makes you think banks are not "handing out money like it was going out of fashion" now https://www.mortgagefinancegazette.com/lending-news...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Michael BG, "a person’s contribution to society does not need to be financial." Maybe not, but in the monetized economy of 21st century UK ...
  • Peter Martin
    " This also means as you pay off the loan, the electronic money your bank created is ‘deleted’ – it no longer exists. You haven’t got richer or poo...
  • suzanne fletcher
    I'll be helping on the phone in tory leaning area. reduce tory vote, support Lib Dem Cllrs....