Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Should politicians have a sell-by date?

I was listening to Radio 4 a few weeks back (I think it might have been Front Row) and heard Harriet Harman being interviewed about her new role as shadow for the Culture, Media and Sport brief.

Dearie, dearie me.

She was given ample opportunity to show her more human side. Indeed the brief surely requires that the holder is able to show how they have enjoyed culture and hence inject a bit more of the personal? No chance from Harman. She came across like an "I speak your policy" robot. The only thing I can really recall her saying was about how vital the performing arts and film etc. are to the economy. When something like this is reduced to such technocratic terms it makes me want to weep.

But the more I have reflected on it, the more I am thinking that this sort of thing is inevitable. Harman has been an MP since 1982 when she was 32 years old. She is now 61 so that is almost half of her life and the vast majority of her adult life. In other words cutting edge television when she entered parliament was Game For A Laugh.

I know the pressure that is on MPs and the hours that they have to work so to expect an MP of nearly 30 years standing, with the last decade near the top of government, to be in touch with popular culture is unrealistic.

It further occurs to me that maybe this is part of the problem. I imagine if Chuka Umunna or Rachel Reeves for example had had that role they would have come across in a much more human way. Because they have lived a relatively normal life until recently where they would have had the time and inclination to keep in touch with popular culture.

So should there be a shelf-life for politicians? Should we say after maybe 20 or 25 years, thanks very much for your service but you cannot serve any longer than that an an MP (or in a reformed upper chamber)?


Harry Hayfield said...

If you believe there should be a shelf life for MP's, what about councillors? There are some councillors in Wales who have been in that role since the Queen came to the throne.

Caron said...

It's a bit arbitrary, isn't it? Surely the answer is a fair and proportional electoral system which gives voters maximum choice on candidates, rather than an arbitrary time limit by which people must stand down.

I don't like taking power away from voters in this way.

And would we not have been better off with 4 more years of Clinton rather than George W?

Don Foster has been in Parliament for a long time and has been our Culture Spokesman for ages, yet he always has something relevant to say.

I wouldn't like to think that we just arbitrarily get rid of someone at their peak, when they have more to give and whose skills and talents might be exactly what the country needs at that time.

Mark Thompson said...

Fair point well made Caron.

I was just floating it somewhat mischievously really. I'm sure there are loads of arguments against it.

As I was just arguing on Twitter, STV would go a long way to solving this as long serving "bed blocking" MPs who people are tired of in safe seats (of any party) could be usurped by fresher faces from their own party without needing to get them deselected.

But I'm always banging on about STV on here. It's a pity it's the answer to so many questions! :)

Jim said...

I think its the start age thats the crucial one. I think no-one should be able to be an MP under the age of 40. Local councillor perhaps 30. Somehow we need to break this 'professional politician' career path that has developed - university (perhaps student politics), straight to policy think tank, Spad to some politician, safe seat, MP for life. Perhaps a bit of union politics/charity campaigning/local government thrown in for good measure.

We need to force people to have real lives - careers, jobs, businesses, families etc entirely outside the political bubble before they can start telling the rest of us how we should live our lives and how things should be organised. Then they can be in politics until retirement.

Caron said...

I decided a wee while ago that STV for Westminster was the way to save the Union and Scotland from independence. There is literally no end to the good it would bring.

Mark Pack said...

The then Labour leader John Smith made a related point back in the 1990s when he said it was only his kids that kept him in touch with what was happening with things like computer games.

It is a tricky one, and made all the worse by the fact that over time certain verbal habits of how to respond to snap questions gets more and more ingrained in most people.

Anonymous said...

Related question - how many times in the last two years has Harriet Harman been to the theatre, an art gallery, gone to a concert, or gone to a football match? For that matter, when was the last time she read a non-fiction book? I don't ask that maliciously - it could be that she is regular culture vulture - but if you're so emerged in party politics that you don't have time for these sort of pleasures, never mind how long you've been in office, you're going to sound like a drone.

Lady Virginia Droit de Seigneur said...

Caron makes a good point in relation to the US Presidency.

In my living memory there have only been two good presidents (Reagan and Clinton) and one reasonable (Bush senior). The rest have been either totally ineffective (Ford,Carter, Obama), a blight on world politics (George W Bush) or plain criminal (Nixon).

I suspect if Clinton had been able to keep his dick in his pant (or at least keep it out of the press a la Kennedy and Johnson) he would have probably been the best of the lot.

Pete said...

Perhaps an alternative is to limit the hours they do so they can have a life. You'd have to enforce it, since politicians being a competitive bunch would otherwise just ignore any limit.

Also many politicians do work outside of being an MP, which again, means they have less of a normal life (and we're paying them for part-time work effectively).