Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 28 May 2012

What does this picture tell us about how modern politics works?

1992 and all that

This picture was taken on 16th September 1992. That is the day that subsequently became known as "Black Wednesday" when sterling came crashing out the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It features then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont explaining to the massed ranks of the media what had just happened regarding sterling.

But the reason why this picture has become more historic in recent years is because of who is lurking in the background. It is a fresh faced, 25 year old David Cameron (the one who looks a bit like he doesn't know where to put himself).

He was a special adviser to Lamont at that time which is why he is hovering there like a ghost at the feast.

Ever since Cameron's rise to prominence as Tory leader in 2005 I have found this picture quite fascinating for what it tells us about how modern politics works. As it has turned out, on the worst day of his career, Lamont happened to be standing next to the man who would end up being the very next Conservative Prime Minister after John Major. And yet at that point, that man was not even a Member of Parliament. In fact he wouldn't become one for nearly another nine years.

Of course some of that coincidence is down to the fact that the Tories were out of power after 1997 for a long time. If they'd got back in in say 2002 it would have been a different story. But if we think about the odds against the very next Conservative PM happening to be with the Chancellor on the darkest economic day for at least a generation (at that point) we start to see how strange that is if our politics is properly meritocratic.

If we start with an assumption that it is let's just look how unlikely what that picture tells us actually is. At any one time, there are around 40 million people in this country who are eligible to become Prime Minister. Let's say (being generous) that half of them have a conservative leaning and hence might at least agree with the party politically. If we had known on that day that the next Tory PM would be elected in 18 years time it could pretty much have been any of those people (or their demographic equivalents 18 years hence).

But it wasn't any of them. It was the man standing next to the Chancellor.

Our politics isn't very meritocratic. A fair few MPs get their seats because of who they know. Cameron followed a familiar path which was PPE at Oxbridge (or other high calibre university), special adviser, short period in private industry followed by selection for a safe seat for the 2001 election. From there he impressed his parliamentary colleagues (of course he knew the ropes well given his history) and by 2005 was Leader of the Opposition.

It is a well trodden route and once you understand how the political parties groom these bright young things and smooth the way for them into parliament and up the greasy pole, far from being surprising that Cameron ended up leader and PM it starts to look almost inevitable that him or one of his kind was quite likely to make it there. It is no coincidence that George Osborne also took a similar route to the top.

But the Tories have always been like this haven't they? Words in ears about "good chaps"? Funny handshakes etc.? We'd expect better from Labour wouldn't we?

1997 and all that

Uh oh....


Jim said...

The older I get the more I think that no one should be allowed to run for Parliament until they are at least 40 years old. Preferably 45. We need to destroy this current conveyor belt system that produces cookie cutter politicians (of red blue and yellow hues). We need to make it hard for the people who desperately want to become politicians to actually become one, while leaving the door open for those who (having had a career doing something else) decide they have something to offer the nation.

Would any of the current political leaders have bothered to go into politics if they thought the earliest they could even hope to get into Parliament was their 40s and to make a higher position in the Party could take another decade?

Even if they still wanted to be involved at a later point in their lives, they would have to have had a career outside of politics, and some experience of life as lived by the masses, which hopefully would give them some ideals of their own, rather than a pure hunger for power, to be satisfied by joining whichever party they figure offers the best effort/reward ratio.

While we allow young people to go from university, to policy think tank, to Spad, to safe seat by their 30s to Cabinet by 40, then we are doomed to suffer the same personalities we have had for the last 20 years.

Översätt till engelska said...

I quote Jim; "We need to make it hard for the people who desperately want to become politicians to actually become one, while leaving the door open for those who (having had a career doing something else) decide they have something to offer the nation"

You are so increadible right, broilers who never really produced anything in their entire life, who doesn't understand what it means to run a business our work on the floor.

Översätt franska said...

We badly need paople who have proven they can run a business in the leadership!

Anonymous said...

While I agree with your points, perhaps you would demonstrate how Clegg or Huhne worked their way through the ranks? Clegg, while an MEP, was tipped early on as "one to watch" by Paddy Ashdown. Equally Huhne worked for the ratings agency Fitch. While not politics itself I don't believe workign in such a role allows one to "connect with the man/woman on the street". Also, I am not sure being an MEP actually makes one a better prospective MP for the UK. Huhne also went the PPE route and, I believe, both went to Westminster school too.

As a Lib-Dem (well, former one, I cannot support them with their current right wing supporting agenda on student fees, NHS reforms, lack of Lords reforms and appalling lack of action on the environment) I am interested to note too that, even despite his drink problem, there were fat less mutterings about his leadership than Cleggs. I notice Nick is now being referred to as "Calamity Clegg" by more and more Lib-Dem supporters. A shame as we could have done so much good.