Thursday, May 21, 2009

Advice for "Labour's next generation"

There have been a few articles from Labour activists who have ambitions of becoming MPs, about how they would act differently if they were MPs. There's nothing particularly wrong with what they are saying, and some of them are people who I know, like and respect. But the idea that this is 'Labour's next generation' makes me profoundly uneasy.

For a start, I agree with Hopi when he writes that:

"when “Labour’s next generation” put themselves forwards as voices of their community, I’d like to hear more about what the community really wants and less about the views of the next generation."

But more than that, one big problem with the current Parliamentary Labour Party, and particularly the ministers, is that they are part of a separate political class, and hardly any of them have ever had a 'proper job'. So what of the Next Generation? One of their number, Will Straw, responded to this criticism by writing that:

"It is a fallacy to suggest that the only people intent on parliamentary careers are from the so-called "political class." To pick a few examples of up and coming politicians, Sadiq Khan MP, David Lammy MP, and Chuka Umunna (Labour PPC for Streatham) were all lawyers while Rachel Reeves (PPC Leeds West) worked for the Bank of England, and Stella Creasy (PPC Walthamstow) worked for a social enterprise."

Five examples, three lawyers, a banker and someone who worked for a think tank, all but one of whom worked in London. And these are the ones that apparently aren't from the "political class". Will is a bright guy, but this is a pretty feeble rebuttal. (To be fair, there are a few better examples of his point).

My advice, for what it's worth, to anyone who is currently on the career path of student politics->parliamentary researcher->think tank/NGO/equivalent and who is planning the next step of trying to become an MP on their way to the top is sort of Maoist.

They'll do a much better job for the Labour Party and be much more effective if they spend the next few years doing a job which doesn't involve living in London and mixing with the current and future elite. Quit the job at Progress or wherever, stop hanging out just with people who watch Prime Ministers' Questions every week and listen to the Today Programme and get a proper job somewhere outside of London.

It's well and good making pledges not to thieve from the public purse if elected, but if Labour's Next Generation of MPs suffers from the same narrow social mix, Group Think and limited experience of the world outside of London as the current one, it will be doomed to repeat many of the same mistakes.

David Miliband and Ed Balls are very bright and in many ways very effective. But they would be much better politicians and have more experience (and be less toe-curlingly awfully at communicating) if Miliband had spent a couple of years managing a Tesco's in South Shields or Balls working as a housing officer in West Yorkshire.

If that doesn't persuade the Next Generation, perhaps an appeal to self interest will. By doing this, they will get an advantage over those of their rivals who chose to stay members of the political class for their whole careers. After all, the reason why Alan Johnson is being touted as Labour's next leader is because he used to be a postman.

Or slightly further afield, they might like to consider the example of an ambitious young man chose to take a couple of years after university working out in the provinces with people who will never be part of the elite before going back to rejoin the political class. After all, he turned that experience into a major part of his successful campaign to become President of the United States of America.


At 8:06 am , Anonymous Duncan said...

Over the last couple of days, this whole expenses thing has been making me think of Yeats.

At 8:36 am , Anonymous tim f said...

A resounding yes to everything in this article, but realistically it will only happen if those of us who don't think we should be MPs find and organise for working class candidates.

At 11:29 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent post, as always.

I'm starting to think that anyone selected as a Labour PPC should have a condition attached to their candidacy... they must spend one month living on or below the average wage of their constituency in a typical house. Anyone who claims that it was easy, doesn't get through. Anyone who is able to rely on family money should have to do it again but this time for two months, without such luxuries as they've evidently failed the get the point about the people their chosen party is meant to represent.

Even better, we'd skip the bag carriers altogether and select PPCs who already qualify for this little test of mine, because I'm not sure how many more lawyers, bankers and social campaigners we really need in the PLP. Wouldn't it be great if someone had the bright idea to find a new New Generation that was made up of teachers, social workers and nurses, not to mention builders, shop workers, labourers, factory workers, receptionists...

At 9:24 am , Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

another resounding yes to everything in this article

At 8:06 am , Anonymous Duncan said...

Hugh Gaitskell.

After graduating he spent two years as a WEA tutor on the Nottinghamshire Coalfield, before heading back to academia.

Does this count?

At 6:32 pm , Blogger John Buckingham said...

Agreed, Don. Don't really understand why we can't have a system whereby shortlists have to contain a minimum of 3 candidates not employed in managerial/professional occupations, or some such thing, in the previous 5 years. That, or CLPs could just start using their heads a bit more when selecting. What I don't get is politicians who are white, male, middle class and straight, and when you challenge them on it, they agree that there's a enough of them already in Parliament - so why stand then!! You have to conclude that ego is more important to them - sad really.


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