Politicians. From poly, meaning many. And tic meaning bloodsucking insect. That’s the reputation and with good reason – but not an entirely fair one. The overwhelming majority of politicians get involved because they want to help people and make the world a better place (although I question it about some). But they are often out of touch – and very few of them are any good at policy because that’s not what the process selects for.
This is in addition to the current cabinet having started with 23 millionaires (apparently it’s now down to 18 – and the Mirror can’t count). Most of the cabinet aren’t self-made millionaires (politician being a career in its own right) – and to inherited millionaires, not working is a sign of laziness. They don’t need to work. And have never been anywhere near the edge. Poverty is about as alien to most millionaires in politics as it is to the girl in Common People.
The part keeping most MPs out of touch isn’t anything to do with how hard they work. Most MPs are extremely hard working and work long hours helping people out. It’s that most of them have three groups of people to keep happy – two of which are effectively both full time jobs.
- Constituency Party
Westminster is a bubble. You are a politician with a salary of at least £65,000 per year and some fairly generous expenses. The other people you routinely socialise with are almost invariably either other well paid politicians or people who want something from you and therefore going to flatter you. And if you are ambitious for a cabinet position Westminster is the important one of the three areas; it doesn’t matter how well you do at pleasing the other two groups if you don’t get on well in Westminster. You’ll never rise beyond back bench MP. On the other hand someone with a safe seat is likely to have much more time to spend in the Westminster Village.
Your constituency party is a different type of bubble. But you need it because without it you won’t get leaflets or that many motivated people and you may even be deselected. And it’s full of the sort of people who care enough about politics to join political parties – and are interested in the Westminster rather than local level. Think of the local political bore who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. You’ve plenty of those. But they are needed to get the job and win the elections. Even the bores are normally good for leafleting.
And then there are the constituents. These are the rewarding part of the job; an MP can often unstick tricky problems. And this is where they really get to help people. Just answering letters can take a ludicrous amount of time and doing something far more. Most MPs work hard at this. But even this creates a bubble for the MP. This is because the sort of people who write to MPs tend to be the sort of people who can express themselves confidently and who think the MP will help rather than that they don’t have a place in society. (And a lot of the Marshmallow Experiment, a pretty good predictor of life outcomes, is about trust that the environment is fair). In other words seldom the lowest rungs of society, often the middle classes, and far too often various forms of crank. But this is a truly insidious bubble – it looks as if it’s real because there are real people having real problems but often doesn’t reach many of the actually deep problems.
So most MPs are trapped in three separate bubbles. And have two jobs that can both be more than full time. Even with the best will in the world it’s very hard to overcome the normal computer problem of Garbage In, Garbage Out. And there’s little time left after juggling all three groups to either break out of their bubbles and find out or even learn a whole lot about policy.