By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A
quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that
“they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently
false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social
democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put
it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It
is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a
political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from
those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
The same could be said of William Hague's work as a management consultant. George Osborne didn't even have a nominal job outside politics before entering the Commons. These are the top three Conservative members of the Government, so no wonder people think as they do and Moore writes as he does. But how applicable is the criticism to other Tory Cabinet members?
- Michael Gove was a political journalist and commentator, so I will count him in (perhaps unfairly: he would probably have been Editor of the Times had he not entered Parliament). But being a member of the political class hasn't stopped him being a popular figure with this site's readers at least, since he regularly comes near the top of our Cabinet league table.
- Eric Pickles is as unlike Cameron and Osborne in background and character as any member of the Cabinet. None the less he is, from one point of view, a member of the political class, since he's been a politician for most of his working life – just a different sort of one, coming up through a local council rather than CCHQ.
- Andrew Lansley was a civil servant. So let's count him in too.
- David Willetts was a civil servant. Ditto.
Otherwise, according to my list:
- Oliver Letwin was a SPAD. But he also worked for a bank (Rothschilds), and I therefore exclude him.
- Francis Maude was a barrister before he entered Parliament, and a banker after he lost his Warwickshire seat in 1992.
- Theresa May worked at the Bank of England and as a financial consultant.
- Sir George Young worked at Hill Samuel (and then at the National Economic Development Office).
- Philip Hammond was a businessman. He began his career by working for Speywood Laboratories Ltd, a medical equipment manufacturer. His Wikipedia entry says that he "had many business interests including house building and property, manufacturing, healthcare, and oil and gas".
- Jeremy Hunt was also a businessman. An early venture to sell marmalade to Japan failed, but he then co-founded a public relations agency, and later went into publishing.
- Owen Paterson was also a businessman, who worked first as Sales Director and then Managing Director of the British Leather Company.
- Grant Shapps was a businessman, and his line of work was design, print, website creation and marketing. (Yes, yes: I know about all that Michael Green stuff. But my point is that Shapps cannot reasonably be described as having been a trainee politician for most of his working life.)
- Iain Duncan Smith was a soldier.
- Maria Miller was an advertising executive and marketing manager.
- Chris Grayling was first a journalist, then ran television production companies and then worked in public relations.
- Ken Clarke is a barrister.
- So is Theresa Villiers.
- So is Dominic Grieve.
- David Jones is a solicitor.
- So is Sayeeda Warsi.
- Justine Greening was an accountant.
- Patrick McLoughlin was a miner.
And there you have it. (Apologies if I've missed anyone out.) A generation or so ago, there would have been some farmers, more people with inherited wealth, perhaps more self-made businessmen, and fewer people with a background in PR.
But otherwise, its mix is recognisably Conservative: most of those above have been bankers, business people and lawyers. Continuity is provided by the lack of public sector workers (mirrored by Labour's own lack of business people).
Were Theresa May or Owen Paterson or especially Phillip Hammond party leader, the Conservatives would suddenly have a different feel. In May's case, being a woman would acccount for the change.
The same would be true of a Pickles leadership, even though he is essentially a professional politician. My point is not whether or not any of these developments are likely. It is that we are governed less by professional politicians than seems to be the case.