I am proud of my professional qualifications, as were my parents proud of me when I received that letter long ago advising me of my exam success and inviting me to apply (along with the appropriate cheque) for membership of the Institute. In the intervening 47 years I have done all the requisite things to maintain my membership and in the latter years my ability to audit and practice as a public accountant (accompanied by the inevitable cheque). Now in my retirement there is no need for those things but I still maintain a reasonable level of knowledge and my experience can still tell me when I need input from others.
Those who I meet in my everyday life also seem to be qualified or certified in one way or another. The electrician, who can only install with a certificate or the builders, who advised me that they were not permitted to work off a cherry picker without a licence and our local shops are constantly under the beady eye of the Trading Standards officers.
And yet there is a section of our society, a very important section, who requires no qualifications, other than the bare faced effrontery to actually put themselves forward, to hold their job. I speak of our members of parliament. According to a recent report there are 90 MPs currently who have never worked outside politics. That shows a dramatic increase against the 20 who were in place in 1982. The largest group of working people are lawyers who have held fairly steady at 89 but those with a manual background have declined from 98 in 1979 to only 25 in the current parliament. This probably reflects the changes in society over the years as "white collar" workers have increased from 9 to 84 in a similar period.
In the above statistics, the "real work" experience of the MPs is loosely defined and there are many others who have had only had the very briefest of flirtations with the real world. Since I am relying on newspaper reports for these statistics I make no comment about the political affiliations of those whose work experience is either limited or non-existent.
So we, as a nation, are "ruled" by a group many of whom who have little experience of our trials and tribulations and live in the hothouse world that is the Westminster village. A private world that we mere mortals can only gain the occasional glimpse into. Divorced from the reality of the outside world. For those who have lived their entire working life in that world the concerns and worries of the rest of us can only appear as distorted images encapsulated in newspaper headlines, opinion polls and the gossip within the "village".
Much is made of Â the 50 to 60% of the cabinet that attended Oxbridge (or is that public schools?) or the few who were members of the elitistÂ Bullingdon Club at Oxford but what is the relevance? It matters not whether an MP was at Oxford, or the local comprehensive or whether they were a white collar worker with a few CCGSE or a privileged member of the Bar. The important issue is having gained experience of life breathing the air of the real world, enabling them to empathise and understand those who they seek to represent, though perhaps from a different point of view.
Though perhaps I might like all MPs to be subjected to CPD (Continuing Professional Development) on a regular basis as professionals are or relicensing on a regular basis as is the case for many trades, I do believe that might be too elitist. We do like some of our MPs to be congenital idiots as it does improve the image of MPs who on the whole seem to take themselves far too seriously. For goodness sake don't tell them that they are important, they are not but unfortunately the job they do is.
The days are gone of the trade union member, who worked on the shop floor, became a local representative for his members and gradually worked his way up through the union ranks to become worthy enough to be selected for a safe sponsored seat. But despite everything those members had a connection with those they represented, had shared their way of life and had experienced the travails of the real world. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who make their way in the business world and then seek political recognition to cap their financial success. There must be many variations on the above but that is the way we have traditionally acquired our politicians.
So perhaps now is the time to introduce a further qualification for MPs. Five or ten years work experience outside politics might seem excessive but our future might well depend on that connection with real people in the outside world. Regretfully we are seeing political organisations losing contact with the electorate with low turnouts and a failure to connect with parts of society.
So who is prepared to give work experience to a wannabe MP? Would they actually be employable? Just think of one or two recent Prime Ministers and Chancellors, would you have left them in charge of the petty cash?
Back to Blogs