I shall start where I finished my last piece on this subject. How can you “know” constituents? It’s almost an impossible question to answer really because people and areas are so diverse. You can’t just pigeon hole the community as one amorphous mass who all think, all say and all do the same thing. And in that is the answer! Neither do Politicians. Or at least they shouldn’t. And there lies the problem. Too many do and the public know it. If I didn’t know better I would say they have all been to a Politicians School where they are taught to think, say or do the same thing. And more often than not you can’t distinguish the party. They all look the same, they dress the same. They even sound the same. No matter what part of the country they apparently appear from, they all sound like they were brought up in the Home Counties and forced to watch Blue Peter (personally, I preferred Magpie) and re runs of BBC news from years ago when regional accents were a complete anathema. Who was the last Prime Minister that actually won an election and had a regional accent?*
I’m not having a go at Ed Miliband when I say this but have look at the three Party Leaders and tell me I’m wrong! Individuality is scorned in modern politics. That’s one of the main reasons why the public are so disengaged from politics and politicians.
When I meet someone (and it’s mainly a young person) who has recently joined the party, I often ask them why they joined the party, a question I mentioned in a previous post. What often happens a bit later, though not much later more often than not, is they ask me how they can become an MP. And you can’t blame them can you? They see them on the telly and at anodyne meetings or conferences, either standing at a lectern or being really ‘modern’ and pacing around the stage like a comedian without any jokes, with a hidden microphone apparently speaking spontaneously. And how we all lap it up! At least politicos do. The public often couldn’t care less.
So, what advice do I give the young person then? Simple. Get a real job!
Politics is peculiar in all sorts of ways and no more so than in how people get jobs in it. There are no set criteria or qualification threshold to get an interview. And that is what makes it in many ways a great leveller in that people shouldn’t be barred. That is the whole point of representative politics.
However, the truth is somewhat different. There is an unwritten rule which is more about who you know than what you know. And what’s new about that I hear you cry? Nothing, though it has gone much further in recent times with working class people outnumbered in the rarefied air of Labour Parliamentarians. But as long as this persists, politics will become remoter still from the people it purports to represent. The Labour Party has a duty and an opportunity to arrest this decline and this fashion of identikit politicians. Blair was good and that’s why he won. He was a one off and we and the other parties need to realise that and move on.
What’s a real job you ask? It’s no good me saying it without explaining what I mean. It’s not my intention to describe some jobs as more worthy than another one. What I do say though is that the job needs to have you working with ordinary men and women who are doing nothing more than trying to get on to look after themselves and their families.
Pretty obvious isn’t it? What isn’t so obvious though is the kind of voice and opinions you will hear. A lot of identikit politicians tend to describe what ordinary working people think because they read about it at university somewhere. It’s the kind of thought process which ends up with some clever dick inventing income and social brackets and using this ‘scientific’ information to inform them as to what policies are required to help improve society. Nothing wrong with that in itself.
There is though no substitute for seeing how people act, think and what they say for real. Especially when they are at work, doing a job they don’t like whilst working with colleagues they might not like either. Let me tell you, it comes out then! If you work in any real job, like I did in a car factory, you will hear things every day that most of us like to pretend have gone away. You might well hear from some the sort of casual racism, sexism and homophobia that even the far right might balk at. Confronting these issues head on in a workplace is a sort of training and insight that a life time of seminars couldn’t give any wannabe politician.
The People are real and these opinions are real too. It’s a real eye opener and I never stopped being surprised. I will return to my days in the car factory in another post.
This is the knowledge and understanding which is missing all too often today in Parliament. Not lefty crap nor pragmatic centre ground politics. It’s the truth! The Labour Party needs to embrace those who know the electorate we need to win over to win General Elections in the future. The answer is not in some focus group but within our communities. Not just middle class academics that have raced to work in politics. We need both but; the pendulum has swung too far. It must swing back.
*It was Harold Wilson by the way!