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Leader: The professionals

by
15 May 2015

JEREMY PAXMAN, interviewed before the election for this month's Third Way (www.thirdwaymagazine.co.uk), was disparaging about politics today. "I think politics is in a terrible state. A really, really terrible state." He believes profoundly in politics, - "I don't think we have any other way of sorting out our differences, short of violence" - but believes, too, that changes are necessary. "We need absolutely to get away from this idea of a professional political class. I mean, I would start with the basics: don't let people go into politics until they've done something else." More than 600 politicians emerged successful out of the election period, but few emerged well.

A chief complaint throughout the election was that politics had become a profession, often a dynastic one. It was a view that Nigel Farage, the one-time (so far) leader of UKIP, exploited so well, taking every opportunity to appear as unlike a career politician as he could - despite his being one. There are signs that Conservative constituency selection committees are fighting back, although the range of favoured alternative professions is limited. Labour is almost certain to follow suit. A note of caution: a decade or two back, the Church declared that it wanted clergy who had seen a bit of outside life before ordination. It took a while to realise that this policy was incompatible with the desire for young clergy. The Church came to its senses. A degree of inexperience can be accommodated if countered by enthusiasm and tempered by humility. The latter quality is more easily found in the Church than in politics, of course. Those humbled by last Friday morning are no longer politicians. Experience is crucial, of course, but it does not trump ability. Westminster is no longer such a desirable location that it can choose to be picky about whom it attracts.

In the standard acceptance speech, the victor expresses his or her determination to represent all constituents regardless of how they voted. David Cameron has started well, referring to "one-nation" Toryism, and telling his Cabinet: "We're here to give everyone in our country the chance to make the most of their life." He went on to mention "the chance to get on". Reliance on chance, however, tends to favour only the few. Those sitting round the Cabinet table are, of course, among those who have got on. Many of them, like Mr Cameron, started pretty far on, thanks to their upbringing. Their challenge is to understand the acute struggles of those in society who are unable to make the most of their lives without considerable assistance.

The record of the past five years of coalition government is not spotless in this respect; nor is it encouraging that Mr Cameron will have to appease his right wing in order to keep UKIP at bay, raising the prospect of tougher austerity measures. Also, a party in its second term of office tends to become more tribal and self-interested. Mr Cameron will need to work hard to gain the people's trust.

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