• Development Intelligence

Why are our politicians so third rate?

We have stumbled on and on for the last few decades with an ever diminishing list of serious and impressive candidates in front-line British politics. Are we really saying that Liz Truss and Keir Starmer are THE best two candidates for PM out of 67 million Brits? Really? And this trend is mirrored all over the western democratic world. Biden? Trump? Macron? Scholz? Von der Leyen? And on and on it goes.

Why are we at this point? Why are there no longer any heavyweights that stand for political office? Blair was the UK’s last one, and Thatcher before that. But they entered politics in the early 1980s and late 1950s respectively. A long time ago. What’s happened?

It seems to the DI team that we’ve just made politics a toxic career choice no normal sentient human is prepared to aspire to or consider as a first or second career. How so?

1. Being successful or rich is evil. If you make any money before entering politics you are deemed ‘out of touch’ or ‘insulated from real life problems’ so anything you say must be automatically discounted and disparaged immediately. You can’t make any money during your political career because that must be crooked or just plain evil, right? And if you have the temerity to make any money after your (in)glorious political career, well then you’re just nakedly trading off your time in politics and that shouldn’t be allowed. In fact, success in any other field is just there to be weaponised against you. What does all that tell our many brilliant and successful people out there? You’d be mad to even consider politics as a career choice.

Let us briefly relate the salutary tale of Kate Bingham. She was the very successful biotech entrepreneur brought into Whitehall to mastermind the Covid vaccine effort. And a world beating quite brilliant job she did. All for free, she wasn’t paid a penny. She took a leave of absence from her job, worked 18 hour days to marshal the UK Government’s strategy and solution in a desperate situation with unparalleled historic precedent. But she was traduced, briefed against, lies were invented, her absolutely on point professional experience was smeared. She had to twice get the PM to defend her publicly. Is it any surprise she did her six month stint, solved the national problem and then walked away from government? Why would she have stayed?

2. Extreme and partisan media scrutiny. Would you want the pressure of unrelenting 24/7 politically partisan media criticism? Your phone hacked? The digital live stream from your office security camera fed to the tabloids? Media employed ‘private investigators’ scrambling through your bins each evening outside your house? Having anything you say in public or private taken out of context and weaponised against you? Or journalists just telling outright lies and then publishing an apology at the bottom of page 24 three months later? Or attacks and smears on anyone in your family, even your young children? What sane person would say: ‘sounds great, I’ll do it’. The media have moved from being one of the important ‘checks and balances’ in democracy to actually being a major part of the problem, an accelerator of chaos, relishing their power to cause trouble in every 24 hour news cycle. Imbued with a warped sense of egotistical self-importance, they see themselves as the vanguard of truth and light, when in reality they have just turned into gossipy bullies from whom every politician now cowers.

3. The ‘bully pulpit’ of social media. What normal person would want to put themselves in a position where a self-appointed citizens’ army of haters creates a rolling daily trail of harm to you, your career, your family, your life?

4. Completely unrealistic societal expectations. The public’s views on how a politician should behave have become utterly divorced from reality. From literally the nappy, it seems that no politician is now allowed to have made a mistake in their life before politics. How are we going to find any politicians in the future now that every teenage indiscretion is caught on TikTok?

Because of all this we now have an increasing cohort of western politicians who all decided they wanted to be PM at the age of 11. They head off to the same universities and often the same courses there, then straight to Tory or Labour HQ, maybe a trade union campaign team or a single issue pressure group. They end up as a SPAD in their late 20s and an MP in their 30s. Ministerial office arrives often long before their 40th birthday party. Few of them have built a business, led a private sector organisation, laid anyone off or are able to read a balance sheet. They have tons of political gossip but little real world experience. And a new phenomenon has arrived: achieve media celebrity status first and then apparently you are qualified to run a government.

In a previous era, you… reading this blog post… could have been a potential future politician. Professional, experienced, wanting to give something back. But not anymore. Politics has literally become the playground of ego-driven weirdos. Showbiz for ugly people, as the saying goes.

Is there any way to turn this around?