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Are “career politicians” a bad thing? Should our MPs be a local?

PUBLISHED: 12:41 24 June 2014 | UPDATED: 12:41 24 June 2014

Jessica Asato, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North. Picture: Geoff Wilson.

Jessica Asato, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North. Picture: Geoff Wilson.

©2012Geoff Wilson

Does it matter if our MPs are careerist politics? Should candidates be from the local area?

The rise of the UK Independence Party in the European elections has ignited that debate, as the mainstream parties question how they can reconnect with voters.

A recent major poll for the Guardian by ICM revealed that almost half (44%) of voters are fed up with careerist MPs who “look

and sound the same”, but the same poll revealed 56% of people think the biggest problem with Westminster is politicians breaking promises.

With former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain warning in the Guardian that traditional politics is now in a “state of terminal decline”, fuelled by a sense of disconnection with the electorate, what do the MPs and candidates think we are now looking for in our parliamentarians?

The Labour View

Norwich North candidate Jessica Asato has a CV which boast many political jobs - she is currently political adviser to former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell and chair of the Fabian Society.

She is also deeply involved in the Blairite think tank Progress.

But despite a career in politics, believes that spending her formative years growing up in a low income household in Norfolk - from 11 until she left home at 16, and being the first person in her family to have made it to university, gives her a good foundation for life as an MP.

She said: “We do need a Parliament that represents the country, rather than the elite, which is why I’m pleased our Labour candidates in East Anglia are a diverse bunch - whether it’s the lives they’ve led, their heritage or their gender.”

In contrast Norwich South candidate Clive Lewis has not had any political jobs, but does now work for the BBC, where he was journalist.

He moved to Norwich in 2001.

“Personally, I think an outsider can understand a community if they make the effort. But generating an arbitrary number of years or months that somehow defines whether you’re local or not seems somewhat futile,” he added.

Denise Burke, who is taking on Norman Lamb in North Norfolk, has lived in the county for four years.

She worked for both London mayors, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, but now runs her own business.

“Having links to the area that you are representing helps but ultimately it’s about what you can offer as a candidate and across Norfolk Labour’s PPCs come from a range of diverse backgrounds.”

While Deboarah Sacks, South Norfolk’s candidate, has worked in both public and private sectors, running her own company since 2010.

“I have never worked in Parliament or for an MP but I can see how that would be very useful experience for anyone who is committed to achieving change through the political process.”

The Tory View

The selection of Elizabeth Truss ignited a nationwide debate five years ago about an “A-list” of candidates drawn up in Westminster.

After surviving a bid to de-select her by the so-called “Turnip Taliban”, Ms Truss has since split her time between Norfolk and London for five years.

While she was not on a Westminster payroll before being an MP, she was deputy director of the London-based think-tank Reform, but also worked for Shell and Cable and Wireless as a commercial manager for 10 years.

“I wouldn’t preclude MPs with (political job) backgrounds, but politics should be open to people from all walks of life,” she said. “The reality is people do move around the country for all sorts of reasons. The important thing is the ability to listen and represent people.”

In contrast Norwich MP Chloe Smith grew up in West Norfolk, where she still has family.

She worked for Norfolk MP Gillian Shephard and Essex MP Bernard Jenkin during her university holidays “to pay the bills”, and during a gap year. But also had a career as a consultant for Deloitte.

While she said her experience of working for an MP was helpful, the business background allowed her to “bring business experience to bear on getting things done,” she said.

George Freeman was brought up in a village in East Anglia and had a 15 year career helping start and grow small businesses in the East.

He worked in Westminster as parliamentary adviser to National Farmers Union and started a campaign for new powers for local government, before his business career.

“I think the most important thing the public want to see is MPs who have had experience of the real world of work outside of the ‘Westminster Bubble’,” he said. “But its not unhelpful for MPs to know a little of how Westminster and parliament works.”

“It’s obviously possible to be a very effective MP without coming from the area, but I do think people these days want to see their MPs active in showing local leadership in making a real difference in the area, which is easier I think if you know the area well.”

The Lib Dem View

“I’m not sure why anyone would want to represent a constituency that they don’t know very well,” Norwich MP Simon Wright has said.

The Liberal Democrat, whose parents were farmers and went to school in Dereham, has always lived in the county, with the exception of a brief stint while at university in London.

He was North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb’s agent and organiser working in his North Norfolk constituency before deciding to stand for election to parliament, but was a maths teacher before that.

“Having experience of Westminster shouldn’t in itself be a negative as it can only be a good thing to have an understanding of how politics works in practice and how to use the system effectively to help those you represent. “However, it is vital to have an understanding of the world outside Westminster. Westminster is an unusual, closed environment, and doesn’t give a balanced perspective of the ‘real world’,” he said.

The UKIP View

The UK Independence Party’s Norwich North candidate has accused his two opponents in the fight for the seat of being put in place because they are women.

Glenn Tingle, who has lived in Norwich all his life with the exception of four years when he was an army medic, claimed that other parties put their candidates in place because it was “jobs for the boys and girls” or to be “politically correct”.

He said: “Most of the Lib Lab Con candidates seem to be selected from a political background because it’s ‘jobs for the boys’, and girls. Nepotism springs to mind, and in many cases some are selected because it’s PC to select a candidate because of their gender. This happened in 2009 by election where Chloe Smith was chosen both for her being a woman as well as being a party apparatchik.

“I fear this has happened again with the Labour Party in Norwich North as well. They believe it’s their best chance to combat Ms Smith - it’s a shame people whoever they are aren’t selected on ability instead of gender.”

He said; “I can understand the stance of placing party apparatchiks in marginal seats because the “out of touch” political elite think this is what the public want. That they want to see experienced, well-read, hard-line candidates, but recent results seem to buck this trend.

“The general public - if there is such a thing - are no fools and the majority who take time to vote also take the time to do their homework and can see through this ploy and indeed favour the “man in the street” as they feel they will get more recognition if that candidate is elected.”

What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk.

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