Delusions of adequacyNovember 12, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | 4 Comments
Never let it be said that Parliament isn’t full of sensitive, introspective soul-searchers. Having witnessed rising unemployment, tumbling house prices and a hefty bill for bailing out the banks, the public’s developed such a distaste for democracy that we even petulantly voted that really good singer off X-Factor. Sensing an ill wind a-blowin’, it seems our MPs are worriedly wondering “you don’t suppose there’s something wrong with us, do you?”
I’m sure this crippling self-doubt will pass by the time they go back to ‘the regions’ to beg for their jobs, but until then, Harriet Harman has decided it’s time to start thinking about talking about maybe doing something about making Parliament more representative of the country it, y’know, represents:
MPs are planning a year-long investigation into the complexion of the Commons amid worries that its members are seen as a narrow, self-serving elite who bear no relation to the population as a whole.
My, what scoundrel ever suggested such a thing?! To counter this impression, Ms Harman wants a cross-party commission to look at ways Parliament can become more diverse on the grounds of race, gender, disability & sexual orientation. To top it off, The Guardian suggests that it might even lead to legislation mandating political parties to maintain shortlists comprised entirely of women or ethnic minority candidates.
At which point I reach for the Kalms tablets. Sure, there’s no denying that Parliament needs to become more representative, but I’m not about to waste the rest of this post writing about the problems with all-woman/black/asian shortlists that’ve already been covered. Instead, we should remember that making Parliament more diverse isn’t necessarily going to make it more representative.
The irony of Ms Harman making the call for a more in-touch Commons is that her party has done a fair amount to lead it in the opposite direction. Yeah, they’ve had the odd staged-managed dog & pony show to prove they’re ‘listening’, but take a hard look at the Cabinet and you’ll find an eye-watering number of people who have either nothing to do with their constituencies, have had no ‘real world’ work experience outside of politics, or are some spoilt combination of the two.
David & Ed Miliband have both spent most of their working lives as New Labour technocrats, and despite having no real bonds with those areas, were parachuted into the safe working class consituencies of South Shields & Doncaster North. I doubt Ed Balls could’ve found his Normanton constituency on a map before he became its MP, likewise James Purnell in Stalybridge or Yvette Cooper in Pontefract. Andy Burnham at least had a passing familiarity with the people of Leigh, but even he’s been a party apparatchik for all his working life.
Of course, it’s understandable that Labour would want those they consider their ‘brightest stars’ to be flown into extremely safe (and invariably working class) seats, but each time they do so, they take the job away from someone who maybe could’ve represented those constituencies better. As I said in an earlier post, their constituents have to:
Make do with someone who doesn’t really know the area and can’t, with the best will in the world, relate to the needs, fears & aspirations of the people he represents. When this is reproduced on a large scale, all you’re left with is an incestuous, self-perpetuating political class that speaks in a language nobody else in the country can relate to, and that’s not going to re-connect the public with politics.
I’ll say again: of course we need more women & ethnic minorities in Parliament. But the fact that Harman thinks that what people look like is more important than what job they do says an awful lot about the superficiality of New Labour.
Image by Flickr user buggolo (Creative Commons)