“The Profession I chose was Politics”: The New Generation of ‘Political Insiders’

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Chrysa Lamprinakou looks at the the occupational background and pre-parliamentary political experience of 2015 candidates and indicates the cohort so far reaffirms the increasing level of professionalisation of the political class. 

The argument that Parliament is more and more unrepresentative of society has been primarily linked to the socio-economic and educational background of MPs. Tim Wigmore at New Statesman Politics Blog, Paul Cairney and Joni Lovenduski have repeatedly focused on the dominance of white, male and privately educated politicians who comprise an elitist and often out-of-touch political class. In an increasingly professionalised political environment, however, the occupational background and pre-parliamentary political experience of candidates is of vital importance.

King’s (1981) seminal work on the rise of the career politician noted the increase in the number of MPs who had chosen ‘politics-facilitating’ occupations such as barristers, journalists, teachers and academics. From 1945 – 1979, on average more than one third of Conservative and Labour parliamentarians (35.2%) had chosen professions conducive to following a parliamentary/political career. It is worth noting though that only 8% of parliamentarians over that period came from a profession with direct links to politics and parliament, such as journalism or public relations.

Recent years have seen an even more abrupt change in the professional background of parliamentary candidates with the emergence of those who are characterised as ‘political insiders’. Today, a significant numbchrysa_lamprinakou Chryer of candidates have chosen occupations with a direct link to politics such as full-time elected officials, party officials, political researchers and special advisers. Notably in the 2010 general election 30% of all candidates had pre-parliamentary political experience. Most of them (16%) were working within (political researchers/special advisers) or around the Westminster village (lobbyists, journalists, trade union officials) while 13% had been previously elected in local councils, regional assemblies or the EP.

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