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Why We Get the Wrong Politicians

A quick tour of British politics

By Isabel Hardman
15-minute read
Audio available
Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman

Why We Get the Wrong Politicians (2018) isn’t merely a damning critique of British lawmakers and government officials. Sure, that’s part of it, but Isabel Hardman’s first book goes further. Expounding the mechanics of Parliament, exposing its injustices and inefficiencies and explaining what can be done to fix it, Hardman’s book is as much about Parliament’s structure and culture as the politicians inside it.

  • Britons seeking valuable information on how their government works
  • Politics enthusiasts who need some required reading
  • Politicians who require a reality check

Isabel Hardman is a political journalist who graduated with a first-class degree in English Literature from the University of Exeter. In 2014, GQ listed her as one of the 100 most connected women in the UK and, in 2015, she was awarded Journalist of the Year by the Political Studies Association.

Today she is assistant editor for The Spectator and writes a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph. Why We Get the Wrong Politicians is Hardman’s first book.

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Why We Get the Wrong Politicians

By Isabel Hardman
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman
Synopsis

Why We Get the Wrong Politicians (2018) isn’t merely a damning critique of British lawmakers and government officials. Sure, that’s part of it, but Isabel Hardman’s first book goes further. Expounding the mechanics of Parliament, exposing its injustices and inefficiencies and explaining what can be done to fix it, Hardman’s book is as much about Parliament’s structure and culture as the politicians inside it.

Key idea 1 of 9

Becoming an MP candidate and running for election are both undemocratic and expensive.

For political analysts, media commentators and switched-on citizens, attention is only focused on a politician once they enter office – as if they popped into existence the morning after a successful election campaign. But to totally understand the UK’s flawed political system and why its citizens are unsatisfied and exasperated with their leaders, it’s worth examining how politicians are selected as candidates for office in the first place.

In the UK, elected politicians on the national level are called Members of Parliament (MPs), who represent a local area, called a constituency. Every political party nominates an MP candidate for each constituency, and local residents vote for their preferred candidate to represent them in the lower house of Parliament, known as the House of Commons. The party with the most MPs in the House of Commons becomes the governing party.

But the way that each party selects their MP candidates is completely undemocratic.

If a would-be Conservative – that is, a Tory – politician wants to become the Party’s MP candidate for Hemel Hempstead, for example, she must persuade a selection panel comprising the area’s local Conservative Party councilors. But these panels are woefully small, rarely numbering more than 250 people.

These people are often overlooked, but they’re responsible for choosing the names on UK ballot papers. What’s more, they’re usually unrepresentative. In 2013, the Local Government Association found that 67 percent of local councilors were male and 96 percent were ethnically white. The average age of these councilors was 60.

And even if you’re selected, the cost of running for election is prohibitively expensive.

Selected candidates must scale back their careers, dedicating their time to trudging rainy streets, knocking on doors and hosting charity events. To gain support from the community, many feel obligated to donate money to funding projects like renovating the local church or buying the school a new minibus. They rack up huge petrol bills traveling around their constituency and shell out on hotels to attend national party conferences. None of this is subsidized by their party.

One survey, conducted by the website ConservativeHome, asked 37 Tory party candidates how much running for election had set them back. The average came in at an exorbitant £34,392.

Auditioning for a job with such a ludicrous financial burden, a job that you’re not even guaranteed to get, deters many people from standing. Worse, it makes it impossible for talented, less well-off individuals to enter government.

The ones that do make it are maligned – but they’re not as bad as we think they are.

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