One of my photos

First-class councillors

February 22nd, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 9 Comments · Politics

The comments of Nicholas Winterton this week certainly wound a few people up for various reasons.  For once I find myself in total agreement with the official Tory party line that this represents “the out-of-touch views of a soon-to-retire backbench MP”, although I do wonder it it also represents the out-of-touch views of some MPs who are not retiring. One thing in particular irked me, it was when he said:

They want to stop members of parliament travelling first class. That puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first class.

Do they really?  When I was a local councillor I travelled standard class every time and mostly at my own expense, although I did claim one fare to Wales I think.  I would be surprised if any of my colleagues travelled first class.  I have also travelled on business quite a lot, always in standard class rail or economy class if I was flying.  Normally I am sleeping or reading rather than working, but I have been known to work on the train, and whatever I am doing I am normally surrounded by lots of other people working away.

I do have some sympathy for Winterton though.  My reasons for travelling standard are very similar to his reasons for travelling first class – I don’t like to travel first class because you find yourself sharing the carriage with a “totally different type of people” – people like Nicholas Winterton.

The end of his little episode was quite telling too.  He said:

The people who increasingly dominate this House are people who are intelligent, but they go from school to university, university to researcher, researcher to adviser, then to candidate.  They have no experience of life outside. Have they ever paid wages at the end of the week?  Have they ever been through negotiations over a business deal?  Have they been in the law? No.

Very telling.  Note that real-life experience is not being paid wages at the end of the week but paying somebody else.  How many people do actually pay somebody else and negotiate business deals?  A very small proportion I am guessing.  It is another way of saying that you need to be from management to be in parliament – forget about being an ex-teacher or something like that.

Just out of interest, I checked Nicholas Winterton’s biography on Wikipedia to see what his experience of real life is and found:

  • Prep school
  • Rugby school
  • National service (an officer in the 14th/20th Kings Hussars)
  • Trainee sales executive at Shell-Mex and BP
  • Sales & general manager of a construction machinery company
  • MP

I don’t know how long the traineeship lasted, but the national service was from 1957-59 and the sales & general manager job started in 1960 so it could be anything from a few weeks to an absolute maximum of nearly two years.  Maybe things were different in those days, but it seems like a very easy path through life.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • Ash

    Well he did spend 10 years in industry – which would give you an idea of how the real economy works.

    If you take someone like Milliband who has never had a job outside of politics you do wonder how ’rounded’ his education was.

    Surely it is preferable that our MP’s have had some life away from party politics and some experience of the real economy before gaining power?

  • janeskuds

    Maybe we need a range of MPs. The ‘real economy’ doesn’t just involve multinationals but also smaller national companies, privately owned businesses, service industries, public sector jobs and volunteer and charity work. All those things, and all their workers, contribute to our society and the financial contribution (as seen on the P&L sheet) is not the only contribution. The jobs that enable a company MD to do his job are also important and they need to be represented.

  • Danivon

    >Well he did spend 10 years in industry – which would give you an idea of how the real economy works.

    Ah. So is that how he and his missus had the idea to chiv us on their expenses? Or how he’s become so disdainful of people who aren’t in First Class train carriages?

    His ’10 years’ were nearly 40 years ago. I suspect that he’s forgotten a lot about the ‘real economy’, and a lot has changed in the meantime.

    But hey, Churchill didn’t spend any time in the ‘real economy’. He went from the army to politics, with journalism and writing to supplement his income. Yet he was able to ‘pronounce’ on the economy.

    • Ash

      I dont think that members of the Labour Party complaining about Tory’s fiddling their expenses is going to get very far.

      Churchill was a great wartime leader but wasn’t actually that successful in peacetime – perhaps if he had had more experience in business he would have been better.

      But you havn’t really answered my point – is it better to have MP’s who have some experience of life outside politics or have people like Milliband who has lived his whole life in the political bubble since he left school?

      • Skuds

        I was not complaining about fiddling expenses, although I have in the past. This is a complaint about people thinking they have a right to have perks subsidised.

        This is the unfortunate fall-out of the whole expenses business. Because some Labour MPs were on the take you think it means all Labour members are tainted by association. By extension all members of the Tories, Lib Dems and UKIP are also tainted because of their MPs and MEPs who were on the take.

        As somebody who claimed a minimum of expenses when he was an elected representative I resent that.

  • Skuds

    I have no objection to the odd patrician type in parliament, or having career politicians in there, but I do not think either type (or any other type) should dominate it.

    Although it is not as diverse or representative as it could and should be, there are lots of different types of people already in the commons.

    That is the root of what I found so objectionable about Winterton’s comments – the idea that MPs are a ‘different type’ in themselves. They are not. Could you really lump together Lembit Opik, John Prescott, Ben Bradshaw, Nick Winterton, Dennis Skinner and Nadine Dorries and say they were a type of person?

    To continue Danivon’s point, MPs and more especially ministers and PMs have to be involved in several areas and they can’t expect to be qualified or experienced in all of them. Did Thatcher have any military experience when she went to war?

    Maybe I am just tired of hearing millionaires moan about not having somebody else pay for their little luxuries.

  • Ash

    The ‘different type’ was obviously daft – and nobody is defending it.

    Getting back to the experience question though – if you were successful in your quest to become an MP would you think that your wide experience outside of politics was an asset? – or do you think that those who have immersed themselves in only politics from school were better qualified to make decisions on behalf of everyone else?

    • Skuds

      I honestly don’t know – though I don’t think I ever claimed to have wide experience: just that my own experience is different to many MPs and possibly more similar to many voters. Of course that just means I understand their problems, not that I have the answers.

      The whole political system seems designed to exclude outsiders. A political anorak would be more effective at getting something through the system by virtue of knowing how to say things in the correct format perhaps.

      I think the ideal is to have a variety of experiences that complement each other. I have experienced a lot of things that, say, Winterton never has and never will, but I bet he knows about areas that are totally alien to me.

      Someone like a Milliband will have first-hand experience of things that neither I nor Winterton have – like being at university for example.

      The whole point is that there is a mixture.

  • Danivon

    >I dont think that members of the Labour Party complaining about Tory’s fiddling their expenses is going to get very far.

    It was not a partisan point, it was about the Winterton’s specifically. All parties had dodgy MPs. I wonder how many of those had ‘real world’ experience?

    >But you havn’t really answered my point – is it better to have MP’s who have some experience of life outside politics or have people like Milliband who has lived his whole life in the political bubble since he left school?

    You pose an odd question. With over 600 people, representing a whole nation, I’d say you want a mixture. And having worked myself in the ‘real world’ of private enterprise (all of my working life since leaving uni), all I can say is that it’s got its share of numpties who somehow manage to get promoted to quite senior levels.

    Which leads to the real point – rather than looking for a ‘type’ you should be judging MPs on their individual abilities, experience, record etc.

    As my Churchill example showed, sometimes you need different skills and experience, so you can’t say what the preferred generic politician should be.