Andrew Vine: MPs from the real world bring a breath of fresh air

IS IT possible that a wind of change from the real world of earning a living and paying the bills is starting to blow through politics?

It would seem so, now that the dust has settled on the election and a generation of new MPs is preparing to take its place in the Commons, bringing with it a down-to-earth perspective on the everyday struggles of life for millions.

That’s because something very significant has been largely overlooked about the new intake of MPs on the Government benches in the whirlwind surrounding the unexpected Conservative majority.

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It is that more of them than has been common in recent times have done “real” jobs, as opposed to being career politicians.

People like Andrea Jenkyns, who ousted Labour heavyweight Ed Balls from the Morley and Outwood seat, with a background in management before becoming a music tutor at state schools.

Or Scott Mann, a postman, who took North Cornwall, or Maria Caulfield, a nurse in the NHS, who won in Lewes.

There is, amongst the 74 new Conservative MPs, the usual smattering of lawyers, but they are far outnumbered by people with a business background, many of them self-made and several with experience of running their family firms.

A glance through the CVs tells a story of businesses being established and built – several in manufacturing, another in electronics. There is somebody who has been involved in a charity for the homeless, another working in the provision of affordable housing.

The backgrounds speak of practical knowledge of getting people into work and keeping them there, along with an appreciation of social problems.

They belong to the real world of people outside the political bubble, of the millions on the road to their jobs every morning, too many of whom feel no connection to the politicians who exert such influence over their lives.

This breadth of experience truly is a breath of fresh air which is both good for politics and holds out the hope of establishing a new connection with an electorate that has become suspicious of the professional political class ever since the scandal over MPs’ expenses.

Something that all parties need to agree on is that attention should be paid over the coming five years to re-engaging the substantial number of people who chose to take no part in the election.

The turnout of 66.1 per cent was higher than many had feared, but it still means that a third of the electorate simply did not bother to vote.

One significant factor in the steady decline of turnouts over the years has been the perception that too many political candidates have too little knowledge of the lives of the people they seek to represent.

That has been because of the professionalisation of politics. A well-worn career path has been established across all the major parties that takes bright young graduates from university into a political research job, then on to becoming a special adviser to a Minister and hence to a candidacy for Parliament.

This does not mean they lack sincerity in their determination to make a difference for good, but too often it does mean that they have precious little knowledge of life outside the Westminster village.

That world of political blogs and policy papers, strategy meetings and ideological discussions can become almost completely separated from the lives of the people passing outside the office window.

The travails of the private sector, where livelihoods can be destroyed if the economy is mismanaged, or the stresses and shortages of the public sector are something read about, not experienced, and a familiar is that those who govern are simply out of touch.

A thorough knowledge of economic theory is an asset for any politician, but anybody running a business would tell them that the day-to-day routine of making money and keeping people in work provides invaluable experience in living that theory.

There are many long-serving MPs who already bring such experience to bear, but the arrival of a new cohort with business backgrounds is a valuable opportunity for Parliament to bolster its connection to what makes the economy tick, as well as strengthening its connection to millions of working people.

Essential business qualities like efficiency and good planning are equally valuable to government, but best of all a firm grounding in what industry and commerce need to thrive is a cornerstone of formulating policy.

The necessity for deal-making and compromises that go with running a business will also prove helpful in keeping politics down to earth and ensuring that points of principle have a firm connection to practicalities.

The new MPs will have much to learn over the months to come. But what they already know about real lives will prove just as important to the Government as well as the electorate to which they must determine to reach out.