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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Politicians and authenticity

Dan Hodges brilliantly hit the mark on Thursday with a blog about the debate on the Queen's Speech and the wonderfully authentic Annette Brooke, raising the question what do we really want from our politicians:

Annette Brooke didn’t play to the gallery. Her speech was worthy. Compared to what had gone before, it was a bit dull. But it was also a reflection of a lifetime of public service. 

Brooke spent 20 years as a teacher and lecturer before opting to enter politics full time. She didn’t follow the activist-adviser-MP circuit which supposedly insulates the new political class from the real world. 

During her 14 years in Parliament she has secured no high office. Her constituency website lists her recent achievements as a Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) for Microfinance and Sure Start and Co-Chair of the APPG for Breast Cancer. 

And her speech was an extension of these campaigns. She talked of her role as shadow children’s minister, and the problems of preschool education. Of a visit to Moldova to meet girls who bore the physical and mental cars of human trafficking. The fight to tackle female genital mutilation. None of this had the House roaring with laughter. But it wasn’t supposed to. 

Annette Brooke is a true reflection of our “despised political class”. Most MPs are like her. They’re committed. They’re diligent. They do their work away from the gaze of commentators like me. 

What is it we’re actually asking of our politicians? I’m told we want authenticity. You can’t get much more authentic that Annette Brooke. We want honesty. “Coalition has been a difficult period for me politically,” she admitted yesterday. 

Here’s the paradox. On the one hand we say “we need MPs who are in touch, who understand the real world.” And then we say “We need more MPs like Boris Johnson.” We say, “We need MPs who will get their noses down, work hard and won’t stick their snouts in the expenses trough.” And then we say “So what if Nigel Farage won’t let his allowances be independently audited. He’s always down the pub with a pint his hand. He’s just the sort of bloke we need to sort things out.” 

We pretend we want artisans. But in reality we want showmen. We say we want representatives who are reflections of ourselves. But in truth we’re drawn to those politicians who appear larger than life. In short, we prefer to listen to Penny Mordaunt talking about her appearance on Splash! than Annette Brooke talking about Moldovan refugee camps.

Hodges sums up the paradox we are all facing. His questions go to the heart of our Parliamentary democracy and people's expectations of it.
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