Reviewing Isabel Hardman's 'Why We Get the Wrong Politicians'
In 2018, political journalist Isabel Hardman released a book detailing the ins and out of Parliamentary life, the election process and the role of the MP, culminating to hypothesise why and how we elect the 'wrong politicians'.
Despite fearing I would find the in-depth political analysis and constant influx of facts slightly tedious, I cannot convey how wrong I was. I absolutely loved this book - the anecdotal feel that offers a direct insight into the experiences of many MPs, Prime Ministers and journalists alike, and the unapologetic way Hardman exposes the secrets of Westminster to express its corrupt culture. I couldn't put it down.
I picked up so many interesting and thought-provoking things whilst reading this book that I thought it best to categorise Hardman's views on why we get the wrong politicians as follows...
Financial implication of running for Parliament:
Campaigning costs a lot of money (often in the realm of £20,000 - £50,000) and usually requires a candidate to work for free (with no guaranteed job at the end).
This could explain why the middle-upper class are the ones who get into government, as they are the only ones able to facilitate their journey to election using the financial support of their family.
This usually affects women more, as they are often the bearers of child care costs during the campaign.
I found it interesting that Labour candidates, who claim to be the party of the people, spend an average of £19,022 (book) on election campaigns.
Because of MPs low wages in comparison to their similarly educated peers who endure the same hours but in different jobs (despite it being over the national average), the expenses scandal of the 2000s revealed that MPs were using tax payers money to claim expenses, such as refurbishing their homes
This leads to the belief that only rich and wealthy people can become an MP, and opens another issue...
Lack of representation within Parliament:
Westminster is full of MPs who don’t understand the impact of their policies on the larger population, especially the vulnerable, because they have never been placed in this ‘vulnerable’ position.
MPs are often connected to privilege and therefore struggle to represent the society they govern.
Coupled with the financial implications, we can begin to understand why Parliament is irrespective of the public - it is made up of rich white men inside the political bubble who have no life experience other than that of Eton College and Oxbridge.
Are all MPs good MPs?
Another implication of the lack of representation in Parliament is that we are voting for people who are rich, but may not have any experience necessary for running a country.
There is no set job description to assess MPs against, so there’s no knowing whether they’ll be successful or effective upon election.
Being able to afford to campaign has no bearing on whether a candidate will be a successful MP.
I was also fascinated by Hardman's exploration of the Westminster Bubble, and the reality of it - affairs, gender inequality, divorce, sexual harassment. I now understand how MPs can be changed upon serving Parliament. Here's some of the things I found especially interesting...
MPs and Mental Health:
Mental health issues are indescribably prevalent in Westminster, which Hardman attributes to MPs constant need for positive feedback that is often replaced by negativity from anonymous trolls.
MPs have claimed to be ashamed of walking into a pharmacy to pick up prescribed mental health medication for fear of being recognised and sparking rumours amongst their constituents that their MP is unfit for service.
They are therefore compromising the legislation they are debating that is affecting how the country lives because of their compromised mental health.
These are the people who should eb advocated for mental health awareness, yet they are the ones surpassing their experiences of declining mental health.
MPs are granted access to countless mental health resources, but this is done under wraps and anonymously, which suggests poor mental health is something to be embarrassed by - this shows the vicious circle MPs are trapped within. I think this shows that MPs are human, and are not unlike the public than their bank balances would suggest.
There is a ferocious culture of sexism in Parliament - women often fall victim to vile sexual assault and harassment incidents but fear that coming forward will compromise their careers.
It was only in 2018 that a third of MPs were women.
Single women who were involved in affairs with married male MPs were scrutinised and ridiculed, yet the men are often let off the hook by the media; this illuminates the double standards within Parliament.
Impact on family life:
Hardman draws a correlation between an MPs performance and their (often dysfunctional) upbringings.
It is interesting, therefore, that Hardman also comments on how an MPs political career impacts their relationships with and the lives of their children.
The question of where to live and station your family is tricky - whether your permanent home is in London or in your constituency, you will be leaving home during the week and thus be away from your family.
This not only has an affect on an MPs relationship with their child(ren), but also their spouse, as spending long periods of time away from home begins to take its toll on marital relationships.
Although it is better now than it has ever been (arguably due to the intake of female MPs), it remains that MPs drink during the working day and in between Parliamentary sessions - surely this must affect their behaviour and ability to work effectively.
Alcoholism is a normal part of the Westminster culture, as so many MPs have suffered with drinking problems.
How can they run the country whilst under the influence?
Finally, here are some interesting facts I picked up on throughout the book...
There is a panel that chooses those who will become Westminster candidates that is unrepresentative of the electorate, and often chooses those who have had the cunning to get in with them before hand (often through spending large amounts of money to do so).
Following its bombing in WWII, many favoured the re-building of the Commons as a circular environment, which I perceive as something that would have unified the parties and showing they are doing a collective job. However, PM Winston Churchill saw the oblong shape as effective for dividing the parties. To me, this shows how MPs perceive their role as MPs - to be in favour one party and against all the others, rather than working collectively to get the job done.
The book shows us that tMPs are so busy fighting to maintain reputation, ensure loyalty from colleagues, and present a positive image in the press, that their role as legislators is secondary to everything else. We must ask - does this make Parliament an effective governing body? Being a good politician is often measured by an MPs ability to rise to the top using cunning tactics and surviving in the Westminster Bubble, rather than their success in living up to their constituency promises and changing the country for the better.
Hardman has given us an unbelievably detailed and thought provoking read, and I would highly recommend this read for those who are interested in the political system, as well as those who know little about it. It has really opened my eyes to the injustices of Westminster and how our democracy is shadowed by a institution that isn't what it seems from an outsiders perceptive.