Middle-aged, white man belongs to a privileged elite of British society, he studied in prestigious colleges (possibly Eton) and can afford to spend tens of thousands of pounds out of his own pocket for the election campaign. Most often he had a dysfunctional education.
Usually it is a person not suitable to fill the role entrusted to him, because selected by a party committee that blindly executes the directives imposed from above, without verifying the real capabilities of the subject. The female presence in parliament is still very low, women are certainly disadvantaged, if they have families they are looked at badly, if they are single they are looked at with suspicion.
How to become a member of parliament
The first step is to join a political party and actively engage in participating in events, conferences and banquets. Then you must be chosen by a special committee as a local candidate for your party and finally be voted on and win the seat of your constituency.
You don’t necessarily have to be rich to get into politics, but it certainly helps. Candidacy for parliament involves a huge expenditure of time, money, energy. Even at a personal and family level, the cost is high: many times the price to pay is the loss of the partner.
In the selection interviews, questions are asked to understand how the candidate intends to carry out the election campaign, not to verify if he can be a good legislator and if he will be able to manage the amount of work once he has entered parliament.
A candidate’s job is to make sure that as many people as possible know his name and party; parties set targets in terms of voters to contact and number of passages in the local media.
Working in Westminster
Westminster Bubble is the term that defines the isolation of the British political world and its lack of understanding of the needs of the electorate. A new member who enters this bubble is shocked by multiple factors:
- the vastness of Westminster: inside there is literally everything;
- months may pass before having a private office to work in;
- there is no formal documentation explaining how to carry out the various activities;
- parliament is a dysfunctional place: you can spend hours and hours arguing about nothing and appear very busy without concluding anything;
- the sudden and continuous media exposure;
- the language of the House of Commons, difficult for a newly elected to understand. You can grimace, make the most varied sounds, wave sheets, but you cannot applaud as a sign of approval: it is considered offensive;
- the general atmosphere of the chamber during the Prime Minister Questions, when the Prime Minister answers questions from parliament every Wednesday. Screams, gestacci and such a confusion that unsettles and annoys anyone.
Get out of the bubble
MEPs are engaged on two fronts: legislation and service in the places where they were elected. They spend most of their time listening to and solving the problems of ordinary people within their constituency during the weekly reception hours.
Being able to meet people and help them is a source of great satisfaction for many of them, even if it is an activity scarcely considered and advertised in the media.
A question arises: wouldn’t it be better if these politicians spent more time on legislative activity, guaranteeing the country good laws that can improve people’s lives? Would there not therefore be less problems to be solved locally and therefore less time to devote to the circumscriptions? Wouldn’t it all go smoother?
A member of parliament cannot be a good legislator
Four days a week members of parliament are in Westminster with the aim of carefully examining the laws that are being proposed. In reality they do nothing but obey the directives of the party group leaders on the positions to be held.
A well-concerted theater, in which there are those who take the opportunity to write greeting cards and reply to emails, rather than paying attention and participating in the debate. Very often, MPs don’t even know the content of the laws they’re voting for. They must not be excellent legislators, but knowing how to keep themselves out of trouble: better to attract the public’s attention by participating in meaningless parliamentary activities, than to scrupulously examine the laws.
It is very difficult for a parliamentarian to change a bill once it is presented in parliament, because the ego of the government comes into play, which cannot admit that it was wrong, even in the face of a bad law. Usually, voting against the government means voting against your professional growth prospects.
The real goal
There is no culture in parliament that rewards good lawmakers. Farsighted parliamentarians aim to be part of the executive, while serious ones who scrutinize the laws are seen as eccentric.
Those in politics want to become ministers as soon as possible and this for various reasons, such as greater attention from the media and the sector of competence, more staff at their service, a higher salary and more career prospects outside the government. For particularly ambitious MPs, the first step towards the executive is to become a minister’s private secretary, you are not paid, but if you are lucky, you can better understand ministerial work.
Once they become ministers, politicians are often disappointed. Removed the initial excitement, as in all jobs, the harsh reality arrives, which entails another office to manage, many more commitments and little more prestige than before. The most important thing for a minister is to always be in the spotlight, to make noise, to work well is not enough: we need to let everyone know, always show busy and full of commitments to be credible.
Obviously, if you are a woman, the public will scrutinize you with more attention and suspicion, perhaps looking for signs of incompetence or inadequacy in your gaze.
The private life of an MP is at risk
According to most divorced MPs, the reason for their separation is attributable to the work they do. A sure way to make a marriage fail is to enter parliament.
There are those who decide to move the family to the constituency of reference, to keep loved ones away from the chaos of London and to demonstrate to the electorate the sense of belonging towards their community. This juggling between different and perhaps distant places can transform stable and happy marriages into something terribly tiring to carry on.
The parliamentarian’s job involves many hours spent in solitude until late in the evening, waiting for the votes. Often, to deceive the wait, we meet for an aperitif, and on these occasions many extramarital relationships are born. Parliament is known for its sexual scandals, particularly that of 2017, when an exorbitant number of politicians were charged with abuse and harassment.
All this is not only a consequence of the endless hours spent in the bubble , but also of the availability of bright, attractive, often adoring young collaborators who work in the same office as the parliamentarian, always available and sensitive to the charm of power.
Numerous scandals have revealed a lack of human resources in parliament: the victims do not know where to turn, they have no one to ask for advice. The negative impact of parliamentary life also sometimes affects children, who can suffer comments from classmates and teachers at school about the most despised working class in the country.
A stressful job that facilitates alcoholism and mental disorders
One type of relationship that is strengthened once you enter Westminster is certainly the one with the bottle and few seem immune from this vice. Although steps have been taken to stem this problem (cameras, family friendly working hours , closing of some bars in Westminster), there is still a long way to go.
We drink in the evening to deceive the wait for the vote, we drink at lunch while chatting with a colleague. Alcohol is often a remedy for curing stress and discomfort.
The continued exposure that politicians have to criticism, threats and harassment makes them particularly vulnerable, especially those who are honest and try to do their job well. They are people constantly seeking public approval, often suffering from mental disorders. Yet those who represent the population in parliament must be perfectly lucid and enjoy good physical and mental health.
For this there is a team of doctors and nurses to whom the parliamentarians can refer for treatment and advice; mindfulness courses and behavior therapy sessions are organized .
What happens when you exit the bubble
The life of the MP is not easy, it is a job that is better to do at the end of an interesting career or as an intermediate experience in one’s professional life to move towards more rewarding and fulfilling realities.
Those who leave the House of Commons are usually frustrated, exhausted from the endless days and nights spent at work, have the feeling of having lived on another planet. The main reasons why a member of Parliament resigns are age, personal reasons, the desire for change, professional improvement, or disenchantment with politics.
Certainly even scandals (“happy” expenses and sexual abuse for example) have their weight, especially for those who are clean and honest. In general, women resign earlier than male colleagues, the main motivation being the family.
Those who return to being a politician without government positions, feel demoralized, are not something to be proud of for Westminster culture, they are relegated to a lower profile job and a less rewarding life. For bright and successful people certainly working life outside the government can be more attractive and this fact certainly contributes to the weakening of the chamber, which deprives itself of important forces.
Not winning a seat for which you have applied is highly frustrating: while someone publicly rejoices in the victory, there are those who find themselves with a handful of flies and without work. But even “safe” seats can stop being such. Losing the seat can be a very traumatic thing and seriously endanger mental health.
The greatest benefits are in private life, when one is no longer an MP, the family can feel lighter and marriages and relationships can be recovered.
MPs: an elite who don’t understand the needs of ordinary people
The dysfunctionality of the British parliament not only churns the wrong politicians, but also the wrong laws. Every government makes and has made terrible mistakes with devastating consequences, mistakes that repeat themselves over time. This is due not so much to the fact that politicians are crazy, but rather to the system itself which is sick as a whole.
The parliament is dominated by wealthy middle-aged men: this homogeneity is the problem itself, because people from similar experiences and realities will have a unique and non-objective point of view on the world around them. Such a homogeneous group will struggle to predict and understand the consequences of its policy.
The poll tax (citizenship tax) is the classic example of a tax conceived by a homogeneous group of people, analyzed and evaluated by the same restricted circle, which proved to be a huge political disaster, with the consequent fall of the prime minister. Still, it is an experience that seems to have taught nothing in Westminster.
In the fire of Grenfell Tower (2017), the London skyscraper in which 72 people died, the responsibility of politicians is above all that of not having listened to the inhabitants, both before and after the disaster, having more important things, in their opinion, than to deal with.
Unless a topic has a strong political impact, it is difficult to bring attention to certain issues, even urgent ones. In this case, the inhabitants of the skyscraper were not listened to, despite the fact that many had predicted the catastrophe.
The reality of the Grenfell Tower, a popular home in the middle of very rich neighborhoods, was so far from the bubble that it was neither seen nor felt.
The tendency to procrastinate
Politicians tend to want to do the right thing for their constituents without being criticized and becoming unpopular. So when it comes to making important decisions, they prefer others to do the dirty work. They don’t face long-term problems for fear of short-term consequences.
They would like to pursue good policies for the country and always be admired and appreciated. They are not two things that always go hand in hand, just as it is not easy to solve the problems of the circumscriptions and at the same time be good legislators, nobody can serve two masters.
And so the parliamentarians end up disappointing the most important people, the voters, those who will personally feel the consequences of their political choices. They avoid making urgent and necessary choices not to disappoint anyone, and make decisions on unnecessary topics just to show that they are busy doing something. And they do everything they can to make others face issues that would make them unpopular.
But remember that politicians are elected and paid by the people to make decisions, and to be responsible for these decisions. Washing your hands, not choosing, means not responding to this responsibility in front of the voters. Wanting to keep politics outside, as many MPs do to justify themselves and set a tone, is not something desirable.
Of course, keeping aside one’s belonging in favor of the good of the community in legislating is excellent, but politics is not necessarily evil, it is rather a place for discussion and for thoughtful choices.
An example of the tendency to procrastinate important decisions: the parliament, Unesco heritage, urgently needs to be restructured, yet politicians fear the judgment of the voters, especially in terms of expenses, and prefer to prevaricate. They do not realize that, as a category, they are already despised regardless!
The importance of being a yes-men
The least justifiable and most pernicious culture of the House of Commons is that of the yes-men , puppet men who carry out orders from above. They are aware of the inconsistency of their role as legislators and do nothing to change things.
A parliamentarian has the duty to examine and vote on the laws with competence and sensibility even when the party leaders impose their will, must decide independently and take responsibility for their actions.
The yes-men are highly intelligent people, often with a very successful career behind him, but make the same mistake of all: they neglect the responsibilities of legislators in favor of a bright career in the executive.
The so-called bedroom tax (cut to rental funds) is an example of how obedient parliamentarians have been able to pass a law not so much to guarantee justice and equity, but with the specific purpose of allowing the state to save on subsidies for housing. A blatantly disastrous law, which was passed only because party group leaders and the government’s ego prevailed over the common sense of lawmakers, to the detriment of troubled voters.
Brexit can also be considered a sort of litmus test of this tendency to postpone important decisions, in the hope that the next minister or the next government will take care of it.
The trap of a system and a culture that prevent things from changing
Even the most scrupulous and honest legislators can end up trapped by the Westminster system itself, which forces MPs to become puppets in the hands of the executive. The power that parliamentarians have is very little and the war in Iraq is an example.
When Blair decided to go to war against Iraq, the parliament wanted to analyze the case better, especially the dossier concerning the alleged possession by Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction and understand what the plans were for the post-war period.
Entering a war is not like running an election campaign, it is something much more complex that must be carefully evaluated and considered. The very structure of Westminster made it impossible for MPs to do their job well, once again ending up in the trap of a system that only wants to perpetrate the power of the executive.