Something has been bugging me throughout this election. A phrase, coming up over and over again in the national debate as well as here in Southend. No, it’s not “Long Term Economic Plan” (Though there is a special place in hell waiting for whichever moron dreamt that up -Ed).
This is a phrase which has been used again and again, and each time I cringe inwardly and out. Somehow, despite it being demonstrably nonsense — and demonstrate, I will — it has become so ingrained in our social psyche that it’s like the “Fine,” we utter in response to the Monday morning “How are you?”, despite being very un-fine.
I’m calling time on it then. Let’s have no more of the phrase “professional politician”.
As you can probably tell, this has been bugging me for a while. It’s only ever used as a derogatory, whether to insist that the user isn’t one, or an opponent is. Because it’s a terrible thing, you see, to be a professional politician.
Quite why, I’m unsure. Usually it’s linked to scandals in politics, like the expenses scandal, as though that was caused by our politicians being paid full-stop, rather than an arrogance borne of insufficient scrutiny. We have scandals in all sorts of areas of life, but nobody is saying that the lesson of Hillsborough is that we should be relying on amateur vigilante groups rather than a professional police force.
“Professional politicians” as a slur is on a level with the “unelected judges” line which the right-wing press is so keen to come out with when the courts come out with decisions they don’t like. It’s worse than meaningless, it’s wrong. Parts of the world have elected judges, and I promise you it’s not an alternative you would enjoy.
Similarly with politics, we had amateur politicians. In the 19th century politics was the reserve of the independently wealthy. Salaries for MPs were introduced so that the House of Commons wouldn’t be a clique of the wealthy elites. There is an argument — a good argument — that we’ve already headed too far back down that road, and the prohibitive cost of standing for election is stopping many from getting involved.
So enough of this. Candidates, stop disclaiming the tag “professional politician”. If you’re standing in an election for anything above parish/town council level, you either are a professional politician or are aspiring to be one. That doesn’t make you an arrogant, complacent sod per se.
And voters, understand what you’re asking for if you say you don’t want “professional politicians”. By all means, vote for the candidates who you think will be most responsive to your needs, to your concerns, who promotes the policies you believe in. But bearing in mind that professional means “paid for the tasks they perform“, if you call for your politicians to be unpaid you’re going to end up represented by only the independently wealthy or those who can source income from other places — rich and powerful vested interests.
Besides, the other definition of professional is “carried out to a high standard of quality“. So as well as being open to corruption and potentially divorced from the workings of the real world, your “unprofessional” politicians would be also be bad politicians.
So it turns out that good, professional politicians are exactly what you want.