How did Douglas Alexander get to be Secretary of State for International Development?
Consider his Curriculum Vitae: Born in 1967, Mr. Alexander studied politics and modern history, worked on the American Presidential Election campaign in 1988, was a speech-writer and researcher for the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, studied law and then worked for six months as a solicitor. Nothing there screams “International Development”.
On April 9th Tribune Magazine highlighted a back door route into government with a story showing how the Labour party waives its candidate selection process at the behest of Peter Mandelson.
The latest case involves journalist Tristram Hunt who has been picked by Mr. Mandelson for Stoke Central. Mick Williams, a party member since 1964, claims the selection was “obviously rigged” and has resigned in protest. This follows a row over the selection of Jonathan Reynolds who had not been included in the short list drawn up by the Stalybridge Labour Party members but whose name was added after an intervention by Mr Mandelson.
The popular perception of a British Member of Parliament used to be a local person fired by a sense of injustice working for a party nomination, fighting and winning an election, spending years on the backbenches and only after proving their effectiveness in parliament might they be promoted to a cabinet position. You’d need to look hard to find anyone like that in the current cabinet.
In the 21st Century British cabinet members appear as if out of nowhere. Like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, Peter Mandelson fiddles with the controls and yet another cloned version of himself shimmers into life. Another yes man who can “send the right message” but not “do the right thing”.
A review of the education and work experience of cabinet ministers is enlightening. Unsurprisingly few of the cabinet are “doers”. Most have worked in occupations such as Think Tanks, Public Relations, Lobby Group or Advertising and many of the senior cabinet figures have previously worked for an incumbent MP.
The background of successful cabinet members is strikingly similar. The typical New Labour apparatchik starts by studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at university (known as PPE). After graduation they rattle around in law or journalism for a while before landing a job as a researcher for an incumbent cabinet minister. If they keep their heads down, control the media agenda and impress their boss then they may be shuffled onto the candidate list of a Labour safe seat over the heads of local party members and with the nod that this candidate has the favour of senior ministers. Bob’s your uncle they are members of parliament and on their way to cabinet.
Consider the potted Curriculum Vitae of a handful of New Labour apparatchiks
- David Milliband worked for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the IPPR’s Commission on Social Justice and then became Tony Blair’s Head of Policy.
- Ed Balls worked for the Financial Times and then became economic adviser to the then shadow chancellor Gordon Brown.
- Ed Miliband has a brief career in television journalism before becoming a speech writer and researcher for Harriet Harman.
These men have no reputation within the Labour movement and no experience in the workplace. Shoe-horned into power, they are equipped only with theoretical knowledge combined with an arrogant self riotousness born from ambition. They may know a lot but they understand nothing. They have no feel for the issues which they discuss because they have never engaged with the world in any real way. When they debate a workers rights or a company’s bottom line they do not understand the obstacles faced by a working man or the imperatives of business. Everything is an abstraction to be air brushed away by some glib sound byte or grand scheme masterminded by a theorist and managed by a consultant.
There are honourable exceptions. Alan Johnston started out as a postman, tried his hand as a pop musician before going on to be a branch official for the Union of Communication Workers and Jack Straw appears to have performed honourable work as a barrister but, I ask again, how did Douglas Alexander become an MP let alone Secretary of State for International Development?
As always it’s not what you know but who you know. The shadow Trade and Industry Secretary for whom Mr. Alexander worked was none other than Gordon Brown though his friendship with Tony Blair did him no harm.
There is a place in politics for people who understand the media but that place is not making policy and if parties continue to allow ministers to choose their successors then we shall become the worlds first nemocracy – A nation ruled by nobodies.