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Why Are Our Politicians so Shit?

The past few weeks have been, once again, rife with scandal, errors, and news of disgraceful behavior in British politics. This is not something new, playing on decades-old stereotypes, but is the latest installment of a phenomenon that has taken on its own character in the post-Brexit, 2016-onwards populism train-to-somewhere era in which we exist.

Over the past week, Conservative MP Dominic Raab resigned as Secretary of State for Justice after a report was released finding that he had bullied civil servants who worked under him in the Department of Justice. The report states that Raab "acted in a manner which was intimidating, in the sense of going further than was necessary or appropriate in delivering critical feedback, and also insulting, in the sense of making unconstructive critical comments about the quality of work done (whether or not as a matter of substance any criticism was justified)." Other anonymous sources in the department stated how "At a flick of a switch, he could turn incredibly angry and pretty offensive in the way in which he talked to people." The Independent reported back in November 2022 that multiple staff members had to undertake extended periods of leave due to the mental and physical health impacts working for Raab had on them.

Situations like that, unfortunately, don’t surprise me. I have worked in Westminster previously myself and am all too aware of being so stressed that you cannot eat, having your pre-existing physical health conditions deteriorate with the first signs of struggle, and your mental health develop in a manner you couldn’t ever foresee.

This issue has led me to re-examine a point that I have long held contention with, which is the fact that so many of the British political class are so bad at their jobs. A lot of them are useless, power-hungry people doing unhelpful things in the public sphere. But I often wonder how it got to this point.

From experience and observation, I’ve come up with a few ideas on this. The main one is that the current political system lends itself to people of this ilk wanting to get involved in it. Having to be a member of a political party, largely active within it and within the local area, and getting through a process that doesn’t vet a person’s competencies for the role because it is largely to do with factions within these parties and how much favor you can win with a small group of people means that we end up with a specific type of person as a Member of Parliament, regardless of their political affiliations.

Due to the time needed to spend with the local party and deeply caring about local political party goings-on in rather small areas of the country, it lends itself to people who haven’t fully dedicated themselves to other things and becoming experts in these fields, whether that be through their jobs, their hobbies, or academia. It lends itself to middle managers and policy officers who think they know how the world should be run, and have the benefit of hubris not to temper themselves or think they need to keep learning, developing, and challenging their own pre-conceived notions of policymaking and how the world works. As a result of this, you end up with people who are woefully incapable of running their own small offices, let alone an entire department of Government in Dominic Raab’s case, having an unprecedented amount of power. There are only 650 of these roles available at any one time, meaning that they should be highly specialized, requiring people who have displayed an unseen amount of competency and desirability for the role, and time should be taken in the hiring process. However, with these jobs essentially being handed to local Labour or Conservative party members in constituencies they know they’ll win, the country ends up electing people who wouldn’t even get a courtesy rejection email if this was a normal job with a normal interview process. And all because they hold the correct views on someone who upset the 74-year old local party chair back in 1981.

In my procrastination whilst writing this article, I saw a video from Labour MP Jess Phillips’ podcast in which fellow Labour MP Lisa Nandy claims that people don’t like politicians because they don’t seem like they’re having fun. I also came across a separate video in which Conservative MP Lee Anderson claims he knows more about public order law than the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police before going on to personally verbally attack him during a public Select Committee questioning session. It feels like I'm losing my mind.

I cannot speak about other countries and how competent their elected officials appear to be. If you’re reading this and have innate experiences outside of the political system, please reach out to me and let me know what it’s like in your country. I’m genuinely interested. In Britain, the entitlement of baby boomers and millennials who have never been told they’re wrong about something is slowly but surely killing the country. Due to how inertia works, it may be a long time before we can rectify this issue.


Sam Mandi-Ghomi is co-editor and co-founder of Left Brain Media. You can find his other work here.

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