With Parliament still in the grip of deadlock over Brexit, a book with the title ‘Why We Get the Wrong Politicians’ might sound particularly timely. However, even Isabel Hardman admits that the provocative title is slightly misleading. Rather than a populist takedown of lazy and self-serving MPs, her examination of the political class is more sympathetic, as she shows that it tends to be the structural flaws in the system which have caused so much political dysfunction in recent years.
In terms of finding candidates who reflect the diversity of the electorate, the odds are stacked against finding the “right” politicians from the very beginning of the selection process – the personal and financial toll of which is an enormous barrier and puts those with young families to support at a particular disadvantage. Hardman has sought out candidates who have lost as well as those who have won to provide a thoughtful and balanced analysis of this bewildering process. And the challenges only become greater once MPs reach Westminster with no formal induction, all in the context where the expenses and sexual harassment scandals have heightened the public level of mistrust towards them.
Hardman demystifies some of the more obscure and arcane parliamentary procedures which result in bad policies and poorly written legislation to pass and shines a spotlight on what local constituency casework and ministerial duties actually involve. There are few rewards for MPs who carefully scrutinise legislation behind-the-scenes (their constituents tend not to take much notice of this low-key but essential function) and there is far more emphasis on the quantity rather than quality of contributions made by parliamentarians in debates. I’m a big fan of Hardman’s Parliamentary “Burn Book” of pointless questions which weaken scrutiny. She also takes the time to look at specific policy areas such as temporary accommodation in the second part of the book with a detailed yet highly readable analysis of how and why things went so wrong.
‘Why We Get the Wrong Politicians’ was first published in September 2018, so the most recent developments in the deadlock over Brexit (and there have been a hell of a lot of them) are not covered here. It’s a common problem for books about current affairs to go out-of-date relatively quickly, but this must be particularly challenging for the publishing industry at the moment in the midst of such complex and fast-moving political events this decade. However, while the Brexit-related examples are no longer completely up-to-the-minute, the broader picture that Hardman paints here offers some serious and sensible explanations of how and why we have reached this point.