Does the emergence of May, Corbyn and Farron spell the end of the traditional political career?

by Kevin Meagher

What were the betting odds a couple of years ago on Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron leading our three major UK political parties? As an accumulator, it must have been in the 500-1 region?

Okay, on her own, Theresa May would have been a decent outside stab for the Tories and Tim Farron had been on manoeuvres for a while, angling for the Lib Dem leadership while his more senior colleagues served in the coalition government, but Jeremy Corbyn?

The emergence of May/Farron/Corbyn seems so random because prior to the 2015 general election the firmament in all three main parties was brimming with political talent. There were plenty of rising stars and key lieutenants who seemed more plausible figures.

Although Theresa May quietly got on with the job of being a steely home secretary, it was George Osborne who dominated Cameron’s government, the obvious heir apparent to his friend and ally, David Cameron, with Boris Johnson offering a credible alternative choice. The smart money was one of them succeeding Cameron.

Equally, although Tim Farron had been assiduously courting the Lib Dems’ activists, his non-service in government meant it was just as likely someone who had been blooded in office like David Laws or Danny Alexander would have succeeded Nick Clegg.

While there were a veritable constellation of stars in the Labour universe.

The point is that all three parties had more obvious candidates waiting (im)patiently. There was an order of succession, a pecking order. Buggins’ turn, even.

A competitive officer class in each that it was logical to presume – naïvely, as it turns out – would inherit the top jobs in due course.

The conference season brought home just how big a churn of characters British politics has been through in the past eighteen months.

So many prominent pieces are off the political chessboard – many of them permanently so.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. None of them survived the 2015 election.

Miliband lost it outright. Clegg was surplus to requirements once the Tories had a majority. While Cameron’s casually-made pledge for an in/out referendum on the EU proved his undoing.

And it’ not just the king and queens, but the knights and bishops too.

Many of the mainstays of British politics during the last parliament have been wiped out by a combination of the voters’ wrath, or because they find themselves on the wrong side of an unexpected change of management in their party.

David Laws, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander for the Lib Dems. Cut down in their prime (as they no doubt see it) by the electorate.

Osborne and Gove. Nicky Morgan and Iain Duncan-Smith. Each of them in Theresa May’s bad books.

Labour’s losses are even greater: Miliband, Balls, Cooper, Alexander, Murphy, the list goes on. And the reasons are multiple. Defeat in last year’s election (especially the Scottish meltdown) as well as Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected victory.

In addition, Sadiq Khan read the tealeaves and went off to run London, while Andy Burnham hopes to do something similar in Greater Manchester.

The sheer number of upwardly-mobile senior politicians decapitated in their prime actually makes the concept of the political career and the benighted ‘professional politician’ seems slightly redundant these days.

So what are the lessons from the emergence of May, Corbyn and Farron?

Bide your time (May and Farron).

Do your job competently (May).

And keep close to your party’s activists (Corbyn and Farron).

Beyond that just accept that British politics is now the destroyer of dreams – and betting odds.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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4 Responses to “Does the emergence of May, Corbyn and Farron spell the end of the traditional political career?”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    Miliband, Balls, Cooper, Alexander, and Murphy were all Tories.

  2. Rallan says:

    LOL! What a blinkered Westminster-only view. Nigel Farage is (still) the leader of the 3rd highest polling party in Britain, and was ultimately responsible for the EU referendum and the Brexit vote. He achieved all this without ever being elected to Westminster.

    By any practical measure Farage has been a more successful politician than anyone currently in British politics, especially May/Corbyn/Farron. Despite it’s current turmoil UKIP remains strong in the polls and continues to represent popular public opinion on subjects the other Westminster parties find to distasteful to address.

    So yes, you are looking at the end of traditional political career, but only because the barbarians at the gates are breaking through.

  3. Jack says:

    A little off topic but thought you might like this video on the future of UKIP – including to what extent the party is a threat to Labour

  4. Ben says:

    Nice concept for an article, but is it supported by the facts?

    If we checked the CV of all the current MP’s and counted how many were former SPAD’s who had taken up internships with MP’s or political organisations, how many were former NUS activists who studied in Russel group universities I bet we would find over 50%, and probably more amongst the newer intakes.

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