Let’s not let hacking scare off good candidates

by Staynton Brown

Why is there such a small pool of people who want to put there names forward for selection?

Our politicians too often seem to have followed an all too familiar career path conveyor belt. From a decent university – to a thinktank –  to parliamentary researcher – to MP. It requires the need to think about one’s future from the earliest age, to manage a life. I’m sure many of the Labour shadow cabinet have followed this career trajectory and benefitted from attending meritocratic excellent state or private schools, with the support of educated parents. Tony Blair made reference to this in his updated paperback addition of A Journey.

Near the top of the list of reasons less people go for selection must be media scrutiny and intrusion. Before the phone hacking revelations, it was still a daunting prospect to know that you may have red top journalists and paparazzi digging into your personal life, forensically scrutinising every decision you have made in your life.

One of the most damaging consequences of the phone hacking revelations is that it ratchets up that climate of fear. Right now there are suspicions Gordon Brown had his phone and bank details hacked into for almost ten years. There have been reports that George Osborne may have been the victim of phone hacking. In fact, if you were in the news as a famous person or you just happened to have suffered from newsworthy personal tragedy, you were seemingly at risk of being a victim of hacking and pernicious media intrusion.

The forthcoming inquiries must be wide ranging, robust, credible and must deliver real change, where lessons are also learned by the Labour party. An unintended consequence of these more devastating revelations is the narrowing of the pool of talent willing to put themselves forward for elected roles in the Labour party, or get involved in Labour party politics. Media scrutiny was almost unbearable before, but these devastating revelations concerning NOTW must surely make many people even more nervous to put themselves forward.

This is not aided by the growth in social media. Many younger people are on Facebook and Twitter, or managing their own blog sites, with their work related reports and opinions automatically placed on the web. The level of self-censorship required in a new information age is a burden many do not want to bare. Especially when, if you raise your head above the parapet, you know they’ll be a media or politically led trawl of every recorded event in your life. It is then followed by the anxiety that you are at risk of the worst sort of subjective historical revisionism.

Without real change, imagine the future of who will make up the Labour leadership, inner circle, central office and aspirant candidates – a smaller coterie of people, carefully stage managing their professional careers from the earliest ages, following the same career paths, resulting in an even smaller group of identikit politicians and public leaders. Homogeneity of experience, culture and background should not define the Labour party.

Those in power and positions of influence might be unconcerned, but the lack of diversity of professional experiences and backgrounds at the heart and centre of our party will eventually damage us.

Staynton Brown is a Labour campaigner and member of Labour Values

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2 Responses to “Let’s not let hacking scare off good candidates”

  1. AmberStar says:

    We are currently seeing Chris Huhne being absolutely hounded over something I consider to be a minor misdemeanour (if he did it). It is something which I know friends of mine have done for their partners, friends & relatives.

    When Man United FC employed a company secretary with no driving licence to take the points of everybody with ManU company cars, the media thought it was a great wheeze. Yet when it comes to a politician doing something similar, he is faced with prospect of losing his entire career. The media have no sense of proportion or fairness about these things when it comes to politicians.

    This makes people wary of becoming politicians, if they are ordinary humans with a few faults & have made, or know they are capable of making, small errors of judgement & minor bad decisions in their personal lives.

  2. AnneJGP says:

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking article, Staynton.

    There is an additional reason for fewer people offering themselves for selection, concommitant with media scrutiny: smearing.

    Knowing that your opponents will go to any lengths to blacken your name, with or without foundation, surely counts somewhere in anyone’s career decision-making process.

    I don’t know whether this will be covered by any of the Inquiries, but it will be interesting to see whether any of the political parties can wean themselves off of this most damaging weapon.

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