Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Times's David Aaronovitch says that the political class now refuses to put the positive case for immigration:

It is utterly false to say that we haven't talked about immigration. Many of our newspapers do very little but talk about it. They don't "debate" it because their operating assumption, like Mr Field's, is that it is bad; it overwhelms us; floods us; swamps us; it swarms in Sangatte, until it is closed, then infests "the Jungle".

No other point of view is put, just as Mr Straw failed to put it on Thursday, as he dangled between denial and defence.

The Independent's Steve Richards argues that George Osborne was wrong to claim that capping bank bonuses would make more loans available:

There is no evidence to suggest that if banks had a bit more spare cash in the form of shares they would make more loans available. Most banks are not strapped for cash at the moment, but are still reluctant to lend. It is one of the new perversities in banking. There is no correlation between the amount of cash available and their willingness to lend.

The Financial Times's Gideon Rachman says that, as there is no democratic mandate for the post, the EU is not ready for a high-profile president:

Blair would be presented as a real "president of Europe" -- able to speak on equal terms with Barack Obama of the US or Hu Jintao of China.

But if Mr Blair turned up in Beijing claiming to be president of Europe, the only thing that he would have in common with Hu Jintao is that they would both lack a democratic mandate. Ordinary Europeans would be justified in asking by what right the unelected Mr Blair speaks for them. The former prime minister remains a deeply controversial figure in much of Europe because of his support for the Iraq war.

In the New York Times, Roger Cohen discusses his meeting with David Miliband and says that Britain's resolve in Afghanistan appears to be greater than that of the US:

These were the convictions behind Brown's decision earlier this month to send 500 more British troops to Afghanistan, bringing the contingent to 9,500 -- a decision the prime minister expected to be "consistent with what the Americans will decide."

The reinforcement was about one quarter of what British generals had requested. In the US case, Gen Stanley McChrystal has asked for about 40,000 more troops. Doing the math on a "consistent" basis suggests a substantial American reinforcement short of McChrystal's request will eventually be announced by the White House.

The Guardian's leader defends baboons from the rifle of A A Gill:

A few million years ago baboons and human beings were more closely related than now. At some point the species diverged, with one line evolving into hominids and, ultimately, restaurant critics. The other line has remained in Africa, living in simple but rather admirable societies where intelligence and advanced social skills are highly valued. Respect to the baboon.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Want an independent-minded MP? Vote for a career politician

The brutally ambitious are not content to fall in with the crowd. 

“Never having had a ‘real’ job outside of politics”: this is what the majority of respondents told a YouGov poll in 2014 when asked the most undesirable characteristic of the British politician. The result is hardly surprising. Type the words “career politician” into your search engine or raise the topic at a dinner party, and quickly you will be presented with a familiar list of grievances.

One of the fundamental criticisms is that career politicians in parliament are elitists concerned only with furthering their own interests. Their pronounced and self-serving ambition for climbing the ministerial ladder is said to turn them into submissive party-machines, sycophants or yes men and women, leading them to vote loyally with their party in every parliamentary division. But do we actually have evidence for this?

A new in-depth analysis, to be published later this month in the academic journal, Legislative Studies Quarterly, presents a forceful challenge to this conventional wisdom. In fact, I find that career politician MPs in the UK are more likely to rebel against their party than their non-career politician peers. Why?

My study was motivated by the observation that the existing impression of the party loyalty of career politicians is based mostly on anecdotal evidence and speculation. Moreover, a look through the relevant journalistic work, as well as the sparse extant academic literature, reveals that the two main hypotheses on the topic make starkly contradictory claims. By far the most popular — but largely unverified — view is that their exclusively professional reliance on politics renders career politicians more brutally ambitious for frontbench office, which in turn makes them especially subservient to the party leadership.

The opposing, but lesser known expectation is that while career politicians may be particularly eager to reach the frontbenches, “many of them are also much too proud and wilful to be content to serve as mere lobby fodder”, as the late Anthony King, one of the shrewdest analysts of British politics, observed nearly thirty years ago on the basis of more qualitative evidence.

Faced with these opposing but equally plausible prognoses, I assembled biographical data for all the MPs of the three big parties between 2005-15 (more than 850) and analysed all parliamentary votes during this period. I followed the debate’s prevalent view that an exclusive focus on politics (e.g. as a special adviser or an MP’s assistant) or a closely-related field (e.g. full-time trade union official or interest group worker) marks an MP as a careerist. In line with previous estimations, just under 20 per cent of MPs were identified as career politicians. The extensive statistical analysis accounted for additional factors that may influence party loyalty, and largely ruled out systematic differences in ideology between career and non-career politicians, as well as party or term-specific differences as drivers of the effects.

As noted above, I find strong evidence that career politician backbenchers are more likely to rebel. The strength of this effect is considerable. For example, amongst government backbenchers who have never held a ministerial post, a non-career politician is estimated to rebel in only about 20 votes per parliament. By contrast, a career politician dissents more than twice as often — a substantial difference considering the high party unity in Westminster.

This finding reveals a striking paradox between the predominantly negative opinion of career politicians on the one hand, and the electorate's growing demand for more independent-minded MPs on the other. In fact career politicians are the ones who perform best in delivering on this demand. Similarly, the results imply that the oft-cited career-related dependency of career politicians on the party can be overridden (or, at the very least, complemented) by their self-image as active and independent-minded participants in the legislative process. This should attenuate the prevalent concern that a rise in career politicians leads to a weakening of parliament’s role as a scrutinizing body.

Finally, the findings challenge the pervasive argument that a lack of experience in the real world disqualifies an MP from contributing meaningfully to the legislative process. Instead, it appears that a pre-parliamentary focus on politics can, under certain circumstances, boost an MP's normatively desirable willingness to challenge the party and the executive.

Raphael Heuwieser is researching political party loyalty at the University of Oxford.