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The Rise of the Career Politician in Britain — And its Consequences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2009


The new British government formed in May 1979 contained a Butler, a Chalker, a Fowler and a Prior. It also, as the whole world knows, contained a Thatcher. It did not, however, contain a single Barrister, Solicitor or Journalist; nor, remarkably, did it contain anybody by the name of Politician.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1981

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1 This is the definition given in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edn., p. 1356.Google Scholar

2 The three studies alluded to are Newby, Howard, The Deferential Worker: A Study of Farm Workers in East Anglia (London: Allen Lane, 1977)Google Scholar; Tunstall, Jeremy, The Fishermen (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1962)Google Scholar and Janowitz, Morris, The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1961)Google Scholar. Among the few studies of politicians that adopt an approach not dissimilar to the one to be used here are Barber, James David, The Lawmakers: Recruitment and Adaptation to Legislative Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965)Google Scholar; Kirkpatrick, Jeane J., Political Woman (New York: Basic Books, 1974)Google Scholar; Fishel, Jeff, ‘Ambition and the Political Vocation: Congressional Challengers in American Politics’, Journal of Politics, XXXIII (1971), 2556CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Black, Gordon S., ‘A Theory of Professionalization in Politics’, American Political Science Review, LXIV (1970), 865–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Johnson, R. W., ‘The British Political Elite, 1955–1972’, Archives Européennes de Sociologie, XIV (1973), 3577CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Useful books on the sociology and psychology of occupations are Hughes, Everett Cherrington, Men and Their Work (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1958)Google Scholar and Roe, Anne, The Psychology of Occupations (New York: John Wiley, 1956)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Politicians appear twice in the index to the Roe volume – the same number of times as commercial artists, inventive geniuses and psychiatric attendants, but more often than chorus girls, cowpunchers and embalmers.

3 ‘Either one lives “for” politics or one lives “off” politics… He who lives “for” politics makes politics his life, in an internal sense.’ Weber's ‘internal sense’ is exactly what we have in mind here. See Weber, Max, ‘Politics as a Vocation’ in Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. Wright, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948), p. 84.Google Scholar

4 For evidence on the financial dependence of women politicians on their husbands in Britain and the United States, see Kirkpatrick, , Political WomanGoogle Scholar; Currell, Melville E., Political Woman (London: Croom Helm, 1974)Google Scholar; Vallance, Elizabeth, Women in the House: A Study of Women Members of Parliament (London: Athlone Press, 1979)Google Scholar; and Phillips, Melanie, The Divided House: Women at Westminster (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1980).Google Scholar

5 Disraeli's novels are well known. For details of Gladstone's various hobbies, see Magnus, Philip, Gladstone (London: John Murray, 1954).Google Scholar

6 A large proportion of the data in this paper are derived from four sources: Who's Who (together with Who Was Who), Dod's Parliamentary Companion, The Times Guide to the House of Commons and, not least, Butler, David and Sloman, Anne, British Political Facts 1900–1979, 5th edn. (London: Macmillan, 1980)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The Butler and Sloman volume is essential for any student of British politics; this paper could scarcely have been written without it.

7 Hoffman, J. D., The Conservative Party in Opposition 1945–51 (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1964), Chap. 4.Google Scholar

8 Lyttelton, Oliver (Chandos, Viscount), The Memoirs of Lord Chandos (London: Bodley Head, 1962), p. 431.Google Scholar

9 Memoirs of Lord Chandos, p. 431Google Scholar. On pp. 144–7, he compares the life of a business man with that of a cabinet minister, to the disadvantage of the latter. There are further ruminations along the same lines on pp. 432–7. ‘Since those days,’ he says on p. 437Google Scholar, ‘I have been offered high office by both Prime Ministers but I have refused’.

10 Kilmuir, Lord (SirMaxwell-Fyfe, David), Political Adventure: The Memoirs of the Earl of Kilmuir (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), p. 324.Google Scholar

11 Kilmuir, , Political Adventure, p. 325.Google Scholar

12 Allen, W. Gore, The Reluctant Politician: Derick Heathcoat Amory (London: Christopher Johnson, 1958), p. 72Google Scholar. Amory went on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Macmillan administration, resigning in 1960. Macmillan writes of his resignation: ‘Owing to Derry Amory's desire to exchange the fierce conflicts of national politics for the comparative calm of business and philanthropy it now became necessary to undertake a major reconstruction of the Administration.’ Macmillan, Harold, Pointing the Way 1959–61 (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 229.Google Scholar

13 Quoted in Barnes, Susan, Behind the Image (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974), p. 68Google Scholar. Elsewhere (p. 63) Eccles says, ‘I didn't mind much about politics, which was bad for a House of Commons man.’ Eccles served as President of the Board of Trade, then as Minister of Education, in the Macmillan cabinet. He left the House of Commons for the House of Lords in 1962 but later served briefly in the Heath government as minister for the arts.

14 Marsh, Richard, Off the Rails: An Autobiography (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978), pp. 156–7Google Scholar. Marsh was sacked as Minister of Transport in 1969. In his farewell letter to the Prime Minister, he wrote (p. 145): ‘I would have liked to close with a quotation from Milton, but the best I can do is from one of my small son's school books which starts with the sentence: “Life first began on earth three thousand million years ago.” It puts most current political problems into perspective.’ When Labour went into opposition in 1970, Marsh returned to the front bench, but a few months later he retired from politics to become chairman of British Rail.

15 Hill, Charles (Lord Hill of Luton), Both Sides of the Hill: The Memoirs of Charles Hill (London: Heinemann, 1964), p. 212Google Scholar. Hill had previously been secretary of the British Medical Association. After serving in the Macmillan administration, he went on to become chairman of the Independent Television Authority and later chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC.

16 Quoted in Barnes, , Behind the Image, p. 53Google Scholar. Grossman was right: he did not have to be left out any more: he served in the cabinet throughout Wilson's first administration. He retired from the front bench to become editor of the New Statesman in 1970.

17 Boyd, Francis, Richard Austen Butler (London: Rockliff, 1956), pp. 115–16Google Scholar. Butler held almost every political office except the one he wanted most, the prime ministership. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1929 at the age of 27 and served in every Conservative administration between 1932 and 1964. He finally retired from politics to become Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1965.

18 Dalton, Hugh, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931–1945 (London: Frederick Muller, 1957), p. 21Google Scholar. Dalton meant his parliamentary life to be a long one, and it was. He was elected for Bishop Auckland in 1935 and held the seat until he retired in 1959. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Attlee.

19 Fisher, Nigel, Iain Macleod (London: Andre Deutsch, 1973), p. 54Google Scholar. Fisher adds, ‘Like the personnel bomb, it was a near miss.’ Macleod was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Heath government when he died suddenly in the summer of 1970.

20 Donoughue, Bernard and Jones, G. W., Herbert Morrison: Profile of a Politician (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973), p. 176Google Scholar. Morrison served with distinction in the wartime coalition and in the post-war Attlee government. He was brokenhearted when he finished third in the contest for the Labour party leadership in 1955.

21 The word also, of course, has negative connotations when used of politics and politicians. Hence Boyd's desire to avoid applying it to R. A. Butler in the passage quoted above. Interestingly, the negative meaning of ‘professional politician’ has found its way into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (p. 1593)Google Scholar, which says under ‘professional’: ‘Disparagingly applied to one who “makes a trade” of politics, etc. 1805.’

22 Moore, Wilbert E., with Rosenblum, Gerald W., The Professions: Roles and Rules (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1970), pp. 56Google Scholar. Moore says nothing about politics as a profession, nor does Larson, Magali Sarfatti in The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)Google Scholar. Keller, Suzanne occasionally touches on politicians as a class of person in Beyond the Ruling Class: Strategic Elites in Modern Society (New York: Random House, 1963)Google Scholar; see e.g. p. 211.

23 Notice that, even if politics were a profession and it therefore made good sense to refer to most politicians as ‘professional politicians’, this usage would still fail to distinguish among politicians in terms of their degree of commitment to politics as a vocation. After all, doctors and lawyers are professionals; but some are more committed to medicine and the law than others. For some general reflections on politics as a profession, see Eulau, Heinz and Sprague, John D., Lawyers in Politics: A Study in Professional Convergence (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), pp. 68, 132–43.Google Scholar

24 Wilson, James Q., The Amateur Democrat: Club Politics in Three Cities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), esp. Chaps, 1, 5–6, 10 and 12.Google Scholar

25 Wilson, , The Amateur Democrat, p. 3.Google Scholar

26 See below pp. 282–4. There is a further complication with regard to Wilson's use of the terms ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’. Wilson's professionals, despite their name, often regard politics as a hobby; his amateurs, despite their name, sometimes take up politics as a career. In other words, the so-called amateur may be more committed to political life than the so-called professional. Wilson's categories systematically cut athwart the ones being used here.

27 Hughes, , Men and Their Work, p. 63.Google Scholar

28 In case he or she has any difficulty, two examples should make the point. Iain Macleod has already been a career politician — a man who under enemy air attack revealed the extent of his political ambitions. Yet in 1968, while still a contender for the Conservative leadership, Macleod voted against a bill introduced by the then Labour government to restrict the right of Kenyan Asians to enter Britain. The bill had the passionate support of almost every Conservative in the country; but it had been Iain Macleod who, years before, had helped to negotiate the very agreement under which Kenyan Asians were guaranteed, or so they thought, free entry into the United Kingdom. Macleod wrote, before going into the division lobby against his own party: ‘I gave my word. I meant to give it. I wish to keep it.’ That was hardly the act of a careerist. Likewise, Shirley Williams, a prominent figure on the Labour side, will be identified below as a career politician (if of a somewhat qualified sort). Yet in September 1974, at the height of a closely fought election campaign, when she was a serving cabinet minister, she was asked point-blank at a press conference what she would do if the forthcoming national referendum on the Common Market produced a majority in favour of Britain's withdrawing from the European Community. Most of her party was hostile to Europe. She could easily have dodged the question. Instead, she replied, ‘Speaking for myself, I would not remain in active politics if the referendum went the wrong way from my point of view.’ Again, that was hardly the act of a careerist. For accounts of the two episodes, see Fisher, , Iain Macleod, pp. 296–7Google Scholar, and King, Anthony, Britain Says Yes: The 1975 Referendum on the Common Market (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1977), pp. 81–2.Google Scholar

29 There would have been considerable practical difficulties in mounting an appropriate survey of leading politicians, or even of organizing any kind of systematic reputational study. In any case, this paper is concerned with changes over a considerable period of time and many of the leading politicians of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and even 1960s – and their contemporaries – are either very old or dead.

30 The relevant psychological literature includes Lasswell, Harold D., Psychopathology and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930)Google Scholar; Lasswell, Harold D., Power and Personality (New York: W. W. Norton, 1948)Google Scholar; Lasswell, Harold D., Lerner, Daniel and Rothwell, C. Easton, The Comparative Study of Elites: An Introduction and Bibliography (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1952)Google Scholar; Davis, James C., Human Nature in Politics: The Dynamics of Political Behavior (New York: John Wiley, 1963)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Browning, Rufus P. and Jacob, Herbert, ‘Power Motivation and the Political Personality’, Public Opinion Quarterly, XXVIII (1964), 7590CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Browning, Rufus P., ‘The Interaction of Personality and Political System in Decisions to Run for Office: Some Data and a Simulation Technique’, Journal of Social issues, XXIV (1968), 93109CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Stone, William F., The Psychology of Politics (New York: Free Press, 1974)Google Scholar; DiRenzo, Gordon J., ‘Professional Politicians and Personality Structures’, American Journal of Sociology, LXXIII (1967), 217–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar; DiRenzo, Gordon J., ‘Politicians and Personality: A Cross-Cultural Perspective’ in Hermann, Margaret G., with Milburn, Thomas W., eds., A Psychological Examination of Political Leaders (New York: Free Press, 1977)Google Scholar; and Davies, A. F., Skills, Outlooks and Passions: A Psychiatric Contribution to the Study of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).Google Scholar

31 Davis, , Human Nature in Politics, p. 288Google Scholar; see also pp. 59, 60 and 285. Davis's implied scepticism about much of the psychological literature concerning politicians, which suggests that they are mildly dotty if not insane, receives support in McConaughy, John B., ‘Certain Personality Factors of State Legislators in South Carolina’, American Political Science Review, XLIV (1950), 897903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 Margach, James, The Anatomy of Power: An Enquiry into the Personality of Leadership (London: W. H. Allen, 1979), p. 70.Google Scholar

33 Grimond, Jo, Memoirs (London: Heinemann, 1979), p. 166–7.Google Scholar

34 Eulau, and Sprague, , Lawyers in Politics, p. 1Google Scholar. It goes without saying that, if certain other occupations can open doors to careers in politics, the converse is also true: a successful career in politics (or even a not very successful one) can lead to upward mobility in other fields. Richard Marsh is a good case in point (see above, pp. 253–4 and fn. 14). Sometimes politicians deliberately set out to use politics as a means of self-advancement; Barber, in The Lawmakers (Chap. 4)Google Scholar labels the state legislators who follow this route ‘the Advertisers’. That mobility in politics and mobility in other fields may affect each other is suggested by Eulau, Heinz and Koff, David in ‘Occupational Mobility and Political Career’, Western Political Quarterly, XV (1962), 507–21.Google Scholar

35 The reason is obvious: almost all of the lecturer-MPs were (and are) Labour; see Mellors, Colin, The British MP: A Socio-economic Study of the House of Commons (Farnborough, Hants.: Saxon House, 1978), Table 5.2, pp. 64–6Google Scholar. With regard to a large number of the variables discussed in this section of the paper, the differences between the two parties are substantial. If they are not emphasized, it is because the paper seeks to draw attention to something that the parties have in common rather than to ways in which they differ; in most cases, details of the differences can be found in the relevant tables of Mellors' The British MP. Some additional data on the changes in the occupational structure of the House of Commons that took place immediately after the Second World War can be found in Ross, J. F. S., Parliamentary Representation, 2nd edn. (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1948), Chaps. 7–8Google Scholar, and Ross, J. F. S., Elections and Electors: Studies in Democratic Representation (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955), Chap. 26.Google Scholar

36 See below p. 284. Weber was alert to the importance of the journalist in modern politics. He wrote in ‘Politics as a Vocation’ (p. 96)Google Scholar: ‘The political publicist, and above all the journalist, is nowadays the most important representative of the demagogic species.’ Most writers who have drawn on Weber have singled out the passages in which he deals with the role of lawyers in politics, but he was at least as interested in journalists – and seems to have thought that the part played by journalists in politics would increase. See also the comments in Lasswell, Lerner, and Rothwell, , Comparative Study of Elites, pp. 1618.Google Scholar

37 Labour MPs are much more likely than Conservative MPs to be elected for the first time when they are over 50. See Mellors, , The British MP, Tables 3·1, 3·2 and 3·3, pp. 2932.Google Scholar See also Ranney, Austin, Pathways to Parliament: Candidate Selection in Britain (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965). pp. 198200Google Scholar, and Rush, Michael, The Selection of Parliamentary Candidates (London: Nelson, 1969), pp. 72–3, 208–9 and 221.Google Scholar

38 Of the Conservative members who served in Parliament after 1945 but who had first been elected before 1945, nearly 20 per cent entered the House before they were 30 (Mellors, , The British MP, Table 3·3, p. 31Google Scholar). Allowances have to be made for the fact that in 1945 no general election had been held for ten years and a disproportionate number of the holdover MPs were bound to have been elected young. Even so, the proportion is high.

39 See Ranney, , Pathways to Parliament, Chaps. 4 and 7Google Scholar, and Rush, , Selection of Parliamentary Candidates, Chaps. 3 and 8.Google Scholar

40 Because there had been no general election for a decade, 1945 brought in a substantial number of members who would almost certainly have fought a seat had an election been held in the usual way in 1939 or 1940. Labour's landslide victory also brought in an unusually large number of Labour members without previous electoral experience. Of the 74 new Conservative members in 1945, 73 had never fought before. Of the 244 new Labour members in 1945, 192 had never fought before. See Mellors, , The British MP, Table 2·5, p. 22.Google Scholar

41 The high proportions of first-time winners in the cabinets of the 1950s and 1960s reflect the high proportion of Conservative first-time winners in 1945 and 1950 and the high proportion of Labour first-time winners in 1945. See Mellors, , The British MP, Table 2·5, p. 22.Google Scholar The relatively large proportion of cabinet ministers between 1935 and 1940 who had had to fight three or more times before being elected for the first time probably reflects the electoral turbulence of the 1920s.

42 Table 6 omits one group who should be included and includes another group who should be omitted. On the one hand, it takes no account of MPs who retire between general elections, thus forcing by-elections; on the other, it includes some members who have not really retired voluntarily but who have been denied renomination by their constituency party or association and then decided not to seek re-election. For a partial list of the latter, see Butler, and Sloman, , British Political Facts 1900–1979, p. 221.Google Scholar It is very doubtful whether, if these two groups were allowed for in the table, the over-all pattern of findings would be significantly, if at all, different. The choice of 60 as, in some sense, a ‘natural’ retiring age for MPs reflects the fact that, since parliaments can be reckoned to last for four or five years, an MP who does not retire in his early 60s is in effect committing himself, if he has a safe seat, to staying on till his late 60s.

43 The reader should be spared the trouble of looking these two gentlemen up. George Tryon, a frequent junior minister in the Conservative and National governments of the inter-war years, served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for a few months in the summer and early autumn of 1940. Euan Wallace had a somewhat similar career, serving as Minister of Transport for just over a year in 1939–40.

44 Birkenhead, Lord, Walter Monckton: The Life of Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), p. 365.Google Scholar Perhaps the point should be made at this stage that people can, of course, change. Someone who initially comes into politics more or less by accident may develop a taste for it; another person's enthusiasm may wane. Richard Marsh's, for example, would appear gradually to have waned. Such changes would be worth studying for their own sake but fortunately are rare enough not to affect the analysis here. With regard to Marsh and others who have left politics to take up jobs in business or elsewhere, it should not be inferred from the mere fact of someone's having left politics that he was not really a career politician. A career politician who was seriously at odds with his party, or felt for some reason that he was not getting anywhere, might decide to throw up politics in favour of something else – but he would not be happy about it, he would feel that he was abandoning something very important to him. Being a career politician is not defined by what one does, but by how one feels about what one does.

45 Ismay had no notion that Churchill would invite him to join his cabinet; he had been asleep for an hour when the call from 10 Downing Street came. He remarks, ‘There were many people sitting by their telephones that night, hoping, and perhaps praying, that the new Prime Minister might have something to offer them, but these were problems which were no concern of mine.’ Ismay, Lord, The Memoirs of Lord Ismay (London: Heinemann, 1960), p. 452.Google Scholar

46 Non-British readers are asked, as always, to be patient regarding the penchant of British politicians for changing their names. To take the extreme case, the Hon. Quintin Hogg succeeded to his father's title in 1950, becoming the second Viscount Hailsham. After he had been known as Lord Hailsham for thirteen years, he renounced his peerage in 1963, thus becoming Quintin Hogg again. Seven years later, however, in 1970, he accepted a life peerage, ceased for the second time to be Quintin Hogg and became Lord Hailsham of Marylebone. Home has been known successively as Lord Dunglass, the Earl of Home, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Lord Home of the Hirsel; they are all the same person. In the Figures, each minister is given the name he or she was known by during most of the period in question – except that in Figure 3 Home is identified as Sir Alec Douglas-Home, since that was the name he was known by when he was Prime Minister.

47 Williams, Francis, The Triple Challenge (London: Heinemann, 1948), p. 67.Google Scholar The writer adds (pp. 67–8): ‘Certainly he assured me frequently during that time that he had no intention of doing so. To all persuasions he responded with a grunt and the reply: “I'm too old to learn to be a politician now.”’

48 Woolton, Lord, The Memoirs of the Right Hon. the Earl of Woolton (London: Cassell, 1959), p. 167.Google Scholar In fact, Woolton turned out to have considerable political capacity and played a large part in the revival of the Conservative party's fortunes after the war. He served as party chairman for nearly ten years, from 1946 to 1955.

49 On what has often been called the cursus honorum in British politics, see Buck, Philip W., Amateurs and Professionals in British Politics 1918–59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), Chap. 5Google Scholar; Willson, F. M. G., ‘The Routes of Entry of New Members of the British Cabinet, 1868–1958’, Political Studies, vii (1959), 222–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Willson, F. M. G., ‘Entry to the Cabinet, 1959–1968’, Political Studies, xviii (1970), 236–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

50 Cousins has already been referred to. C. P. Snow, the novelist, served briefly as a junior minister at the Ministry of Technology. A member of a Labour government, he distinguished himself by defending publicly his decision to send his son to Eton. On the recruitment of outsiders to British cabinets, see Willson, , ‘Routes of Entry of New Members’.Google Scholar

51 Career politicians are likely to appoint other career politicians, not least because career politicians in the House of Commons can be counted on to be resentful if they are passed over in significant numbers for outsiders. Politics may not be a profession, but in this respect it is coming to resemble a profession. The contrast between Britain and the United States is, if anything, becoming even more marked than it once was: while American Presidents continue to recruit cabinet officers and other senior executives from outside the ranks of career politicians, British Prime Ministers are doing so on an ever-decreasing scale.

52 The only partial exceptions, none of them in top offices, were Lord Elwyn-Jones, the Lord Chancellor, a distinguished barrister; Edmund Dell, the Secretary of State for Trade, who had been an executive in Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI); and Harold Lever, who had considerable experience of the world of banking and finance. Precisely because his ministerial colleagues recognized that he knew more about these matters than they did, Lever carried far more weight in the cabinet than might have been expected on the basis of his office (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) alone; see Television, Granada, Chrysler and the Cabinet: How the Deal Was Done (Manchester: Granada Television, 1976)Google Scholar and Fay, Stephen and Young, Hugo, The Day the £ Nearly Died (London: Sunday Times, 1978).Google Scholar

53 Nor did it contain two generals. The Thatcher cabinet did contain a number of people with considerable business experience, notably Lord Carrington, Sir Keith Joseph, Peter Walker and Michael Heseltine. Sir Keith Joseph played an active part in his family's construction firm during the decade after the Second World War; he played a less active part after entering the House of Commons in 1956. It is interesting that in the cases of Walker and Heseltine, their business experience was not in industry directly but in finance and publishing; for the most part, they made money rather than things.

54 On the British civil service, and in particular on its dearth of outside experience, see Kellner, Peter and Crowther-Hunt, Lord, The Civil Servants: An Inquiry into Britain's Ruling Class (London: Macdonald, 1980).Google Scholar This theme, in connection with the relations between government and industry, is pursued in, among other places, Hansard Society, Politics and Industry – The Great Mismatch (London: Hansard Society, n.d.). There has been a certain amount of acid comment on top politicians' lack of non-political experience, some of it emanating from other politicians. Woodrow Wyatt, a former Labour MP, wrote: ‘The complexities of modern industry, the inevitable increase of government interference in it, and the necessity for governments to control the… economy, demand a higher level of intelligence and business understanding and a more knowledgeable approach in all ministerial jobs which carry a material influence on the economy than has been the case so far. Even the top five or six in cabinets since the war have been woefully short of the ability to do effectively as opposed to talking effectively to cover up their mistakes.’ See Turn Again, Westminster (London: Andre Deutsch, 1973), p. 136Google Scholar, and also the similar remarks in Abse, Leo, Private Member (London: Macdonald, 1973), p. 101.Google Scholar

55 Douglas Hurd attributes the phrase to the Mayor of Tours in An End to Promises: Sketch of a Government 1970–74 (London: Collins, 1979), p. 148.Google Scholar

56 Shils, Edward A., ‘Resentments and Hostilities of Legislators: Sources, Objects, Consequences’, in Wahlke, John C. and Eulau, Heinz, eds., Legislative Behavior: A Reader in Theory and Research (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1959), p. 349.Google Scholar Shils's article is one of the few that deals with politicians within, as it were, their own world. The whole of it is worth reading.

57 Another part of the explanation for the British House of Commons' having become, like the parliament of the French fourth republic, ‘a house without windows’, is almost certainly the unusually long parliamentary sessions in Britain and the long and strange hours that the British House of Commons sits. For some evidence, see ‘The late parliamentary show’, The Economist, 22 10 1977.Google Scholar The burden of parliamentary work is probably one of the factors leading to the increased incidence of career politicians in British political life: few not already deeply committed to politics as a career will put up with the House of Commons' hours.

58 Donoughue, and Jones, , Herbert Morrison, p. 176.Google Scholar

59 Wyatt, , Turn Again, Westminster, p. 27.Google Scholar It is doubtful whether many of these people had the impoverished egos of ‘the Spectators’ described by Barber, in The Lawmakers, Chap. 2.Google Scholar

60 No very thorough study has been made of MPs' relations with their constituents, but see King, Anthony, British Members of Parliament: A Self-Portrait (London: Macmillan, in association with Granada Television, 1974), Chap. 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; King, Anthony and Sloman, Anne, Westminster and Beyond (London: Macmillan, 1973), Chaps. 1–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Richards, Peter G., The Back benchers (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), Chap. 8Google Scholar; and Cain, Bruce E., Ferejohn, John A. and Fiorina, Morris P., ‘The House is Not a Home: British MPs in Their Constituencies’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, iv (1979), 501–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar It is interesting that Matthews reports that the United States senators he labels ‘professionals’ take constituency casework very seriously, especially if their seats are not entirely secure. See Matthews, Donald R., US Senators and Their World (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1960), p. 227.Google Scholar

61 It is too early for any detailed study of the select committees' work to be undertaken, but the British press in the spring and summer of 1980 was full of reports of their obstreperous behaviour. For the details of the new select committee system, see Bromhead, Peter and Shell, Donald, ‘The British Constitution in 1979’, Parliamentary Affairs, xxxiii (1980), pp. 148–51.Google Scholar

62 On the decline of party cohesion in the House of Commons, see three volumes by Norton, Philip: Conservative Dissidents: Dissent within the Parliamentary Conservative Party 1970–74 (London: Temple Smith, 1978)Google Scholar; Dissension in the House of Commons: Intra-Party Dissent in the House of Commons' Division Lobbies 1945–1974 (London: Macmillan, 1975)Google Scholar; and Dissension in the House of Commons, 1974–1979 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).Google Scholar The decline of party cohesion – that is, the increasing number of rebellions on the floor of the House of Commons – and the growing importance of select committees have been related both to each other and to the rise of the career politician by Geoffrey Smith in a number of articles in The Times. See esp. ‘The growing band of rebel MPs’, 5 09 1978Google Scholar, and ‘The younger men that Mrs. Thatcher must convince of her strategy’, 21 03 1980.Google Scholar In the latter article, Smith writes: ‘What is beyond doubt is that a more assertive and independent breed of MP is entering the House these days. They are professionals in the sense of devoting their careers to politics, even if they retain another job on the side. They have gone into Parliament not because they believe it to be the best club in Europe but because they want to have a direct influence on public policy. That was always true of a number of members, of course; nowadays it applies to nearly all entrants. It follows that there are therefore a higher proportion of ambitious – and potentially frustrated – backbenchers who are determined to exercise their own judgment on public policy.’

63 Much the best discussion of the rise in public spending in almost all liberal democracies is Rose, Richard and Peters, Guy, Can Government Go Bankrupt? (New York: Basic Books, 1978).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

64 Barber, , The Lawmakers, p. 207.Google Scholar

65 See esp. Finer, S. E., ed., Adversary Politics and Electoral Reform (London: Anthony Wigram, 1975)Google Scholar and Finer, S. E., The Changing British Party System, 1945–1979 (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1980).Google Scholar In an essay published since the first draft of the present paper was written, Kavanagh similarly suggests that recent changes in the tone and substance of British politics may be related to changes in its personnel. Consequent upon the changes in the social backgrounds of the two main parties' front benches, Kavanagh writes, ‘we might expect a different attitude to political activity. Patricians, after all, learned a tradition of politics that arose from practice and relied on hunch and instinct; they usually had a sceptical view of what could or even should be achieved by government… In contrast the socially mobile meritocrats, lacking this background, might be expected to be more motivated to bring about change and to see their task as “making” instead of “attending to” the arrangements of society.’ See Kavanagh, Dennis, ‘From Gentlemen to Players: Changes in Political Leadership’ in Gwyn, William B. and Rose, Richard, eds., Britain: Progress and Decline (London: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 82–3.Google Scholar Kavanagh goes on, however (p. 91), to caution against postulating any neat one-to-one relationship between a politician's social background and his or her political style. If change occurs, it is in the style of politics as a whole.

66 Even this safe-seeming generalization is not universally true. No one in the years after the Second World War was more committed to politics as a way of life than Michael Foot. Yet Foot repeatedly turned down offers of ministerial office before finally accepting one in March 1974. He simply preferred to deploy his talents on the back benches.

67 Guardian, 1 08 1980.Google Scholar

68 A clear-cut case was that of Reg Prentice, a Labour cabinet minister of moderate views, who came under attack from an extreme left-wing group in his constituency Labour party. The majority of Labour members of Parliament undoubtedly agreed with his views and sympathized with his plight. But few said so publicly. For a strongly pro-Prentice account of this episode, see McCormick, Paul, Enemies of Democracy (London: Temple Smith, 1979).Google Scholar Prentice eventually left the Labour party, as well as the Labour government, and in 1979 became a junior minister in Thatcher's Conservativp administration.

69 The point is almost certainly valid, but it must not be overstated. Iain Macleod was, as we have seen, a career politician in the fullest sense of the term but nevertheless stood out against his party over the admission of Kenyan Asians. Roy Mason, another complete career politician, remained throughout one of the staunchest pro-Europeans in the Labour party. The correlation is positive but by no means perfect.

70 With regard to the Conservatives, a junior minister at the Treasury in the summer of 1980 maintained that the Thatcher government had embarked consciously on a ‘counter-revolution’; see a lecture given by Nigel Lawson to the Bow Group and quoted in The Times, 5 08 1980.Google Scholar With regard to Labour, see King, Anthony, ‘The people's flag has turned deepest blue’, Observer, 6 05 1979.Google Scholar

71 See King, Anthony, ‘The Changing Tories’ in Lees, John D. and Kimber, Richard, eds., Political Parlies in Modern Britain: An Organizational and Functional Guide (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), esp. pp. 134–5.Google Scholar

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