Comment: Who would go into politics now?

Law's departure will discourage talented young professionals from a career in politics.

By Stephen Barber

David Laws' resignation has put into focus just why politics is so often unattractive for many of the most talented people in Britain - a reality that is all the more important given the current state of the economy.

It is not that we lack intelligent and capable political candidates in this country but our system means that, across all parties, we achieve a cohort which represents a political class. We have professional politicians who have done nothing other that politics. They have similar backgrounds: school, Oxbridge, a stint as a parliamentary researcher or ministerial adviser, elected to Parliament and then fast tracked to the front bench - just look at the backgrounds of candidates for the Labour leadership. Laws is an exceptional politician to this extent. He has a successful career in the City behind him; he could use his talents in many other fields and certainly could use them to earn far more money. And at this crucial time for tackling public finances in Britain, he was universally regarded in his short lived role as chief secretary.

His was an error of judgement but in the round his misdemeanour was minor and understandable. Furthermore, the episode will do nothing to attract a more diverse range of political talent to Westminster. To claim expenses for which you are entitled, what other job would require you to declare publically your private living arrangements with all its potential complications? And let's not hear any more that David Laws could have confided in the fees office. Not only did these officials give notoriously poor advice in the last session but it was from this office that data was stolen by the press.

The press has declared open season on a coalition government whose anti-tribalism it simply does not like. After all, the information about David Laws was in the Telegraph's hands before the election but the papers chose to splash its attack across their pages only once the new administration had been formed. (It is instructive, too, that on TV the cheerleaders of the attack were not elected politicians but rather the self-appointed and unaccountable 'moral guardians' such as Alistair Graham). In doing so, they are undermining serious efforts to put in place a credible plan for British economic recovery and to get a handle on spending and the deficit.

The message this sends out is that for the diverse constituency of talented people in Britain with real experience across all sectors, public life has little to offer. Political accountability is crucial and we are right to expect our leaders to have integrity of the highest order. But we cannot allow a press, which has few equivalent constraints, to weaken our politics generally and undermine economic stability more specifically.

Dr Stephen Barber is an academic at London South Bank University and resident economics commentator at

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