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Obsession With Where MPs Grew Up Could Be "Hugely Damaging" To Politics

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves with Labour candidate for the Kingswood constituency, Damien Egan, on the doorsteps of local residents in Emersons Green (Alamy)

4 min read

A recent emphasis on the importance of MP candidates being from the area they seek to represent has been “hugely, hugely, hugely damaging to politics,” according to the journalist whose work scrutinises parliamentary candidate selections.

Michael Crick, who runs the Tomorrow’s MPs project, said that there has been an “overwhelming pattern” of an “obsession with candidates being local,” but believes there are other attributes to be considered when it comes to building an effective government.

Crick, a political journalist, has long been keeping track of who is standing and then been selected as Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPC) for political parties in constituencies across the country. 

He said that he has “always been fascinated” by parliamentary selections and their significance in public life, as “the moment when somebody gets chosen for a decent seat is really the turning point in their career”. 

However, emphasis on a candidate’s local credentials, he thinks, can reduce choices for wannabe MPs and party members, as well as failing to focus on other qualities that could make a good parliamentarian.

“I think far too much of the process is thinking about who would be a good MP, when they should be thinking about who would become good ministers,” Crick said. 

“About half of all MPs become ministers [...] and we need the best and the brightest people to run the country. People that want to persuade the council to fill in a few potholes are not necessarily the people for negotiating with China or Russia."

He believes that “there will be exceptions to this of course” but was critical about the way in which choice could be reduced. 

“It means that for an individual in politics, they’ve got perhaps one or two choices: where they live now, and where they were brought up," he continued. 

“It actually reduces the choice for the people wanting to go into politics, and it hugely reduces the choice for the local party, because they’re just fishing from a pool of 70,000 people rather than a pool of 67 million.” 

Aside from by-elections, or if they involve seats or candidates that could make headlines, selection contests have tended in the past to not get a lot of press attention. 

“Often people have been chosen for safe seats in the last few decades, with no public reporting of the fact,” Crick said. 

“That seems wrong. It seems to me that if a party is choosing a candidate for a winnable seat, that is worth public scrutiny, we ought to know who the contenders are.

"If there was more public scrutiny of who’s coming forward and the kinds of people and the trends, that would help improve our politics, it might root out some wrong-uns.” 

Crick said that he has often found himself up against the “instinctive desire of political parties to do all of this secretly,” and while the party commands “hate” him, he has won favour among candidates. 

Using Twitter, now X, has opened up the ease with which he can get hold of information, and appeals on social media often end up with him getting hold of full shortlists or lists of people who have put their names forward in just a few hours. 

However, it is hoped the next general election, due to be called this year, will not mark the end of the project. When the election is over, Crick has said that he wants to take some time to “rethink the whole thing” and take some time to work out logistics such as a website or staffing.

Crick also hopes that he will be able to “go back in time” to research the selection stories of politicians who have become established figures. 

“Every MP has his or her selection stories,” he explained. “The ones that they thought they were bound to get that fell through, and then they ended up getting that they didn’t expect.” 

Crick estimates that he can spend half of his working days on the project, which “doesn’t bring in much income”, but he has said that his “problem is stopping doing it every day because I have other things to get on with”. 

“I’m a great believer that we need higher quality people in politics, that the quality has gone down over recent years. I’m a great believer that we need to widen the pool and make it easier for people to become parliamentary candidates,” he added.  

“That’s really the basic reason for it, and it’s incredible fun. I’ve never had so much fun doing something.” 

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