Galloway’s victory in Bradford West has prompted agreement that the political class is out of touch. Michael Portillo has said that politicians are separated from others by virtue have having been to “academically rigorous” institutions and that politics has become more professionalized. And Owen Jones has said that “We need not just the Labour party but the political establishment generally to be representative of the society around it.”
This misdescribes the problem. Listening to Portillo, you’d think that politicians were pointy-headed technocrats. But this is not so. The problem with politicians is not that they all went to Oxford. It’s that they give little impression of having learned anything whilst they were there. We have a government that is pig-ignorant of basic social science, that is unquestioningly deferential to securocrats; and which thinks tax simplification is all about VAT on pasties. And yes, Labour was little better.
Edmund Burke famously argued that MPs should not merely represent their constituents but should instead exercise judgment on their behalf. Our problem is that they are as incapable of the latter as of the former.
The question is: why is this so?
One answer would be inspired by Hayek, Kahneman, Simon and Homer-Dixon, among others. This says that there’s an ingenuity gap; humans - especially those at the top of hierarchies - just lack the knowledge and rationality to tackle important but complex social problems such as poverty, mass unemployment, the investment dearth and the squeeze on living standards.
Another, more Marxian, answer is that potential solutions to such problems are ruled out even of consideration because of the political power of the ruling class and the ideology which capitalism generates.
Whatever the explanation, the upshot is that the political class - which, remember, includes much of the media - is reduced to bumbling around dealing with trivia. And I don’t think things would be much different if MPs were influenced more by Gorton than Girton.