Politician

The Job and What's Involved

Houses of ParliamentIn England, politicians can be MP's (Members of Parliament), MEP's (Members of the European Parliament) or councillors. MP's are elected by the people in their local constituency to represent them in the House of Commons. MEP's are elected on a regional basis to serve in the European Parliament at Brussels and Strasbourg. Councillors are elected to serve on their local county, district, parish or community council.

The majority of elected politicians are members of a political party such as Labour, or the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats although it is possible to stand for election independently. Politicians generally represent the interests of their constituents when new laws or issues are debated, but they are also expected to reflect the views and policies of their party.

MP's may do some or all of the following tasks:

  • Listen to constituents' questions and concerns and, where appropriate, take up the issue with the relevant minister.
  • Attend sittings in Parliament.
  • Debate and vote on new laws and policies.
  • Sit on committees and attend meetings, conferences and public events.
  • Study correspondence, proposals and reports (especially Select Committee reports and Hansard, the official report of House of Commons proceedings).
  • Make speeches, give interviews and make statements to the media.
  • Hold additional positions of responsibility in government or their party, e.g. as a minister or party spokesperson.

MP's divide their time between their local constituency and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Most spend at least one day a week in their constituency, holding surgeries, enabling people to speak with them about issues that concern them.

The European Parliament has no ruling party and there is little parliamentary debate prior to voting on laws. A large amount of work is done by committees. MEP's spend most of their time in meetings with their own and other political groups, as well as European officials. They discuss the detail of proposed laws and try to agree or compromise on proposals. Most British MEP's do not hold surgeries. Speeches from the floor of the European Parliament cannot last longer than one minute.

County and district councillors usually sit on committees to deal with specific issues (for example licensing, planning, education). They also review local policies and leadership and often play a major role in setting up and improving community services.

Politicians usually work very long hours. The House of Commons often sits until late in the evening and many council meetings take place in the evenings. Although votes in the European Parliament are normally held in the late morning, meetings can occur at very irregular hours. Part-time work is normal for councillors. The House of Commons has a long summer recess.

When not attending debates or voting sessions, politicians spend a great deal of time at their desks. It is common for politicians to make frequent public and private visits.

Many MP's choose to live in London when Parliament is open. MEP's spend considerable time in Brussels and up to one week a month in Strasbourg. MP's and MEP's do a great deal of traveling, both nationally and internationally. Family life can be adversely affected.

Councillors earn on average around £10,000 a year in allowances and expenses. MP's earn £63,291 and MEP's earn £81,420 a year. Parliamentary ministers can earn in excess of £140,000 a year.

Most politicians are entitled to a pension when they retire. MP's and MEP's are also paid allowances to cover staffing, traveling and accommodation expenses. Councillors in England rarely receive a salary and actual earnings vary considerably.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 25,000 elected politicians in the UK, of whom the vast majority are local councillors.

In some areas it is relatively easy to become a councillor but selection as an MP/MEP is extremely competitive. All of the major parties have rigorous application and assessment procedures. Election candidates must face local members and gain their support before they are confirmed as the prospective candidate for the constituency.

Once selected, candidates work in the constituency or council area, taking up issues, and preparing for and then fighting the election. If successful, they are elected until the next election.

Standing for parliament is an expensive process. Prospective MP's who are unsuccessful may lose their £500 deposit (£5,000 for MEP's) and those who are successful spend an average of £20,000 on their campaign.

Education and Training

All election candidates must be over 18 years of age. MP's are also required to be a British citizen, or a citizen of a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland.

MEP's can be citizens of any European state and councillors should satisfy either qualification and have been resident in the local area for at least 12 months. Certain persons are legally debarred from standing for election.

There are no minimum entry qualifications. Prospective politicians invariably need a strong commitment to a political party or ideal and 'grass roots' political experience. Campaigning at a local level or volunteering to deliver party leaflets are both ways of gaining experience.

For many, election as a councillor is the first step in their pursuit of a political career, but other possible routes include:

  • Working for an elected politician or political party as a researcher, caseworker or adviser or on an internship, which is sometimes available.
  • Involvement in student politics or studying politics at university.
  • A previous career in industry, commerce, law, medicine or education.
  • A background as a trades union activist.

It is useful to network as widely as possible by attending party conferences and events, and meeting staff from party headquarters, representatives of charities and lobbying bodies, and by joining political 'ginger groups' (for example Fabian Society, Bow Group, Liberty Network).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is on the job and involves working alongside party whips and other experienced politicians. There may be opportunities to attend seminars and workshops or use learning packages covering subjects such as election procedures, presentation and communication skills, and dealing with the media. Councillors can study for the Certificate in Local Council Administration.

Politicians need to keep up to date with current affairs by reading journals, magazines and newspapers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Politicians should be:

  • Self-motivated and determined.
  • Extremely resilient.
  • Excellent at communicating, debating and making contacts.
  • Confident, decisive, resourceful and trustworthy.
  • Able to work well under pressure.
  • Able to persuade, lead and motivate others.
  • Good at negotiating and solving problems.
  • Prepared to make personal sacrifices to advance their career.

Your Long Term Prospects

Politicians can progress to more senior positions in their party, taking on additional responsibilities such as chairing committees, becoming a party whip or even leading the party.

MP's in power may take on responsibilities within a government department as a junior minister, minister and then cabinet minister. Opposition politicians can be appointed to take on responsibilities in a shadow cabinet or as a spokesperson on specific issues. MP's and MEP's can also become 'working' or honorary peers in the House of Lords.

In the European Parliament, MEP's can be spokespersons on a particular issue, co-ordinate, lead a particular party or cross-party grouping, or act as the 'rapporteur' responsible for processing a piece of legislation. The European Parliament does not have ministers.

Many politicians move on to other prominent positions in public life, commerce or industry.

Get Further Information

The Conservative Party,
Conservative Campaign Headquarters,
30 Millbank, London SW1P 4DP
Tel: 020 7222 9000
Website: www.conservatives.com

European Parliament UK Office,
2 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AA
Tel: 020 7227 4300
Website: www.europarl.europa.eu

House of Commons Information Office,
Norman Shaw North, London SW1A 2TT
Tel: 020 7219 4272
Website: www.parliament.uk

The Labour Party, Eldon House,
Regent Centre, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE3 3PW
Tel: 0870 590 0200
Website: www.labour.org.uk

The Liberal Democrats,
4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB
Tel: 020 7222 7999
Website: www.libdems.org.uk

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