Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

The pathology of the politician

Politicians are not normal people. They are weird. It isn’t politics that has made them weird: it’s their weirdness that has impelled them into politics. Whenever another high-profile minister teeters or falls, the mistake everyone makes is to ask what it is about the nature of their job, the environment they work in and the hours they work, that has made them take such stupid risks. This is the wrong question. We should ask a different one: what is it about these men and women that has attracted them to politics?

Politicians are not normal people. They are weird. It isn’t politics that has made them weird: it’s their weirdness that has impelled them into politics. Whenever another high-profile minister teeters or falls, the mistake everyone makes is to ask what it is about the nature of their job, the environment they work in and the hours they work, that has made them take such stupid risks. This is the wrong question. We should ask a different one: what is it about these men and women that has attracted them to politics?

Politicians are not normal people. They are weird. It isn’t politics that has made them weird: it’s their weirdness that has impelled them into politics. Whenever another high-profile minister teeters or falls, the mistake everyone makes is to ask what it is about the nature of their job, the environment they work in and the hours they work, that has made them take such stupid risks. This is the wrong question. We should ask a different one: what is it about these men and women that has attracted them to politics?

On the whole, by and large, and with any number of exceptions, individuals drawn to elective office are driven men and women: dreamers, attention-seekers and risk-takers with a dollop of narcissism in their natures.

Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve self-selected. Consider the odds. You hang around for years, forsaking other safely lucrative career ladders, in the hope (statistically unlikely to be fulfilled) that you will be chosen as a parliamentary candidate. Then you run for election in the hope (statistically uncertain) that you’ll be elected. Once elected you hang around again, now in a nervously exhausting but intellectually unchallenging job (the role of backbencher) in which you’re treated like a prince in your own patch and like scum by whips and ministers at Westminster — all in the hope (and yet again the odds are against you) that you’ll become a very junior minister; in which often wretched post you hang around for a few years more, still poorly paid, still little-regarded by colleagues, in the hope (the odds now even more heavily against you) that you’ll reach the Cabinet.

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