Arise, Careerless Politician: The Rise of the Professional Party Leader

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Abstract

Taking as its starting provocation Philip Cowley's ‘Arise, Novice Leader!’, this article contributes to the discussion of the nature of today's party leaderships. ‘Experience’, even for political office, should be viewed as ‘real-world’ work as much as time served in parliament. By quantifying non-political pre-parliamentary experience of post-war leaderships, I show both that current leaders are relatively ‘careerless’ and that this is not historically unusual. While Cowley's observation is that their parliamentary experience is also limited, by reintroducing ‘political experience’ into the numbers, I demonstrate that Cameron, Clegg and Miliband are among the most experienced leaders since 1945 in terms of total pre-parliamentary work but further removed from the ‘real world’ of those they represent. My argument is that in the contemporary context, such grounding at the top of politics partially explains the election of these professional leaders.

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