LOW SALARIES for politicians are limiting the “gene pool” for producing good leaders, former prime minister Tony Blair has warned.
Mr Blair, who is said to have earned tens of millions of pounds in the private sector since leaving office in 2007, also said too few had “real-life” experience before entering politics.
The comments, in an article for the New York Times, will no doubt make uncomfortable reading for current Labour leader Ed Miliband. Mr Miliband was only briefly a television researcher before becoming a political adviser and then MP.
Mr Miliband has also made clear he opposes a planned 11 per cent pay rise for MPs next year, and promised that if he wins the general election then all his ministers will take a 5 per cent salary cut.
Mr Blair wrote: “At the very time when leadership is needed, the gene pool of political leaders has shrunk.
“How many leaders and, for that matter, followers in a parliament or congress have real-life experience in responsible positions outside of politics?
“Today it is very common for a young person interested in politics to graduate from university, go to work for a politician as a researcher or political analyst, and then transition straight into an elected position.
“I only spent seven years working in the private sector before entering politics, but it was a crucial, formative time.
“I learned about business and about people in a way that was greatly beneficial when I later came to govern.
“In particular, I learned the difference between academic political ideas and policies suited to ‘real world’ application.
“On top of this – and only an ex-politician can say this – politicians are not really well paid by the standards of those who are successful in the private sector.
“This restricts the attractions of a political career, at exactly the time when we most need the gene pool of our politicians to be varied, vibrant and vigorous.
“The result of all this, for those who then rise to the top position in a democracy, is that it can be hard to get things done.”
In another passage that may be seen as aimed at Mr Miliband – who recently sacked front-bencher Emily Thornberry for tweeting a photograph of a Kent house draped in flags of St George – Mr Blair warned against caving into outrage on social media.
“Waves of emotion on issues used to build to tidal strength relatively slowly; they now reach tsunami force within days, even hours,” he said.
“Politicians’ desire for impact too often obscures the value of balance.
“Political leaders find this quite disorienting. A leader has to calibrate leadership and public opinion, be out in front of it, but not too much so.
“He or she has to judge sentiment finely, but making this judgment is hard if you’re governing by Twitter feed.
“Social media is exciting and can effect real and positive change, but it is also the domain of the loudmouth – and those who shout loudest don’t necessarily deserve to be heard most.”