In a newly released book, Isabel Hardman writes about ‘how and why we get the wrong politicians’. As Brexit baffles and politics polarises, the individual character of those who put their head above the parapet and do this unusual and demanding job is increasingly being spoken about across the kitchen tables of this land and scrutinised heavily on social media at every tweet. Journalists like Isabel, an experienced commentator on the ‘Westminster bubble’ with countless anecdotes about MPs, some perhaps more memorable than others, is as well placed as any to come up with a definitive body of work on the current mess of politics that we are enduring. The sentiment of the book is difficult to disagree with as we sit at home and throw pillows in frustration at Andrew Marr’s latest interviewee. But how we go about getting the ‘right politicians’ not the wrong ones, is one that is of interest to me, and where veterans are already building a strong case.
Recent events in Parliament have put the spotlight on so many issues where individual character and ability rather than Party ideology are king or queen. We are frequently hearing and reading words like; trust, values, leadership…or rather the complaints about the lack of, being directed at various individuals and factions, including at our very own Prime Minister. In an ugly and depressing spin, we have seen various appraisals and language wrapped up in the rhetoric of everyday sexism, distracting from a meaningful debate (pun intended) about the content or her ability to lead this country through Brexit. Just before the Christmas break, we saw accusations against the Leader of the Opposition having alleged to have mouthed a sexist comment at the PM. Now, this blog will not set out to offer an opinion on whether he did or did not. But the way in which the wider debate on the challenges that women face within politics was disappointing to say the least. Though Brexit is an important agenda item for Parliament, it need not be used as an excuse for not debating sexism, which was the impression many of us got during the whole sorry affair. What does this say to talented women, or bright little girls like my niece, who might be the answer to Isabel’s issue about the wrong people in Parliament? The fact remains that politics is off-putting to women, and the statistics speak louder than words.
Depressingly, and underlined in Hardman’s book, only a third of MPs are women. The data available in local government is even more staggering with the think tank IPPR revealing in 2017 that only 33% of councillors and 17% of council leaders are women. That means we need to find 3,000 women to achieve any parity with men. That simply isn’t good enough, and that is why CampaignForce sets out to help redress the balance as one of its key aims, only through the veteran proposition. And on that note, we currently only have one woman in Parliament with a military background (Royal Navy Reservist Penny Mordaunt), but no female veterans. We need to get the ‘right’ politicians, from female veterans, and from other categories of those leaving the Armed Forces, where there remains a gap. We believe that if we make changes at the top, in Parliament, other veterans in communities across the UK will be inspired to serve in local councils. So, our top line objectives include getting into Parliament:
• The first Commonwealth-veteran MP
• The first Wounded Injured and Sick veteran MP
• The first openly LGBTQ veteran MP
• And yes, the first woman veteran MP
Now, this is not a box-ticking exercise, nor will we set targets. Only that we must be the first. Why? Those of us that have served, or have a connection to the Armed Forces, know that it creates the most diverse and amazing teams that you can ever wish to work within. The record on diversity has been reported by others too, with Stonewall just announcing all three branches of the Armed Forces as being within the top 100 of UK employers for their commitment to LGBT staff. The Royal Navy (including Royal Marines) are in 15th place, Army in 51st and RAF in 68th. No mean feat given that it is a snapshot from across all UK employers, beating the likes of The Scottish Government, the University of Brighton, several Police forces and MI6! Business will know too, that in order to get the best innovation, to get the competitive edge, you need to surround yourself with new people, new ideas and yes, diversity. On operations, the enemy is democratic when deploying its tactics; it knows not if you are a woman, black, gay or straight, only that you are their adversary.
So, as we awake to a new political dawn gazing at Brexit on the horizon, it is important that now, more than ever before, we need to look at why we have the wrong politicians. This country deserves the right politicians for tomorrow. It is time for all veterans, no matter what their background, service, rank, race, sexuality, disability or political persuasion, to stand up and serve again. Let 2019 be the year where this potential is realised and a year where the wrong politicians begin to be scrutinised and alternative talent is seriously encouraged. Or our TV screens will continue to be hit by pillows.
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About the author
Jonny Ball has run campaigns at every level of government, from local to National & European elections. Vitally, his experience from the time he led the MOD’s employer relationship management team has meant that he has become a trusted networker within the veterans community. He also works with Wounded, Injured and Sick veterans within arts recovery programmes.
His lengthy Army Reservist service includes operational tours of Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. In 2013, following a tour of Afghanistan the previous year, he was awarded a Commander Land Forces’ Commendation for his work as a Pashto Linguist and Intelligence Analyst.
This resume of political experience, veterans affairs knowledge and military service places Jonny in a unique position as the UK’s pioneer of transferable military skills to political service.
You can reach Jonny directly at firstname.lastname@example.org