March 16, 2008

Iain Dale, Background and Parliament

Iain Dale posted a rather interesting article today which argued that journalists tended to report stories about people like them. He even suggested that this meant that Labour ministers like Harriet Harmon got an easier time of it because their dilemmas about selection in schools were the same as those faced by the Nick Robinsons of the world. He may indeed be right. But I doubt that Iain really thought through the implications of what that would mean. Because if he is right about the 'people like us' phenomenon and if he agrees with me that most MPs spend most of their time leglislating about things that none of us elected them to do (from road safety to foreign relations with Belize to business law) then he would also agree that one of the things that a population of MPs have to be is not merely representative of the population through election, but also 'people like us'. In the sense, that if what Iain says is right, MPs should represent the population statistically in terms of their background as well as representing them through election: afterall otherwise they will just be leglislating for the upper middle class inhabitants of Westminster (not that there is anything particularly wrong with being upper middle class- but it is just one segment of the population). I take it therefore that Iain is in favour of all-women shortlists, all-ethnic minority shortlists, perhaps all working class shortlists? By the logic of his arguments he ought to be...

6 comments:

Iain Dale said...

Utter tosh!

Gracchi said...

Reasonable response!

Peter Risdon said...

Very neatly done. The logical break lies right at the beginning in what reads almost like a preamble to the argument: "Because if he is right about the 'people like us' phenomenon..."

It's a great pivot, because it lets you seamlessly and unobtrusively redefine Dale's mild observation, changing it into an invariable 'phenomenon' from which it follows that I ought only to vote for white males, and presumably that the over-representation of some ethnicities on, say, the BBC should be reversed - because they can't think like I do, being browner.

That is what you are saying, isn't it?

Gracchi said...

The point is that Dale is wrong in his critique because its based on the same kind of argument that he eschews when it comes to other kinds of representation. You cannot both argue that the journalist doesn't report X because those involved are not people like us- and then say that we should not be concerned with who the politicians are as well as how they are elected. That's the point- if you accept Iain's point, you have to accept that election si not enough, Parliament also has to be representative. It is a logical flaw in his argument.

For myself I am not sure that you divide human beings so easily- which is why I reject both Iain's people like us post and the idea of strict representation in politics- though yes I do think more women, and even more more working class people in politics would be a good thing because I do think that Iain has a point, I just don't think you can divide human beings so easily.

F said...

...or people like journalists who are clearly unlike us :)
I don't think characteristics such as ethinicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation 'represent' us. We are/should be represented by people who THINK and/or FEEL like us. I don't expect my member of parliament to like Italian horror films.

Peter Risdon said...

"You cannot both argue that the journalist doesn't report X because those involved are not people like us- and then say that we should not be concerned with who the politicians are..."

Of course you can. The limitations of a few complacent, metropolitan journos are not a model to be emulated in the wider democracy. From your argument, it would follow that if I remark on an apparent selection bias in some group, for some reason, then I am by definition arguing that the same selection bias should be reflected in Parliament. That's absurd.