Do you dream of being Britain’s next prime minister? Have you a strong desire to improve people’s lives? Do you think you could do things better than current politicians?
For many people, a career in politics couldn’t be further from their idea of a dream job, but for some it has a real draw. Recent political events – and let’s face it, there have been a lot of them – have fuelled interest in politics. Here we look at the role of a politician.
What is involved?
Politicians are elected representatives. Most are affiliated to a political party, but some are independent.
Politicians represent the people in their constituency at a local, national or international level. In the UK, the main elected representative are:
- Members of Parliament (MPs) who sit in the House of Commons
- Members of the The Scottish Parliament (MSPs)
- Assembly Members in the National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly
- Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) – for now anyway!
- councillors who represent their community and are paid an allowance. You can find out about the role of councillors on beacouncillor.co.uk. Certain local authorities in England also have elected mayors.
A politician’s role is varied but will include:
- campaigning for election or re-election – outlining what you stand for and convincing voters that you are the candidate to back
- conducting research
- holding surgeries with constituents
- raising concerns, debating issues and voting on new laws and policies.
Some politicians take on extra responsibility, e.g. by serving on committees or in the cabinet/shadow cabinet.
Do you have what it takes?
A good politician is:
- committed to their views and policies
- driven and able to cope under pressure
- very knowledgeable about current affairs
- a confident and clear communicator, not phased by public speaking
- an excellent negotiator, problem-solver and decision-maker.
How to become a politician
To stand for election, you need to be aged 18+. Certain people are disqualified – find out whether you’re eligible on The Electoral Commission website. If you’re not an independent, you’ll need the support of your party and have the necessary number of nominations from within the constituency you want to represent. You may have to pay a deposit, which you only get back if you get more than a certain percentage of votes. In order to better represent the communities they serve, efforts are being made to increase the number of people from under-represented groups.
There’s no set entry route – politicians come from all walks of life. There are always exceptions, but by the time someone is ready to stand for election, they will have had an interest in politics for some time and will have gained relevant experience.
Many politicians are graduates. Studying politics at university would give you an understanding of the political system and political issues, but isn’t a substitute for experience. Other degree subjects that may be useful include law, economics and international relations, but some of our highest-profile leaders have taken unrelated courses – Theresa May, for instance, is a geography graduate.
Politicians sometimes start out in a support role. It’s also common for politicians to have had other careers – in teaching, medicine, media, finance … and such experience can be very useful.
How to get experience
Work placements may be hard to come by, but try contacting politicians and regional or national party headquarters to ask whether they’d be prepared to offer you some experience. Occasionally internships are advertised or there may be work shadowing opportunities. Operation Black Vote, aimed at increasing the representation of people from black and minority ethnic groups in politics, runs various initiatives including the MP Shadowing Scheme.
Volunteering for a political party or a particular cause is a great way to get experience. You’ll find that your services will be very welcome.
Find out about paid and unpaid opportunities on the websites of political parties, individual politicians and political institutions (such as www.parliament.uk), through your local constituency party and on the W4MPJOBS site.
Other ways you can get experience include:
- joining the youth wing of a political party
- getting active in your Students’ Union
- participating in a debating society
- campaigning on an issue close to your heart
- participating in British Youth Council initiatives, such as the UK Youth Parliament.
Take every opportunity you can to learn about politics – read newspapers, visit political institutions, look on websites such as www.parliament.uk.
If your dream doesn’t become reality, there are alternatives – these would also give you the experience you need to stand for election in the future. Many of these careers in themselves are competitive; you may need to offer particular skills, such as financial or legal expertise.
Party agents support their party, politicians and candidates at constituency level. Agents liaise with the media, recruit volunteers and members, deal with administration and budgets, organise fundraising and, at election time, ensure that everything operates within electoral law.
Politician’s assistants – also known as, for example, personal assistants or parliamentary secretaries – work for elected politicians. They may deal with correspondence, arrange surgeries and assist with campaigns. Exact roles vary – some specialise as researchers, speech writers or caseworkers (who deal with issues raised by constituents).
Other careers where you are involved in politics include political journalism (working for the media or a party’s press office), political research, and work with trade unions and pressure groups. Although non-political, you could work in local authority electoral services or in the Civil Service, for instance putting policies into place or working in diplomacy.
Politics can provide a rewarding career, but ensure that you have a back-up plan. For every politician who’s voted in, a number are disappointed and if you do get elected, survival in the job depends on the results of future elections. Remember that you can get a great deal of satisfaction from an alternative related career.
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients including Health Careers, the Royal Society of Chemistry and English Heritage.