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Does it matter that only three of the 23 Cabinet ministers have been councillors?

By Jonathan Isaby

Coalition Cabinet meeting In a brief interview featured on the Total Politics website, Stephen Greenhalgh, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, talks about the "problem" of incoming national governments lacking those with experience of public administration at a local level.

He says:

"Currently very few politicians have had any practical experience of public administration before they enter government. Few politicians of all political parties have honed skills outside Westminster. Just look at the Labour leadership contenders – almost all of whom are former special advisers. We need urgently to establish a vibrant political structure below national politics and for elected politicians to run cities, towns and local councils well who then to progress onto the national stage."

It got me wondering: how many of the Cabinet have local government experience? According to their biographies as listed in Dod's Parliamentary Companion, the answer is just three:

  • Theresa May - Merton Councillor, 1986-94
  • Eric Pickles - Bradford Councillor, 1979-91
  • Vince Cable - Glasgow Councillor (Lab), 1971-74

Of the remaining twenty, five - Ken Clarke, William Hague, Andrew Mitchell, Liam Fox and Lord Strathclyde - served as government ministers prior to 1997, whilst Andrew Lansley was a civil servant at the DTI in the 1980s.

All the rest have a variety of backgrounds in business, as journalists, political advisers etc, each bringing different experiences and talents to the table.

But would we be better governed if there were more former councillors in government? Discuss.

NB There are of course more former councillors serving as junior ministers, whilst I calculate that no fewer than 66 of the 147-strong new Conservative intake of MPs have served as councillors - that's 45% of the Class of 2010. Indeed, eight of their number have been a council leader: Bob Blackman, Mike Freer, Lorraine Fullbrook, Kris Hopkins, Marcus Jones, Brandon Lewis, Henry Smith and Heather Wheeler.


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