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The best route to high office in British politics?

Michael Crick | 17:51 UK time, Monday, 13 December 2010

Eric Pickles is a rare example of a local government leader to have reached the top in Westminster politics, and the first in a Conservative Cabinet in modern times.

Pickles led Bradford City Council in the 1980s, as a revolutionary Thatcherite who tried to show local government could be run very differently from the policies of the Labour Left.

The only three other Cabinet ministers I can recall who were council leaders were Herbert Morrision, David Blunkett and Geoffrey Rippon. There must surely be others, but I can't think of them right now.

There are several substantial council leaders in contrast, who have failed to make much impact at Westminster.

Jon Trickett, Graham Stringer, Louise Ellman, George Mudie, Clive Betts, Bob Laxton, James Plaskitt, Peter Soulsby, Alan Whitehead, and Ken Livingstone are all examples of Labour MPs who previously ran major councils but never did much (or anything) as ministers.

Margaret Hodge, the former Islington leader, spent most of the Blair-Brown years as a minister, but still never made Cabinet.

Again on the Conservative side Christopher Chope and Paul Beresford never managed to transfer their council leadership into Cabinet office.

Where senior politicians have served as councillors - such as John Major, Vince Cable, John Redwood and Peter Mandelson - their local government service has generally been pretty brief.

The message seems to be that if you want high office in British politics being a ministerial special adviser is by far the better route - as David Cameron, both Milibands, Ed Balls, Jack Straw, George Osborne, and Vince Cable (again) all show.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think one reason for that may be that Councillors don't get paid a full-time wage, while SpAds do. Hence Councillors tend to be older, without a long political career ahead of them.

  • Comment number 2.


    that Councillors are 'closer to consequences' - not insulated by the anonymising Westminster mass? Hence they do not manage the trick of treating real people as rats in a maze, to be experimented on with 'initiatives'. Which is to say: they might not quite be up for soul-selling.

  • Comment number 3.

    'The best route to high office in British politics?'

    An Oxbridge PPE degree of course.

    And now they will cost the best part of £45K a piece, though please don't apply if you're born with a plastic spoon in your mouth.

  • Comment number 4.

    best route to high office is to wear a short skirt and come from russia/china/other

  • Comment number 5.

    or get a reputation as a 'mr cashpoint'? or have close links to israeli military intelligence?

    have you bumped into that guy through whose hands mysterious money comes to the labour party recently cricky?

  • Comment number 6.

    You can go higher than. When was the last time a Home Secretary progressed? Kiss of death, the Home Office. Great office of state?

  • Comment number 7.


    Teresa May has gone from brisk to brusk, in a matter of months, and was wearing killer shoulder-tips today. She used 'on my patch' and 'on my watch' - both in 24 hours. Any moment now, she will start bawling LEWIS! or CROCKER GET IN HERE!

    With this one, we must beware of a total overthrow of government and impositon of a police state. Perhaps that's why they were practicing so hard?

    Have to unplug the modem now.

  • Comment number 8.

    He hasn't done anything yet. It could still end in tears.

  • Comment number 9.

    Eric Pickles...the Landbergher Gestler of British politics....remember him as the villain in Robin Hood black and white....ITV...fifties telly...I thought I recognised him....

  • Comment number 10.

    Robin Hood? No, it was Wiliam Tell.

  • Comment number 11.

    9. I remember that, happy days.
    I also remember our council house in winter. Windows frozen on the inside, not so happy days.
    When that bloke said the other week that people had never had it so good, he was right.
    The media and labour are full of hypocrisy.
    Rock on Eric!

  • Comment number 12.

    10. You are right it was William Tell. But it was Black and White.
    Crossbows and apples on the bonce.

  • Comment number 13.

    Route to high office eh.

    1) Already know someone in high office or be a relative of someone with a political career in westminster or brown nose your way up through the party structure.

    2) make sure you have never had a real job outside of politics.

    3) study economics, history or law or something else equaly non practical at university

    4) Be in a stable marriage (or give the appearance of the same) with at least 2 youngish children so you can claim empathy with ' hard working families'

    5) Suffer from acute 'superiority complex' coupled with ' acute habitual patronisation syndrome'.

    We have gone back to a monarchy basically, except I think I refer the real monarchy now to this lot in the HOP.

    Ahhh I feel better after writing that, a cathartic experience... thanks Crick old bean.

  • Comment number 14.


    In the current situation where free speech is the order of the day, with the Assange extradition - doesn't it strike you as odd that the BBC has cut back on its political blogs to stiffle free discussion yet sees fit to have ongoing blogs on Strictly Come Dancing?

  • Comment number 15.

    3> Well done! You've gone to Michael's top of the inverted class!

    I am more concerned about the unwavering support for Assange from all the conspiracy theorists and blame transferees.

    My contempt for these dreamers, people of faith, utopianists, fanaticists, fantasists in general including, eventually Miliband is, if anything growing ever more towards the point of no return.

    I suppose if it's NOT your daughter, your son, your wife, or sister, it's easy to place your preconceived ideas before the allegations made.

    I phoned my step-son this afternoon to check he wasn't the Metropolitan police officer who was stabbed to death, as was initially reported this afternoon. I noticed that after an initial report of the incident Radio 4 News fell silent, although later I was able to get the latest from Radio 5 Live after hearing a long discussion about football club directors!

    When my wife and I listened to the speeches on the day we proudly watched her son graduate to become a police officer in the Met. they warned us that for us, as parents, we would find it challenging. Too right on days like today!

  • Comment number 16.

    Eric Pickles should wear a 19th century Dickensian outfit, as portrayed so well, in those fabulous classic black and white films, in all interviews.

    Oh, silly me, I forget, certain MPs, who are now Ministers, 'don't do interviews' - when can we have more, sir? Yes, not a correct quote from Dickens - but you get my point.

  • Comment number 17.

    Britain is a satellite of the achieving high office involves betraying our "narrow national" intersts while affecting to do the exact opposite of that.

    Is the particular route to high office more important than the qualities necessary for the job? Unprincipled amoral confidence tricksters will always find a way in modern Britain ...and by any route available to them.

    Does Wikileaks suggest that the route to becoming Foreign Minister or Defence Secretary involves popping down to the American Embassy and grovelling ....while promising to do whatever makes the USA richer!?



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