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Where Politicians Come From

Elinor Goodman questions whether there has ever been a golden era of public-spirited politicians, comparing MPs elected in the wake of the Second World War with those of today.

Elinor Goodman questions whether there has ever been a golden era of public-spirited politicians, and asks how the much-criticised MPs of today compare with those of the past.

Was there a time when people were motivated to enter politics by pure civic-mindedness? Has an age of political altruism been replaced by a breed of careerists MPs who put personal ambition before the interests of constituents and country, pragmatism before conviction and ideology?

Elinor looks at a generation of politicians who grew up during the Great Depression and saw active service during the Second World War - motivated to enter politics to create a better and safer world.

With the help of Shirley Williams and Ken Clarke, she asks if politicians such as Edward Heath, Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Enoch Powell represented a special but long-lost breed of MPs. She explores the archive to reveal a very different political world in which MPs generally had second jobs, had a range of hobbies and other interests, and rarely visited their constituencies.

Sara Morrison recalls what was special about her personal friend Edward Heath and reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of other politicians of the time.

Elinor joins current MPs at a rehearsal of the Parliament Choir to ask them if modern politicians lack the experience, vision and hinterland of their predecessors. Is it unfair of the public to perceive them as pygmies compared to the giants of the past? And she asks Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who was elected after serving as a paratrooper in Iraq and Afghanistan, if military life has given him advantages over colleagues who have little experience outside of politics.

A 7digital production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

57 minutes