Recruitment and training of ministers

In a parliamentary system of government, the convention is that ministers must sit in one of the two houses. Parliament acts as a recruiting ground for future ministers, with the whips making recommendations to the prime minister on suitable candidates for promotion. The prime minister possesses wide powers of patronage.

Government ministers must be members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Parliament is, therefore, a recruiting ground for government and, traditionally, future ministers have forged their reputations in the House of Commons. However, parliament’s effectiveness in the recruitment and development of future government ministers has been criticised

■ Communications skills. Being an effective communicator is important for the career prospects of an MP. But television, rather than parliament, is now the key arena in which MPs display their communications skills.

■ Experience. There has been a high turnover of MPs recently: 227 new MPs entered the Commons in 2010, a further 182 in 2015 and 98 in 2017. Government needs people with managerial, leadership and organisational skills. Around one in five MPs worked in politics (in roles such as researchers or advisers) before entering parliament. The proliferation of career politicians, with little experience of life beyond politics, widens the gap between the political class and ordinary voters.

■ Conformity. Loyal MPs have better prospects of ministerial office than rebels. However, some MPs may not aspire to ministerial office and the strengthening of select committees offers an alternative career route.

The award of a peerage can on occasion be used to secure the services of a particular individual as a minister if that person is not an MP. For example, following the 2008 financial crisis, Gordon Brown recalled Peter Mandelson from the European Commission, appointing him to the Lords so that he could serve as Business Secretary. Gordon Brown's 'GOATs' Government of all the talents

'The House of Commons is the recruiting centre for ministers. The UK draws its ministers overwhelmingly from the Commons, and not from other walks of life, like business, banking, universities, and law firms. It is their training college, where they learn how to perform as ministers. New MPs watch how ministers perform in the House, and learn what to imitate and what to avoid. If they perform well in the Commons, they come to the notice of their party leaders and, if successful there, are promoted to ministerial jobs in the Government. Then the Commons becomes their assessment centre, since they have to speak in the House on behalf of the Government and their department. They face the opposition and its critical questioning, and they have to convince their own party supporters that they have a grip on their departments, can beat the opposition and raise the morale of their own MPs. Poor performances in the Commons can damage the career prospects of ministers, and they may be removed from the Government'. George Jones

In an interview with The Guardian, the then shadow health secretary Andy Burnham reflected that “all the current generation of politicians, myself included, typically came up through the back offices. We’re the professional politician generation, aren’t we?” This mirrors broader academic and popular concern with the professionalisation of politics – the idea that politicians are increasingly drawn from a small group of individuals, a lot of whom have worked in politics in other capacities prior to running for elected office.

The percentage of politicians who hold such occupations before becoming MPs hovers around the 15% mark according to recent research. But the fact that Burnham and others feel that the number of politicians with such backgrounds is much higher is significant. Arguably, this is indicative of the prominence that these individuals achieve relative to their colleagues from different occupational backgrounds. For example, MPs who worked full-time in politics before being elected dominate the top frontbench positions, whilst colleagues whose political experience consisted of being a local councillor tended to remain backbenchers. Thus, if you a see a politician in the media, chances are they are from the frontbenches, and more likely than not have this type of back-office experience.

Is this fair, healthy, or productive? Are profession politicians better at government or are people from a broad range of occupations better at governing?