The further rise of the career politician

Forward Thinking


Political careers have changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Still, political science research has yet to fully quantify this development. Building on existing literature on career politicians, this study uses a handful of indicators introduced by King (Br J Polit Sci 11(3):249–285, 1981), a new variable (pre-parliamentary occupations), and an original data set compiled by the author. The paper’s contribution to the literature is threefold. Firstly, using the variables introduced by King, it observes that a plateau in the number of career politicians has been reached. Secondly, when looking at the occupational background of politicians, the data show a further rise in career politicians. Thirdly, this development is especially prevalent among cabinet ministers.


British politics Political careers Political recruitment 



The author is deeply indebted to Anthony King whose invaluable advice and support were intrumental to this paper and the author's career. The author would also like to thank Jonathan Homola, Pippa Norris, Priya Shanmugam, participants at EPSA, Steven Kettell and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.


  1. Allen, P. 2012. Linking pre-parliamentary political experience and the career trajectories of the 1997 general election cohort. Parliamentary Affairs 68 (1): 1–23.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, P., and P. Cairney. 2015. What do we mean when we talk about the `Political Class’? Political Studies Review 11: 1478–9302.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, P., and D. Cutts. 2016. Exploring sex differences in attitudes towards the descriptive and substantive representation of women. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 18 (4): 912–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barber, S. 2014. Arise, careerless politician: The rise of the professional party leader. Politics 34 (1): 23–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell, W., J. Hill, and C. Wright. 1961. Public leadership. San Francisco: Chandler.Google Scholar
  6. Best, H., and M. Cotta. 2000. Parliamentary representatives in Europe, 1848–2000: legislative recruitment and careers in eleven European countries. Oxford: University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Black, G. 1972. A theory of political ambition: Career choices and the role of structural incentives. The American Political Science Review 66 (1): 144–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cairney, P. 2007. The professionalisation of mps: Refining the ‘politics-facilitating’ explanation. Parliamentary Affairs 68 (1): 1–23.Google Scholar
  9. Cairney, P., M. Keating, and A. Wilson. 2016. Solving the problem of social background in the UK ‘political class’: Do parties do things differently in Westminster, devolved and European elections? British Politics 11 (2): 142–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cowley, P. 2012. Arise, novice leader! the continuing rise of the career politician. Politics 32 (1): 31–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cracknell, R., J. Fessey, J. Hardacre, and O. Gay. 2010. Members 1979–2010. London: House of Commons Library.Google Scholar
  12. Criddle, B. 2010. More diverse yet more uniform: Mps and candidates. In The British general election of 2010, ed. D. Butler, P. Cowley, and D. Kavanagh. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  13. Durose, C., L. Richardson, R. Combs, C. Eason, and F. Gains. 2013. Acceptable difference’: Diversity, representation and pathways to UK politics. Parliamentary Affairs 66 (2): 246–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goplerud, M. 2013. The first time is (mostly) the charm: Special advisers as parliamentary candidates and members of parliament. Parliamentary Affairs 68 (2): 332–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heath, A., R. Jowell, and J. Curtice. 2001. The rise of new labour: Party policies and voter choices. Oxford: University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Homola, J. 2017. Are parties equally responsive to women and men? British Journal of Political Science.
  17. King, A. 1981. The rise of the career politician in britain—and its consequences. British Journal of Political Science 11 (3): 249–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. King, A. 1991. The british prime ministership in the age of the career politician. West European Politics 14 (2): 25–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lamprinakou, C., M. Morucci, R. Campbell, and J. van Heerde-Hudson. 2017. All change in the house? The profile of candidates and MPs in the 2015 British general election. Parliamentary Affairs 70 (2): 207–232.Google Scholar
  20. Lovenduski, J., and P. Norris. 1994. Political recruitment: Gender, race and class in the British Parliament. Cambridge: University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Mattozzi, A., and A. Merlo. 2008. Political careers or career politicians? Journal of Public Economics 92: 597–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Norris, P. 1997. Passages to power: Legislative recruitment in advanced democracie. Cambridge: University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Oborne, P. 2008. The triumph of the political class. London: Pocket Books.Google Scholar
  24. Paxman, J. 2007. Political animal: An anatomy. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  25. Ridell, P. 1993. Honest opportunism—rise of the career politician. London: H. Hamilton.Google Scholar
  26. Rosenzweig, R. 1957. The politician and the career in politics. Midwest Journal of Political Science 1 (2): 163–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Samuels, D. 2000. Ambition and competition: Explaining legislative turnover in Brazil. Legislative Studies Quarterly 25 (3): 481–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schlesinger, J. 1966. Ambition and politics: Political careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  29. Squire, P. 1992. Legislative professionalization and membership diversity in state legislatures. Legislative Studies Quarterly 17 (1): 69–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Squire, P. 1993. Professionalization and public opinion of state legislatures. The Journal of Politics 55 (2): 479–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Squire, P. 2007. Measuring state legislative professionalism: The squire index revisited. State Politics & Policy Quarterly 7 (2): 211–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. The Guardian. 2014. Ed Miliband must cease “Hampstead Heath” politics to win election—MP.Google Scholar
  33. The New Statesman. 2015. Andrew Marr: British politics is broken—the centre cannot hold.Google Scholar
  34. The Telegraph. 2015. Parliament will be poorer if MPs have no experience outside Westminster.Google Scholar
  35. Weber, M. 1919. Politics as a vocation. In From max weber: Essays in sociology, ed. H. Gerth, and C. Wright Mills. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations