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Liberal democracy

Democracy: you just can’t get the staff

Western leaders at the G7 in Bavaria: a bunch of third-raters? Thomas Lohnes/Getty

It’s revealing of Western democracy’s “personnel problem” that our best hope for PM is Rishi Sunak, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. For all his rote-learnt soundbites and formulaic posturing, he still outshines a “dire Conservative field”. Competition elsewhere is hardly stiffer: America’s two most senior Democrats are “a pensioner and his maladroit vice-president”; Italy is led by a “globocrat called Mario” for the second time in a decade. Thirty years ago, the ruling Tory cohort included a lawyer who became a QC aged 40, Ken Clarke, and the “builder of a commercial fortune”, Michael Heseltine. In comparison, Britain could soon be run by Penny Mordaunt, who tried to get the word “cock” into a parliamentary speech as many times as possible.

The problem is simple: capable people don’t go into politics enough. And why would they? The “lavish pay” of finance and corporate law eclipses a parliamentary wage. Politicians’ personal transgressions are no longer shielded, as in the age of JFK, but splashed in papers and on social media thanks to camera phones and Twitter. Democratic capitalism is “self-eroding”: by generating such cushy private sector jobs, it makes politics “a mug’s game”, which lowers the quality of government and ultimately threatens the economy. At least autocracies give officials “enough scope for graft and the indulgence of peccadillos” to keep the talent coming. Democracy, meanwhile, faces the same crisis as Heathrow airport: “You just can’t get the staff.”