Credit: BBC

Nine skills an ex-MP could bring to your business

Many politicians became unemployed last week, but they don't all carry baggage that would be bad for business.

by Simon Hayward
Last Updated: 02 Jun 2015

Many former MPs have been forced to put themselves back on the job market this week. Of course, some will return to fight another day. After dramatically losing his Enfield seat in 1997, Michael Portillo was elected MP for Kensington and Chelsea in a by-election two years later. But having failed to win the Conservative party leadership, Portillo retired from the Commons in 2005. Today he is a prolific broadcaster and successful columnist.

Popular wisdom has it that an ex-MP is all but unemployable elsewhere – nobody likes a politician, after all. But this is far from the truth: Portillo isn’t the only former parliamentarians who has carved out a successful career after Westminster.

Like Portillo, David Mellor is another former MP who seems to be having a lot more fun outside the Commons than he ever did inside. The football and classical music lover turned his passions into a very successful career in broadcasting. Perhaps football management beckons next.

Matthew Parris also left politics behind to turn his dual passions of politics and travel into a successful career as an author, journalist and broadcaster. Former Blair and Brown cabinet minister Ruth Kelly now works in HSBC’s asset management business.

Keen ballroom dancer and former Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has already appeared on a BBC Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special, scoring a very impressive 36/40. Perhaps now he has more time on his hands, he could contest the next series.

But while not all MPs know their charleston and cha-cha-cha, there are plenty of transferable skills ex-members gain on the inside that can help them succeed on the outside too.

1. Tenacity

Many MPs excel at dogged persistence as they push ahead for local bypasses and fight hospital closures. This single-mindedness can be quite an asset when pursuing goals in the business world, especially when the odds seem stacked against you.

2. Resilience

MPs have to learn to take knocks – mostly these are of the metaphorical kind that get thrown around at Prime Minister’s Questions. Occasionally they are of the egg-based kind, as thrown at now-ex MP Jim Murphy on the campaign trail in Scotland.

3. Storytelling

In the business world, the ability to engage others through storytelling has become a highly prized skill. And while many people may associate MPs with a very particular style of tale-telling, there is no doubt many have the ability to engage people through the spoken word.

4. Punching above your weight

The political arena provides many opportunities for David to take on Goliath – another valuable attribute in corporate life.

5. Agility

Alright, not strictly an ex-MP as he was never elected, but Nigel Farage demonstrated remarkable agility when, after losing in South Thanet and resigning the UKIP leadership, he bounced back to take the mantle again just three days later.

6. Collaboration

The previous hung parliament forced many MPs to collaborate in order to achieve goals rather than just argue about them all the time. And there are plenty of Lib Dems without those two initials next to their name any more.

7. Humility

Paddy Ashdown became a Lord not long after standing down as an MP in 1999. On election night, he proudly declared that he would ‘eat his hat’ if the exit poll predictions proved accurate. They were, of course, close to bang-on, and Ashdown proved not too lordly to eat his hat – metaphorically at least.

8. Managing complexity

Many MPs are used to dealing with complex challenges in an unpredictable, social media-saturated environment – exactly the sort of challenges that business leaders face every day in a volatile world.

9. Making unpopular decisions

MPs obviously want to get voted back in, so will do their darndest not to make unpopular decisions. But as everyone knows you can’t please all of the people all of the time and many sure can spin something if they think it will irk a significant proportion of the population, a skill that would come in very useful when a company needs to close sites or fire staff.

Nonetheless, businesses should beware of those ex-MPs who may have made one too many enemies (George Galloway, anyone?).

Simon Hayward is CEO of consultancy Cirrus.

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