Veteran political interviewer Andrew Marr has said that he wants modern politicians to read more. And if they read poetry, even better.
The former BBC political editor and presenter of Sunday morning’s Andrew Marr Show used the Radio Times Festival to bemoan the calibre of modern career politicians, whom he said had few interests outside the world of Westminster.
“When I started reporting politics in about 1983, 1984 we had people like [Former Labour Chancellor] Denis Healy, Michael Foot, Enoch Powell, people with very deep cultural roots,” he said. “People who had read huge amounts. [Former Conservative Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan famously spent most of his time in bed with a Trollope – and he meant the author.
“Denis Healy spoke about hinterland first. His autobiography shows a man deeply deeply cultured and deeply read. You would have conversations with people like them and they knew more than you than about everything and and you could have conversations that would go on in unexpected directions. Roy Jenkins knew more than just about anyone interviewing him.”
Marr, who was being interviewed by Kirsty Laing to promote his upcoming book We British: The Poetry of a People, added: “But that is no longer the case. Politics has become just like any other profession. They leave university, have done PPE, they go into Conservative Central Office or work for a trade union.
“Then they become a bag carrier to an MP, then a candidate and an MP themselves. And they are in the House of Commons in their early 30s – or even their twenties – never having done an ordinary job, having no experience of anything other than politics. That narrows and shrivels our political culture and it’s a problem.
“I sometimes think, only half jokingly, that nobody should be allowed into the House of Commons until they are 40 and they have read some poetry….”