Stephen Kinnock becomes latest in list of politicians that includes Hilary Benn, Ben Gummer, Nick Hurd and Anas Sarwar
It might not, perhaps, be the most obvious career next step, given that he is currently based in London, while his two young children live in Copenhagen with his wife Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who in her free time also happens to be the prime minister of Denmark.
But Stephen Kinnock is not someone to allow a bit of commuting to put him off. The 43-year-old was this week shortlisted as a Labour party parliamentary candidate for the Welsh constituency of Aberavon, near Swansea, a mere 900 miles from his Danish family home.
His powerful wife is not the only distinguished member of his family. Kinnock is the son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and his wife Glenys. He is the latest in a succession of political offspring to seek to follow in the footsteps of their better-known parents.
Will Straw, son of Jack, will contest Rossendale & Darwen for Labour in next year’s general election. David Prescott, son of John, stood unsuccessfully for selection in the Greenwich and Woolwich constituency in November. There has been speculation that Tony Blair’s eldest son, Euan, might seek a parliamentary seat after he gave up a career in banking to work for a small Coventry charity.
The four young men, were they successful in their ambitions, would be the next wave of political offspring to carry on the family tradition. Hilary Benn, son of Tony, Ben Gummer, son of John, and Nick Hurd, son of Douglas, are all MPs. Anas Sarwar was elected Labour MP for Glasgow Central after his father, Mohammad, stood down from the seat in 2010. Francis Maude, Bernard Jenkin, Andrew Mitchell and several others at Westminster all succeeded a parent to the role. There are plenty of recent historical examples too, from Douglas Hogg, the former Tory agriculture minister, to Estelle Morris, education secretary under Tony Blair, both of whom came from dynasties of MPs.
But there is something about the prospect of a Kinnock, Straw, Prescott and Blair return to parliament that has excited particular interest – and in some quarters, scepticism. “Like many people in Britain, I am disillusioned by politics and politicians,” one correspondent wrote to the Western Mail, “so the news that Stephen Kinnock is a potential Labour candidate for Aberavon comes as no shock. This seems to be yet another case of the Labour party using its South Wales ‘rotten boroughs’ to provide a favoured son with a safe seat,” wrote one correspondent to the Western Mail. It was not only in North Korea, continued the writer, “where politics is dynastic rather than democratic”.
Questions were raised by some when Emily Benn, Hilary’s niece and Tony’s granddaughter, was selected as a Labour parliamentary candidate at the age of 17. Georgia Gould, whose father was the New Labour strategist Philip Gould, attracted controversy with accusations of postal voting irregularities while seeking (unsuccessfully) selection in Erith and Thamesmead, aged 22.
But will it really have helped Stephen Kinnock that his father was once the Labour leader? To some the disadvantages of having a famous surname can be almost as significant as the advantages. “It’s not the guarantee of an easy pathway to success that maybe some people believe”, says the writer and political commentator Dan Hodges.
Name recognition will certainly work in your favour, he says, “but that can also create a backlash from people who perhaps feel it was their turn. It also brings a significant degree of extra scrutiny; the benchmark of expectancy is higher”.
As the son of Glenda Jackson MP, Hodges knows the expectations placed on the child of a political parent. “There is always an assumption if you express any interest in the political world that you automatically want to become an MP. I have enormous respect for people like Stephen and Dave [Prescott]; they will have seen firsthand just how hard politics can be, and the fact that they are prepared to throw themselves into the frontline is to their credit.”
According to Meg Russell, deputy director of the constitution unit at UCL and a reader in British and comparative politics, the rigorous selection procedures of most constituency parties allow very little scope for nepotism or patronage. “Sometimes people complain about candidates being parachuted in but that is very rare. Almost always there’s a democratic process at constituency level, and if local members want to pick someone with a famous surname, it is up to them.”
Lee Waters, director of the political thinktank the Institute of Welsh Affairs, agrees. “[Kinnock] may be on the shortlist, but he is going to have to graft, knock on the doors, drink the cups of tea, and win it on his own merits.
“I don’t think the Kinnock brand has the potency some might assume. And I just don’t think selection contests work like that any more. It’s the ones who do the work and who want it the most who get selected.”
Certainly, Kinnock is not the clear frontrunner for the seat, and there are plenty of recent examples where a famous surname has not helped: David Prescott’s unsuccessful attempt to be selected, for example, was the third time he had sought a Labour candidacy.
But for Jackie Ashley, the columnist and daughter of the Labour MP and later peer Jack Ashley, the prospect of a generation of New Labour children sitting in parliament could be worrying, if only because of how it might appear to a cynical electorate.
“It looks as though the political pool is very narrow and that it’s hard to break into if you haven’t got those connections. There would be a suspicion that they are coming in because of who they are rather than what they offer.
“That may be unfair but you have to deal with the way the public will perceive that.”
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