NCC Home Learning

The trusted home learning experts

0333 3445 690

Politics across the globe are complex, and politicians in any role must be on the ball about changing policies, laws that may affect their constituencies and their political party’s goals. If you have thought about becoming a politician or an MP, you’ll need a particular set of skills, the right motivations and a plan for breaking into the ever-changing world of politics.

This guide will discuss everything you need to do to become an MP in the UK.

MP explained

 

We see MPs on the TV and in the news every day, but what exactly is an MP?

MPs, or Members of Parliament, are critical to the smooth running of local councils, the government, and the country. Most MPs are members of a political party (larger parties you might be familiar with are Labour, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats). These are groups which share goals, political aims and beliefs[i]. Some MPs choose to be ‘independent’, meaning they aren’t a part of any political party even though they might share some of their beliefs.

What does an MP do?

The UK public elects MPs to represent them at the House of Commons. They will raise questions and voice concerns over issues affecting their constituencies and can propose new laws.

Winston Churchill said the following about the role of an MP, which sums up their duties nicely.

The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he or she thinks in his or her faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate {...} It is only in the third place that his duty to party organisation or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there is no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.– Winston Churchill[ii]

MPs split their time between the House of Commons and their own constituencies, so they have to travel quite frequently. Below we will look at the work an MP is expected to carry out in both of these places.

At the House of Commons

MPs will spend time at the House of Commons whilst Parliament is in session. During this time, they will[iii]:

  • Attend debates
  • Vote on new laws
  • Raise problems and issues affecting their constituents (people within their constituency)
  • Highlighting campaigns their constituents care about
  • Ask questions on behalf of their constituents (e.g during PMQs, or Prime Minister’s Questions)

Within their constituency

Within their constituency and outside of parliament, MPs do the following:

  • Spend time with local people discussing matters that are important to them
  • Host surgeries for constituents to attend to ask questions
  • Communicate with the local council on behalf of constituents
  • Visit local businesses and schools
  • Attend community functions and events
  • Attend conferences
  • Talk to the media

Time spent with local people gives MPs a better idea of the people they represent in Parliament, so getting involved in local life is key to being a good MP.

As well as working in Westminster and within their constituency, MPs are usually members of committees they are passionate about that focus on specific issues such as human rights.

How much do MPs make?

As of April 2020, the basic salary for an MP is £81,932 per annum[iv]. Their wage increases with inflation every year. Over the past number of years, this has risen steadily – see data below.

 Chart of MP salaries from 2014 to 2020

Data sourced from Statista – access the full data set here.

 

MPs can also expect to have several expenses paid for when spending money to carry out their political duties. Expenses covered can include[v]: -

  • Travel costs for travelling between their constituency and parliament
  • Hotel accommodation
  • Accommodation in London
  • Costs of renting and running an office
  • Costs for meals

How much an MP claims for expenses can differ quite a lot depending on how active they are within their day-to-day role (how much they need to travel and how often they need accommodation to be covered, for example). Although some MPs can exploit this by claiming expenses that aren’t necessary, other MPs choose not to claim expenses at all.

This information is available to the public. If you’re interested in your local MPs spending habits, you can find them here.

Working Hours

As an MP, your working hours would depend on your schedule for any given day. You may have to spend a lot of time travelling whilst Parliament is in session, and you’ll likely be required to spend many evenings away from home.

Core hours at Parliament can last until 10 pm, and debates have been known to go on into the night.

Generally, though, you will work from Monday to Friday for an average of 44 to 46 hours a week[vi].

Education and Skill Building

One of the positive aspects of being an MP is that there are no criteria for education or the career you had before deciding to stand for MP. Everything you’ve done previously will count towards your overall ‘experience’ and benefit you.

However, before pursuing this career, you need to make sure you have the right skill set and attitude. To become an MP, you’ll need to be well rounded in the following areas[vii].

Hard skills

These skills are specific to a political career.

  • Knowledge of the law, government regulations and court procedures
  • An understanding of culture and society
  • Willingness to learn about new policies and law changes
  • A general interest in politics

Soft skills

‘Soft skills’ can be gained through many experiences and situations that can be applied to any job or situation.

  • Ability to think analytically within the context of different situations
  • Great listening skills and perception skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Using logic and reasoning
  • Problem solving
  • Persistence and determination
  • Paying attention to detail
  • Ability to use computer and any necessary software
  • Networking
  • Negotiating skills

Take a look at our guide about the difference between hard skills and soft skills

What to study

There is no specific qualification you need to gain to become an MP as it is a job you have to work up towards, not something you apply for. Commonly, politicians within the government have degrees in academic subjects like History, Law and Politics.

If you’re unsure about whether politics is right for you, you should spend time researching and perhaps look at completing an online law course to get your head around it.

Gain experience

Having experience behind you will set you apart from others when breaking into the political realm. There are several ways to get relevant experience.

  • Volunteering and campaigning for your party
  • Being an active member of a trade union
  • Involvement in school, college, or university politics
  • Working underneath an existing MP as a caseworker or researcher

Work placements or apprenticeships

The government (or more specifically, The Houses of Parliament) run a number of schemes that aim to help people into politics. As well as giving you an idea of what the political world is like through first-hand experience, a work placement or apprenticeship will put you right in the centre of the action. This will give you invaluable opportunities to rub shoulders with existing politicians and gives you a chance to become known to them.

Some of the schemes offered by the Houses of Parliament include:

  • Undergraduate Sandwich Student Placements – available for undergraduates (with very limited placements available). This scheme is for students who are taking a 4-year degree, and the placement will happen during their third year of study. It offers a very unique insight into how Parliament runs.
  • House of Lords Apprenticeship Scheme – this scheme provides limited Business Administration apprenticeships within the Corporate Services and Parliamentary teams in the House of Lords.
  • The House of Commons Apprenticeship Scheme – this scheme offers apprenticeships for a variety of roles within Parliament, including HR, Finance, Business Admin, Events Assistants and more.
  • The Parliamentary Academy Scheme – for non-graduates aged 16 – 24, this scheme offers paid apprenticeships with a recognised qualification and aims to make Parliament a more inclusive environment. During this scheme, students are placed with MPs over a 12-month period to learn whilst working under them.

How to become an MP

 

Now we’ve talked about the basics of what an MP does and the skills you need to progress; we’ll discuss the steps that need to be taken to become one. It isn’t an easy career to pursue by any means and will require a lot of hard work and dedication.

There is no shortcut or clear-cut route into becoming a Member of Parliament, and you need to work your way up the ladder and show commitment to your chosen party. However, dedicating time to gaining experience, putting yourself in the right situations and working on skills will help get you to where you want to be.

Check you meet the criteria

There aren’t many criteria for becoming an MP, but you need to make sure you meet the following legal markers before you get started:

  • You are over the age of 18
  • You are a citizen of the UK, Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth

There are some groups of people who cannot stand as an MP[viii]:

  • Members of the armed forces and police forces
  • Judges and civil servants
  • People who have bankruptcy restrictions or a debt relief restriction order

For more information on who isn’t allowed to become an MP, see the Electoral Commission Website.

Decide on a political Party

If you want to become an MP, you need to decide quite early on which political party you want to support. Check out each party’s manifesto from the most recent election and choose a party that reflects your views.

These are the manifestos for each major political Party from the 2019 election:

Labour | Conservatives | Liberal Democrats | Green Party | Democratic Unionist Party | Sinn Féin | SNP | Co-operative Party

Join your chosen party

Once you’ve done your research and solidified your party choice, you’ll need to join your chosen party as a member before applying as a candidate. This is the stage where you need to start proving your commitment and dedication to the party.

There will be a monthly or annual cost to be a member, but it’s well worth it as it will allow you to join in with campaigns, conferences and get involved with other party members.

Train

When you have spent some time as a member, you can express your interest in becoming a candidate to a party representative. After you’ve spoken to the right person, you should be allowed to apply for training to become a candidate.

This process works differently for each party, but the information will be available on their respective websites.

Campaign

Registering to campaign is quite simple and can be done through the party’s national register or your local party officer.

Campaigning in support of other candidates can help you to gain a better political rapport with other party members and is a sensible path to take if you aren’t sure about standing for MP yet or if there are no opportunities to become a candidate anytime soon.

Become a candidate

If you are prepared to stand, you will need to make sure you have a few things in order. Legally, you will need:

  • Nominations from at least ten parliamentary electors (for the constituency you are standing in)
  • A £500 deposit to submit the nomination papers. This money will be returned to you if you receive 5% or more of the total votes that are cast
  • References to prove your capacity on a personal and professional level

Before your candidacy goes ahead, your party will need to approve it. This process varies between parties, so you’ll need to contact your party central office or local branch.

Once approved, your party will likely walk you through what needs to be done and offer support.

Get elected

If your stand to become a candidate is successful, your election campaign will begin.

You’ll be given a set amount of funding for your campaign and your party members' support to help with the success of your campaign. Your goal here is to secure as many votes as possible from residents within your constituency, so your campaign will aim to win them over whilst sticking to your party's values. However, with general elections only being held once every five years, it can take a long time.

Other Political Careers

  • Political Assistant – this is a great alternative job within the government. Political assistants help MPs and political candidates with secretarial tasks. They are also responsible for researching and other administrative tasks that will help the smooth running of the MPs office.
  • Government social research officer – this job role involves carrying out research that will shape the decisions made by ministers within the government.
  • Civil service – there are dozens of roles within the civil service that involve working for different government bodies. In most of these roles, you’ll spend time answering information requests from the public, manage resources, contribute to policy development and generate reports.

Is being an MP right for you?

 

Now you know what you need to do to become an MP, you need to consider whether it’s the right career for you. Being an MP is much more than just a 9-5 job and can often become a lifelong pursuit. If you are passionate about politics and want to make real change to people’s lives, why not get started today?


References

findout!, n.d. What does a politician do?. [Online] Available at: https://www.dkfindout.com/uk/more-find-out/what-does-politician-do/ [Accessed March 2021].

Full Fact, 2019. What can MPs claim on expenses?. [Online] Available at: https://fullfact.org/online/mps-free-housing-alcohol/ [Accessed March 2021].

National Careers Service, n.d. MP. [Online] Available at: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/mp [Accessed March 2021].

National Careers, n.d. How to become an MP. [Online] Available at: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/mp [Accessed February 2021].

UK Parliament, n.d. Pay and expenses for MPs. [Online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/pay-mps/ [Accessed March 2021].

UK Parliament, n.d. Standing for Parliament. [Online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/vote-in-general-elections/standing/ [Accessed March 2021].

UK Parliament, n.d. What do MPs do?. [Online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/mps/ [Accessed March 2021].

Wikipedia, n.d. Member of Parliament (United Kingdom). [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_of_Parliament_(United_Kingdom) [Accessed March 2021].

Sources

[i] https://www.dkfindout.com/uk/more-find-out/what-does-politician-do/

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_of_Parliament_(United_Kingdom)

[iii] https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/mp

[iv] https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/pay-mps/

[v] https://fullfact.org/online/mps-free-housing-alcohol/

[vi] https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/mp

[vii] https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/mp

[viii] https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/vote-in-general-elections/standing/