Does your child have political ambitions? Study reveals 5 traits needed to succeed

A career in politics requires 'a very specific personality', apparently

Smiling little boy wearing a suit and tie
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your child is inspired by the recent landslide election win by Labour and wants to pursue a career in politics, they need five key traits according to research.

Keir Starmer gave an impressive speech after arriving at Downing Street for the first time after being elected the country's new leader. The new Prime Minister has promised to overhaul childcare, flexible working and family policy, and suggests that funding for schools will be increased under his rule - although some political gurus believe these changes will be put on hold in favour of rebuilding other public services such as the NHS, criminal justice system and the police.

If your child was inspired by the politicians they've seen and heard over the previous weeks, they might be interested in pursuing a political career themselves. If this is the case, Professor Bill Jones, Honorary Professor of Political Studies at Liverpool Hope University, studied the biographies of previous Prime Ministers including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Harold Wilson and more, and interviewed key political figures to identify the characteristics of those who enter politics. 

In his book Just Like Us?: The Politics of Ministerial Promotion in UK Government, Jones suggests choosing a career in politics requires a very specific personality, identifying five key traits among others, that will be required. If your aspiring Keir Starmer or Angela Rayner wants to follow in their footsteps, this is what they'll need:

5 traits to succeed as a politician

  1. Driving ambition: Nobody is going to reach the top without being incredibly ambitious. Jones says "They often seem to be addicted to or infected by a ‘politics bug’, which drives them to compete against fellow addicts for the limited places available at the very top of the nation’s political elite."
  2. Charm: You need voters to like you, and this will require a certain level of charm. Although his decision-making was often questionable, Jones shares how Boris Johnson charmed UK residents with humour. He says "We forgive people who make us laugh a great deal and it might be argued that Boris Johnson based his political style to a large extent on his ability to amuse voters: in amusing them he avoided making politics as deadly boring as a majority seem to think it is.
  3. Academic ability: This doesn't mean being privately educated, as Starmer's largely state educated party show. Jones offers his opinion on this saying "MPs recruited from working-class backgrounds find the Commons intimidating given the large percentage of privately educated MPs on the Conservative side plus the domination of those educated at Oxbridge and other universities," and that should be about to change.
  4. Courage. It certainly takes plenty of tenacity to enter the world of politics. Jones adds "Why do aspiring politicians embark on such a perilous journey, involving hugely long hours, no real job security, and, on occasions, high degrees of self-abasement, just to have the chance of making it to the first rung of the ladder?" This all requires courage.
  5. Mastery of spoken word. With all those speeches needed, verbally engaging with the nation is vital. As Jones says "Without a high level of verbal skills, politics in the UK can never provide any kind of career for its ambitious participants. Since 1945 all our PMs have owned a selection of the requisite key skills but the major one still has to be speaking skills. Some ministers have proved lacklustre verbally, their periods in power proving short."

Although Jones believes an element of narcissism is necessary to become a politician, this isn't all bad. He concludes most people study politics not because they're "Venal, egotistical or ruthlessly selfish" but because of a genuine belief "they can ‘make a difference’ and fulfil an idealistic sense of service to the local or national community".

To sum up, he feels "Success in politics seems to be a mixture of driving ambition, narcissism, genuine idealism with, perhaps, a dash of daring and necessary ruthlessness."

For more political discussions to have with your kids in conjunction with The Week Junior, we look at whether voting should be compulsory, and why politics matter.  

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.