During my not-so-misspent youth, I held a number of jobs – courier, assistant to my father for one summer at his financial institution, and perhaps most unlikely of all, waiter at an Italian restaurant in London.
The place reeked of Tuscan authenticity, right down to the state-of-the-art pizza oven and red-and-white chequered tablecloths with individual ceramic breadstick pots. To this day, the smell of bolognese (in spite of several years in Brussels, I refuse the diminutive “bolo”) sends me on a Proustian reverie to the hazy days of 2014.
Sadly, I recently learned that it had shuttered.
The reason? One’s first guess may indeed be Covid-19, but this would be to misunderstand the nature of the urban zeal for Umbrian cheese and tomato during lockdown. No, the doors closed on it because of poor management – an owner who couldn’t see the sense to open up to the riches of Deliveroo and Uber Eats, and refused to offer takeaways.
I am reminded of this pattern of inflexible thinking when considering how we judge the performance of our ‘managers’ in the EU – the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who represent us.
Recently, I became aware of a number of reports into the so-called problem of MEPs’ second jobs. The likes of Transparency International call the practice “relatively common”, with around 31% of MEPs holding paid “side jobs” by the end of the previous parliament.
Not enough, I say.
Holding a second job affords you the experience necessary to engage with society in a fuller and more representative – and democratic – way. You become freed from your silo, your bubble bursts. Instead of merely pontificating about the impact of policy on businesses, it becomes part of your lived experience.
Critics will argue that these positions are usually senior or consultative, and may be likely to reinforce the perspective of management rather than of workers. To this I would say: first, management makes decisions in the best interest of its employees, and second, would you expect an experienced MEP to accept an entry-level position? I think not.
True democracy relies on a synthesis of the interests of the business community and the people we elect to represent us. Politics, as ever, is the art of compromise – and how better to do so than allowing our MEPs the fullest possible range of life experiences from which to draw policy to benefit us all?
After all, if Giuseppe had had a broader range of work experiences, perhaps a certain corner of West London would still be churning out calzones. More experience: better pizza, better politics.