Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Quiet Revolution

It’s stepping up only gradually, but there is a quiet revolution going on in politics, that could see a substantial change in our body politic after the next election. It is reported this morning that another three Labour MPs are standing down at the next election, and they will clearly not be the last. Blogger Iain Dale reckons that we could have up to 50% of the MPs elected next year as newcomers to parliament, representing a real sea-change.

The right-wing American author Tom Clancy once envisioned, in one of his bestselling thrillers, the need for a wholly new Congress to be elected after a plane had deliberately crashed into the old one, wiping out virtually all of the elected politicians (and yes, he wrote this before 9/11!). His hero, Jack Ryan, was the unprofessional politician thrust into the limelight as a novice president, and he called for a 'citizen army' of new representatives to come forward and stand for election. In Clancy's fictional world, Congressmen and Senators who had never been politicians was almost a utopia, and it had a tempting sound to it. No more so than now, when the reputation of our elected representatives is so low.

I do keep wondering whether we aren't being too harsh. After all, we need committed MPs to carefully consider the legislation which governs us, to be the eyes and ears of a public that doesn't wish to spend its time on politics. As a democracy, we arguably get the politicians we deserve. After all, we send them there, to do the job we don't want to do. And yet, every time I start to develop sympathy for the plight of the hunted MP, another one pops up on television to remind me why a god old clear-out is probably just the thing our body politic needs to rejuvenate itself. There was Bill Cash a the weekend, in his lovely country house, still ignorant of why seemingly false claims for second homes strikes such a bad chord. Then there was Harriet Harman on Newsnight last night - shrilly and persistently not answering any of Jeremy Paxman's questions (leading to a classic Paxmanism at the end of the programme, where he was about to summarise what Harman had said, and lamely concluded "I don't really know what we think she said but it was jolly interesting".) There's the property speculator Geoff Hoon, paying back a paltry £300. They just keep coming out of the woodwork, this dismal collection of elected representatives with their silk cushions and gilded toilet seats, utterly unable to grasp what's gone wrong.

So perhaps it is time for a clear-out, and perhaps we are heading for one. Conservative Home reports that none of the dozen or so tory seats that have suddenly found themselves in need of a candidate will be selecting until September, to allow Central Office the chance to sift through the apparently thousands of applications they have received. Hopefully, applications from ordinary citizens who have decided that it is time they did their bit of public service after all. There is, clearly, little point in swapping one set of political apparatchiks for another.

Peter Oborne published a timely book last year, bemoaning the existence of a permanent political class, united by ties of work, friendship and family, and insulated from the world they were meant to represent outside of Westminster. He could cite the married Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, both cabinet ministers, or the sibling cabinet members David and Ed Miliband. He could have cited one of the worst expense abusers, Ann Keen, sister of a deputy speaker, Sylvia Heal. He likened the situation to that described by Lewis Namier in his seminal "Structure of Politics in the Reign of George III". It was a damning indictment, the suggestion that our political class was no more rooted than that of the early 18th. century, but Oborne was more right than not, and the political fall-out of that insulation has been thrown up far more rapidly than perhaps he could have imagined.

It's not certain, but I think that quiet revolution is starting to occur, and as with all revolutions, we have no idea of the outcome. It's utterly fascinating though!

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