When I learned of the news, as I was about to start presenting the election coverage on Friday, it is no exaggeration to say that it came as a bit of a body blow. My first thought was: "If people like Paul Goodman are giving up," what does that bode for our political system? Paul is one of the most decent, honest MPs I know. We've known each other off and on for 25 years. We worked on the Davis leadership campaign, where he was a much needed voice of sanity, calmness and reason. He's a man of ideas and conviction and a gentle persuader. In short, he's just the sort of person our political system should cherish and embrace. But having read his reasons for standing down, I am even more depressed by his decision. Take this extract...
Not so long ago, MPs were elected representatives, paid little by the taxpayer but free to work outside the Commons. MPs drew on their expertise of business or the shop floor. The chamber was a forum in which the clash of different interests was resolved for the public good.
However, the representation of interests came to be seen as outmoded at best and corrupt at worst. Restrictions on MPs outside earnings were imposed. Relatively swiftly, they became largely dependent on the taxpayer – and therefore, increasingly, professional politicians rather than elected representatives: a “political class” different to and therefore separate from those who elected them. Consequently, MPs got smaller. The media got bigger. Powers leaked away to Europe, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the quangos.
A few weeks ago, this journey reached its logical destination. In an act of class revenge, Gordon Brown pushed through Parliament a measure compelling the remaining MPs who work outside the Commons to declare how often they do so.
The result will be a further injection of state power and patronage – the medicine that’s sickening the patient. The spirit of the age is against citizen MPs, and few working business people, lawyers, doctors or (dare I say) journalists will long be able to fend off local rivals who pledge to be in the Commons for every hour of the working day. Parliamentary elections threaten to become dutch auctions of self-abasement.
In the short term, a few older MPs with knowledge of the outside world will hang on. But some of their younger colleagues will quietly leave, telling friends that the loss of earnings is the last straw that broke the camel’s back – on top of vanished privacy and declining status. And, in the medium term, much future talent will avoid the Commons altogether.
Most of the rest will get in quick, scramble to the top, and get out quicker. The Commons’ institutional memory will weaken. With a number of exceptions, MPs will become cowed and toiling drudges. Fringe eccentrics and exhibitionists will provide the necessary colour, coming and going like celebrity TV contestants – briefly exalted and just as swiftly toppled.
Forceful Ministers and effective Select Committee Chairmen are likely to be scarce in such a shallow pool. And the reputation of the Commons will continue its downward spiral. Such is the Pandora’s Box that the national media elites have helped to open – one which, needless to say, they won’t be able to close. In making this case, I’ve little personal interest, since my earnings outside Parliament are minimal.
Over the long term, I suspect that fashion will change, and that the Commons will renew itself, as it’s often done before. But the long term is perhaps ten years away – which brings me to my conclusion.
I’ve come to love the Wycombe area, and trying to help my constituents as best I can. I’ve been looking forward to helping David Cameron turn Britain round, and to pursuing my passion for better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. I believe that David will be a great Prime Minister. But this future House of Commons isn’t for me. Sometimes, one has to see a duty through. But I’ve made a contract with the voters for five years, not sworn an oath to serve for life. With regret, I won’t be applying to renew it.
Read that and weep. What does it say about our politics, that a very decent man, who would have been a shoo-in as a Minister of State in a Tory government, wants to walk away from politics? What it tells me is that our political system is increasingly designed to please those who want nothing more than to climb the greasy pole. And you know what? I'll lay a bet that there will be another half dozen or so younger MPs who do the same thing before too long. There are certainly more than a couple on the Tory benches who I know are deeply disillusioned with politics and are seriously thinking of getting out while they can, and are young enough to go an do something else.
I don't mind admitting that Paul's decision has made me think twice about my own future (or lack of it) in elected politics. But in a strange way, it's made me more determined than ever to do what I can to try to change things. The question is - is that best done from within the system or outside it?
Listen to my ten minute interview with Paul Goodman HERE.