Boredom Prompts Exodus of Talent From British Parliament
SOME of Britain's brightest young politicians have decided that the House of Commons holds so few attractions for them that they want out.
Three rising parliamentarians in as many weeks have announced that they will not be defending their seats at the next general election. Their decisions to abandon the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, home of the Commons, have sparked a debate about the work members of Parliament (MPs) do.
The question is even being asked: Is the House of Commons necessary?
First in the rush to step down was George Walden, a Conservative minister under Margaret Thatcher and, before that, a high-flying diplomat in Britain's Foreign Office. Mr. Walden, who seemed fit for future high office, said he was fed up with the ''partisan simplicities'' of a MP's work and complained about the government's ''genial condescension'' toward the electorate.
''The aim is to jolly people along as if they ... can stand only a limited dose of the truth,'' he said.
He described much of a MP's life as ''taking part in 'yah-boo' politics'' - a reference to noisy debates and exchanges in the Commons chamber.
Next to announce that he was leaving the Commons was. Walden's fellow Conservative, Dudley Fishburn, a former journalist and a MP since 1988. ''I could not find enough to do,'' he complained.
Noting that after the next general election the number of MPs will rise from 651 to 659, he said ''Britain needs fewer, not more MPs.''
The two were joined by David Alton, a senior Liberal Democrat, who offered yet another reason for giving up his green leather seat on the Westminster back benches.
''I am deeply critical of the trend toward politically correct, technocratic politics greased by vested interests,'' Mr. Alton said in a letter to his Liverpool constituents.
He claimed that calls by members of his party for the legalization of drugs and euthanasia, and the banning of goldfish at fun fairs, meant members of his party had ''taken leave of their senses.''
The trio's intention to abandon parliamentary life is triggering sympathy from commentators, but among MPs sympathy was conspicuous by its absence. ''If you take your job seriously you end up working all hours under the sun,'' said Stephen Byers, a Labour backbencher.
Tam Dalyell, a Labour MP for 33 years, said Mr. Fishburn's complaint about not having enough to do, amazed him. ''Most of us are overwhelmed with work,'' he said.
Nor were Walden's fellow Tories in the Commons prepared to join him in his complaint that MPs were ''deterred from leading normal lives'' by parliamentary procedures.
But many MPs have a sense that the Commons is being increasingly marginalized as a place where key government issues are decided. In protest, Andrew Rowe, a Conservative MP, in July tried to introduce a bill that would have abolished the House of Commons altogether.
He complained that statements by ministers had become ''a meaningless ritual'' and that ''the real decisions'' were taken ''elsewhere'' - meaning in government departments.
Few MPs can be found to complain about their low salaries - currently less than 40,000 ($60,000) a year. Certainly money is not the reason why Walden, Fishburn, and Alton are quitting.
Frustration and boredom seem to be the common factors that led them to decide to bow out. Nor does the trend appear to be tailing off.
Noting that all three men were ''independent-minded,'' the London Economist forecast: ''Unless Westminster can reform itself to make MPs' jobs fit their aspirations, the hemorrhage of talent will continue.''