Leading Article: Political mavericks are the false idols of our celebrity era

ALAN CLARK's sudden death has prompted a rush of tributes to the "maverick" in politics. This untamed beast, we are told, enlivens the political scene, adding an enticing frisson of unpredictability to the domesticated herd of loyal voting fodder that packs the parliamentary benches on both sides of the aisle. Who would not prefer to hear the floridly expressed opinions, however wacky, of Tories such as Alan Clark and Julian Critchley, or Labour's Austin Mitchell and Tony Banks, rather than the well-mannered, carefully crafted, repetitious soundbites that come from the promotion-hungry new members of Parliament?

But we should resist the tendency to be swept away on a tide of sentimentality. Alan Clark may have been a fine military historian, but some of his maverick views were merely loathsome - praising the martial spirit of England's travelling football hooligans, for example, or advocating the shooting of 600 IRA members in a single night. For all the entertainment value politics provides, it is ultimately a serious matter. The employment, the health, the welfare and the hopes of millions of people depend on decisions taken at Westminster and in Whitehall.

This is not, of course, a plea for conformity. The House of Commons has often been well-served by far-seeing, out-of-favour members who have spoken against the current of opinion. A famous example is Winston Churchill's pre-war campaign for rearmament, which eventually led to his selection as wartime leader in place of Chamberlain. In our own times, the needling criticisms of perennial backbenchers such as Richard Shepherd, Tam Dalyell and Dennis Skinner - together with the ideological challenges of the likes of Keith Joseph and Tony Benn - have quickened the tempo of political debate, held the executive to account and uncovered abuses of power.

But there is an important difference between being, on the one hand, a thorn in the flesh of established opinion and, on the other, a self- serving show-off. Those interested in etymology will know that a maverick was originally a wild steer roaming the Texas plains, whom a Mr Maverick had the happy idea of branding and claiming for his own. Today's unbranded politicians have been captured by the media, puffed up with fawning interviews and set loose to roam the fertile fields of pop-culture celebrity. Their contribution, ultimately, is to belittle the business of politics by distracting attention from its gritty substance, and diverting it to the surface glitter of life in the limelight.

New Labour is often criticised for the pager-driven discipline of its young troops, but at least those pager messages speak for the people's choice of a government; the mavericks speak only for themselves. Democracy may need a little spice in the meat-and-potatoes of governing, but we must not mistake the garnish for the meal.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before