Too many assemblies and no one decent to fill them

or addicts of our democratic processes, it is going to be an exciting summer. We have filled up the town halls with a new intake of councillors, all no doubt eager to improve the lives of their fellow- citizens. For the first time since the days of Owain Glyndwr, the Welsh have a national assembly, in addition to the local councils which they already possess. Ditto the Scots, except that they call their assembly a parliament. And in little over a month, those of us who have not exhausted our voting energies will be clambering once more into the polling booths to elect yet another group of worthies to the European Parliament.

No doubt there are some regions of the country where the election of a local candidate amounts to a matter of "round up the usual suspects". The Rev Ian Paisley, for example, is an electoral hardy perennial who appears as an MEP, a Westminster MP and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Perhaps, in spite of the low turn-out at the polls, we really do cherish our democratic institutions, and perhaps there really are enough decent politicians to fill up all the seats in the various assemblies which we have created for them. Every so often, I have my doubts. The facelessness of the current Westminster Parliament is almost eerie. In the old days, whatever its idiotic faults,the Labour Party could be relied upon to fill the House of Commons with a rich mixture of eccentrics - gay sex-maniac spies like Tom Driberg; Balliol wine-topers; stringy viragos who could remember the Jarrow hunger-march and had been to bed with Michael Foot. Now it's just the suits and Blair's babes. On the other side of the House, the blimps, weirdos, pseudo-country gents and younger sons on the blue benches have all been replaced by dullards. Imagine the mustachioed Gerald Nabarro trying to get a seat today.

It is easy for us, who have never dreamed of standing for any of these assemblies, to sneer. But I do worry about the future of "democracy" if absolutely none of us - none of the intelligent people and none of the amusing people - would ever dream of standing for our local council or parliament.

When we try to justify our lack of public-spiritedness, our unwillingness to be lobby-fodder ourselves, we will perhaps invoke two spectres, who arose from the Stygian gloom last week like Dantean lost souls. One is Clare Short. Our Clare. The one who used to have all the principles, and whom we all respected and loved because she stood up even to Mandy and the spin doctors. Put her in power and within a matter of weeks she turns her verbal abuse on the poor people of Montserrat ("They will be wanting golden elephants next" was our Clare's compassionate response to the islanders who had just lost everything beneath a heap of volcanic ash). Next, the near-pacifist Clare comes on our screens as Bomber Short of the Balkans. Oh dear, oh dear. We wouldn't want to go into politics if that's what it does to you.

But hark! From the Infernal Shades, we glimpse another sad figure, that of the former Foreign Office Minister George Walden. Clare's sin, Dante might say, was love of office. George's was the worse one - hatred of it.

The former MP for Buckingham, George Walden has had some pretty lousy reviews for his inordinately long memoirs, which attempt to explain why he gave up politics early in order to be a "writer". None of the reviews which I read, however, made the right point. The politicians who reviewed the book were too busy concentrating on Walden's unlikeability and arrogance as a man.

Certainly, this abrasive, gum-chewing figure from the Foreign Offfice does not go out of his way to charm. When he came for a job on the paper where I worked, the Evening Standard, he leaned forward and said to our highly intelligent associate editor - whom he had obviously dismissed in his well-stocked and brilliant mind as a bimbo: "There's just one thing I should warn you about: I do use words." He smiled knowingly as he said "words", his manner implying that beautiful young women might not be familiar with the things. It's a bit sad that he has made so much of his superior literacy, since his own book begins with a grammatical error which, if it meant anything at all, would mean the opposite of what one guesses that he intends.

No matter. The point which Walden makes in his memoirs, and with which for the sake of argument we shall agree, is that he is a giant, morally and intellectually, among the lobby-fodder with whom he felt constrained to resort during his 14 years in the House.

Last week, as he did the rounds of the radio studios plugging his book of anecdotes and blaming Mrs Thatch for being in her anecdotage, no one said: "Hang on,Walden! As you have told us many times, you're an educated chap - fluent in Chinese, familiar with the literature of four continents, irresistible to the women of ditto. We need people like you in Parliament!"

When he actually turned up to work in our office, of course, Walden was perfectly OK and we all forgot the rebarbative introductions. But I couldn't shake off the feeling that he shouldn't have been there.

It was all right for us, with our childish gossipy concerns and our bone idleness, to be journalists and writers. But damn it, he was meant to be grown-up. What sort of a country have we become if everyone of the smallest talent starts saying they want to be a writer? No wonder the elections are so dull, and the resultant assemblies even duller.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing