Are they mad? Or are they simply politicians?

Jeremy Laurance at the British Psychological Society conference reports on how Labour members are feeling the strain of power
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NEW MPs elected last May are an unhappy bunch showing high levels of stress which may damage their capacity to do the job. New Labour has brought new misery to those on the Government benches who are more worried, anxious and depressed than opposition MPs.

A survey by psychologists from Manchester University showed that the psychological health of first time MPs after the election was worse overall than that of a matched group of candidates before the election. The new MPs, who were studied last July, were more likely to be suffering from low self-esteem, fatigue and illness.

Ashley Weinberg told the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Brighton that the job of MP ought to carry a Government health warning. He said: "It is not because we feel sorry for them. It is because MPs are the most important decision-makers in the country. It would be doing the public an injustice if we do not give them the resources or ensure they are in the best psychological health to do the job."

Mr Weinberg said that the Labour landslide meant many candidates who never expected to win found themselves with a job they did not know how to do.

Over half complained there was no induction and some did not even know their way round the Commons. "They were told here's a desk, here's a phone, get on with it."

The euphoria of winning may have been followed by anti-climax for many candidates. Some complained of a lack of sleep and said they found it difficult to switch off and 40 per cent protested at the lack of resources. "Undoubtedly there were individuals whose expectations had been dashed," Mr Weinberg said.

The biggest pressure on new MPs was being thrust into the spotlight, having to juggle constituency and Commons work, and having to cope with separation from home and family.

The survey showed women MPs, who were likely to have heavier home commitments, suffered more, as did those for both sexes aged 40-50.

"If you are in your forties you want to achieve something soon, your expectations are high and time is running out," said Mr Weinberg.

MPs who live between 50 and 100 miles from Westminster were coping better than those who lived closer or further away. Living closer meant greater involvement with the constituency while living further away meant longer travelling time. For MPs who had held senior positions outside the Commons, starting again at the bottom of the ladder on the back benches could be a source of additional pressure.

Mr Weinberg cited a remark by Jack Cunningham, the Minister for Agriculture, about decisions being made by MPs in a state of "exhausted irrationality".

Leading article, page 20