Sick of 'sweet-talking', a Tory MP quits

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The Independent Online
In a remarkably frank admission, George Walden yesterday announced he was standing down as an MP because he felt as useful to the Tory party as "flat cap in a submarine".

The former education minister says he has decided to give up politics because he refuses any longer to "behave like a child in a school team".

Tearing away the pretence maintained by politicians, he says: "Our politics seem to me to be increasingly about the management of illusions and I possess no talent for soothing and sweet-talking the public like infants."

Mr Walden, 55, the Tory MP for Buckingham since the 1983 general election, for the first time fully explained his decision to resign as the minister for higher education in 1987. At the time, he said it was to spend more time with his family, but it is now clear it was also because of his alienation from Tory policy and party politics.

Tory leaders regard the former career diplomat as a left-of-centre maverick but his decision to bare his soul in a letter to his constituency chairman will raise questions about John Major's ability to hold together the fragile alliance with the left of the party. He is scathing about the "two nation education system"; a housing policy "that persists in making a fetish of home ownership"; and the replacement of universal welfare benefits with lower taxes. Labour is certain to exploit his remarks in the run-up to the election, although he makes clear he is not about to defect to Labour.

Mr Walden's rare insight into the deep disillusion at the state of politics at Westminster is likely to be dismissed by colleagues as "not playing the game". He objects to the confrontational style as a system that precludes "a grown-up dialogue" with the public.

"A colleague is said to have described me as being as useful to the Conservative Party as a flat cap in a submarine. That seems to me a fair judgement ... I am merely taking up political space. Better to pull my flat cap over my eyes and eject from the submarine."