Janet Street-Porter: I'd be a lousy MP – and so would Esther

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The Independent Online

It's damage limitation time. David Cameron demands an immediate General Election to lance the festering boil that threatens to harm democracy, and Michael Martin steps down as Speaker. MPs will be creeping back to their constituencies tomorrow to face the music, hoping that once parliament is in recess we might tire of the expenses saga – fat chance.

The angry public have already decided that many MPs are not fit for purpose, in spite of public apologies and promises of cheques in the post. Given the daily revelations of financial skulduggery – yesterday's focused on the Whips, the people supposed to enforce party discipline but who turn out to have claimed thousands of pounds for whirlpool baths and massive amounts of food just like many other MPs – it's tempting to think the best solution would be to force every member of the Commons to be re-selected, so we can start again with a blank page.

But where would all these squeaky-clean new MPs come from? There's not a training school for democracy out there, the parliamentary equivalent of the Brit school in Croydon or the Institute for Performing Arts in Liverpool. There are plenty of high-quality establishments training working-class young people to dance, sing and act, but not one which prepares them to enter politics.

We are being presented with a unique opportunity to radically alter the composition of the House of Commons, and break the white, male, middle-class and middle-aged bias. But how?

Opinion polls show that the three main parties are losing their appeal to voters, and until we chuck out our first-past-the-post system, small parties and independents don't stand much of a chance. Proportional representation is the only fair solution to the current disenchantment with party politics, but will the Commons be brave enough to seize the opportunity?

In the meantime, the crisis means that celebrity opportunists are floating up like flotsam, grabbing headlines but not offering any real policies. Is it enough to say, "Vote for me, I'm honest"?

Esther Rantzen announces that she's considering standing as an independent candidate against Labour MP Margaret Moran in Luton South. If you're a high-profile, opinionated woman, it's flattering when members of the public suggest you enter politics and fight on a "sensible" platform. I know, because I've been asked that dozens of times, but I'm realistic enough to realise that I'd make a lousy MP, and so would Esther.

Margaret Moran has a small majority, only 5,650, and looks extremely vulnerable following revelations that she claimed £22,500 to sort out the dry rot in her partner's home in Southampton, a hundred miles away. Contrast Ms Moran with Kelvin Hopkins, the MP for Luton North, who commutes by train and only claimed £296 in expenses for the year 2004/05. Kelvin's majority isn't much bigger – 6,487 – but with his track record of humble honesty, I'd say he's pretty safe.

Mr Hopkins entered politics after working as a research officer for Unison and the TUC, a traditional left-wing route. Contrast that with Esther, who made ground-breaking television series in the 1980s, and set up Childline, which has been copied all around the world. But Esther, like me, is an egomaniac of the highest order – you have to be to get on in front of the television cameras. She's a pensioner, but a rich one, and someone who spent decades claiming expenses (as well as a high salary) from the BBC. She's not exactly au fait with life on a budget.

Esther means well, but she's hopelessly under-qualified to enter the democracy of parliament and submit to endless committees and prevaricating. In her media world, she leads from the front, but, sadly, parliament doesn't work like that. Even if elected, I doubt she'd have the patience to try and reform the system from within. Parliament needs young blood, with masses of energy and enthusiasm, and not celebrities, no matter how well-meaning.

Give Britain's oldest mum-to-be a break

Good luck to Britain's oldest mum-to-be Elizabeth Adeney who is preparing for the birth of her first baby at the age of 66. She's attracted widespread criticism, although her unlikely defenders include the London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

The whole debate about what is the right age to become a parent is full of hypocrisy. Many people were shocked when it was thought that 12-year-old Alfie Patten had fathered a child with 15-year-old Chantelle Stedman but now that a DNA test proves the real dad is someone else, are we still that interested?

After all, teenage mums – whether you approve or not – pass without much comment in our society. More important, what about old dads? From Jonathan Dimbleby to John Humphrys and Rupert Murdoch, they somehow magically escape our disapproval, even though they will have long been pensioners before their little sprogs are teenagers.

Older men who want to be dads and rave on about what a wonderful experience it is second time around just don't attract the criticism their female counterparts do. Madonna got roundly abused for wanting to adopt another child because she was 50, single and shamelessly dating a 22-year-old. Age shouldn't affect whether you make a good parent or not.

Great telly and cheap thrills

He attacked Jade Goody, and Parkinson is once again troubled by popular culture, complaining that there aren't any television programmes for an audience with "an IQ larger than the numbers you'd find in a bingo bag". He rants about the stuff he hates – shows featuring the police chasing yobs and property programmes and documentaries about embarrassing illnesses – and laments the passing of the South Bank Show.

There is crap on the box, but Saturday nights have been excellent, with BBC2's The Birth of British Music in a much better slot than the South Bank Show ever got. On the 10th anniversary of Columbine, an excellent documentary about serial killings in the US airs on the same channel next Monday. There's plenty of great television. You just have to know where to look.

* Marks & Spencer are paying shareholders a reduced dividend as profits dip in the recession. The businesses that are doing well, however, reveal a lot about how Brits are cheering themselves up in cash-strapped times. We're buying cheap clothes (Primark sales up 5 per cent) and naughty knickers (Agent Provocateur sales up 8 per cent). Also doing well are Durex, and Domino's Pizza (up 25 per cent). Sales of sparkling wines have risen, too. Instead of a night out, we're breaking open the cheap bubbly, ordering a takeaway and making our own fun at home. Maybe Autograph should consider selling G-strings?

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