The really insidious disease, to which Mr Portillo did not make reference, is the waning public faith in politics itself. We are slipping towards a society in which civic participation, the mobilisation of collective energy behind a common goal, the lobbying of Parliament and the election of representatives committed to specific principles and policies are seen as irrelevant.
The responsibility for this cynicism rests squarely with a government that has elevated centralism and devalued the concepts of civic participation and public service in its relentless quest to substitute market solutions for democratic ones.
Britain is crying out for what John Smith has called 'democratic renewal' - a radical overhaul of our moribund political institutions. The Labour Party is committed to an ambitious programme of political reform, which would begin to restore some sense that politics and political institutions are about making things better for people, and not an irrelevant sideshow rightly held in increasing contempt.
MP for Nottingham North (Lab)
House of Commons
The writer is Labour spokesman on democracy and the constitution.