By Paul Goodman
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Until fairly recently, An MP was a citizen legislator, legislating and debating and representing while also working at his business, not a professional politician doing a job. But over the past 30 years or so, private finance has gradually been replaced by taxpayer funding, and the clash of interests replaced by a gathering consensus among politicians. Unsuprisingly, it is one that seeks at the least to preserve the size and scope of the state, since he who pays the piper inevitably calls the tune. This change has produced some good side-effects – the present generation of professional politicians works harder for their constituents than the previous one of citizen legislators did.
But, on the whole, gradually blunting the clash of interests at Westminster has been a loss for voters, which is why, for what it's worth, I left the Commons. These abstract thoughts have a concrete application to Nadine Dorries's planned departure for Australia for "I'm a Celebrity". Not so long ago, her electorate wouldn't have known about her leaving the country for perhaps the best part of a month, and a large part of it perhaps wouldn't have minded that much. Not any more. MPs are increasingly seen as professional politicians – viewed as doing a job.
How on earth, many of her constituents will ask, is "working for us" consistent with her pushing off to Australia for a month? Some of Ms Dorries's defenders point out that if she's swiftly ejected from the programme she may not miss any Commons sitting days at all. Technically, this is true. Emotionally, it is beside the point. Little wonder the Executive of her Association is meeting as I write – asking, doubtless: "Why weren't we told?" (I gather that Ms Dorries intended to break the news to them herself, but that the news broke first – as is so often the case.)
The consensus view will be that the mid-Bedforshire MP's departure for the Big Brother set represents everything that is wrong with modern politics – its triviality, vulgarity and so on. If Ms Dorries were the wife of the Speaker (strange imagining) seemliness would be all and this would be so. As it is, she isn't, and is, as far as I know, pretty much a free agent. None the less, the consensus view is absolutely wrong. The change in what an MP has become is not Ms Dorries's friend, but her enemy. It means for most that she should be "doing her job". Her Association perhaps, many of her constituents certainly, will say that she should be doing no less – and more.
And those who she has crossed at Westminster – or who have crossed her: much the same thing – will sit back and wait malevolently on events. Is that a peal of dark laughter I hear from the Treasury?