I was speaking to a member of the House of Lords last week, who reckons this expenses scandal (which is still trundling on btw) may have prematurely ended the careers of up to 200 parliamentarians. The draconian rules now being brought in, are also having the undesireable effect of ramping up the continuing homogenisation (and venalisation, if there is such a word) of parliamentary politics, by rooting out anyone who earns money from anything other than politics. As Matthew Engels, no man’s fool, notes of the ‘historic’ Norwich North Bye election:
The voters of Norwich North could hardly have elected anyone who was more of an obvious recruit to the old politics. In her short adult life, their new MP has worked in the Cabinet Office and for three Tory politicians, one of whom, Baroness Shephard, met her when she was 16. She made no secret of the fact that she wanted to be an MP, said Baroness Shephard. If Ms Smith is a poster girl for anything, it is for that dismal political class who dominate Westminster and have achieved stuff-all anywhere else. Being only 27, she is an extreme case.
More soberly, he points out the underlying reality of Norwich is rather more unstable than the Conservatives returning to their pomp:
Fifty years ago Britain had an electorate that was intensely committed to parliamentary democracy, voted overwhelmingly for the two main parties and shifted from one to the other with remarkable uniformity.
We now have an apathetic and alienated electorate that regards its politicians with contempt, associates democracy with reality television rather than the ballot box and moves in mysterious ways that vary wildly from one part of the UK to another.
Despite a method of election that overwhelmingly favours the two main parties, we now have what is effectively an eight-party system (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, two lots of Nationalists, the Greens, UK Independence party and the British National Party) even excluding the Irish and the local insurgents who have emerged recently in places as diverse as Tatton and Blaenau Gwent.
The most likely outcome is that Mr Cameron will be in Downing Street a year from now. But the most important potential game-changer lies in Labour hands firing Gordon Brown. And a long, fascinating, unpredictable political season lies between now and the election. Ms Smiths triumph changes that not one iota.