Friday, April 01, 2005

Heading for the Swiss border

Here is today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Last farewells

The adjournment debate before the Commons rose for Easter saw several MPs make their farewell speeches. With everyone expecting the election to be called early next week, last Thursday offered the final chance for most backbenchers to be heard in this parliament.

Sir Teddy Taylor, standing down in Southend East, has been an elder statesman for as long as anyone can recall. You have to be venerable to remember Tory MPs in Glasgow. He is so venerable he used to be one.

Such speeches are often sad, but Taylor’s felt sadder than most. He spoke of his opposition to devolution and all things European. You sensed a career spent swimming against the tide, and that the tide had won.

Another cause of this melancholy was his concern that young people are no longer interested in politics. He described meeting a group of 17-year-olds. A few hated the government, but had no enthusiasm for the Tories either: “There was no capitalist pig stuff or anything like that. They just thought that they were totally irrelevant and they had no views on them at all.” Only one intended to vote Liberal Democrat. But that was one more than intended to vote Labour or Conservative.

Taylor contrasted this with his own student days when “everyone was involved in a party or movement of some sort”.

Perhaps the idea that young people ought to be madly political relies on a rosy view of the 1960s (or, in Taylor’s case, the 1950s). Maybe you need to have lived a bit to become politicised – to have lost a job or seen the legal system at work.

And maybe the increasingly long apprenticeship we impose upon teenagers – mentored and counselled to within an inch of their lives – saps their confidence. Meanwhile the health professions are inventing a new category of “young adults”, convinced no one can cope with mainstream services until past 25.

A happier note was struck by our Richard Allan, who is leaving voluntarily for a career outside. “I have the fake passport printed and the tunnel dug,” he told the House.

In such cases it is usual to disguise yourself as a Flemish factory worker and head for the Swiss border. I hope he sends us a postcard when he gets there.

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