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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 16:36 GMT
Hannan's Call to Order
Veteran political broadcaster Patrick Hannan
Politicians are not accorded sufficient respect and the media are to blame for that state of affairs.

Well, we all knew that didn't we, and perhaps I'd better leave the subject there as my contribution to Be Nice to an MP week for which people are feverishly organising street teas as a mark of their admiration for those who serve us so selflessly.

But more needs to be done.

I think the real problem is that too many MPs are politicians. That's to say, politicians and nothing else

This problem is apparently so deep rooted that Charles Clarke, the Chairman of the Labour Party and his Conservative opposite number, David Davis, actually agree on it.

Even more impressive is the fact that they are working out some joint policies to tackle the negative attitudes of the public towards their elected representatives.

I had thought of pointing out that the spectacle of the two main parties agreeing on anything at all is so rare that you might think a certain amount of cynicism was justified, particularly when it turns out that the only thing in which they are in harmony concerns their own particular interests.

But I'm not going to because to do so would only confirm their low view of journalists.

Mr Clarke paints an heroic picture of Members of Parliament which is nevertheless not a million miles from the truth.


He says: "Generally almost all politicians of all parties are genuinely committed to public service, genuinely committed to ideals of trying to improve life through democratic means."

My experience of hanging round with MPs over the years suggests that's absolutely right, although the air of self-congratulation many of them adopt in the face of their own humility takes some of the polish off the halo.

But certainly they are not all crooks, although some of them are, any more than they are all drinkers and philanderers.

That many members of the public are prepared to believe they are, though, indicates the extent of the difficulty.

But I think the real problem is that too many MPs are politicians. That's to say, politicians and nothing else.

The House of Commons is filled with people whose experience of other aspects of life has been strictly limited.

The gentleman amateur, soldier and farmer, brought the experience of a much wider world to the Palace of Westminster

Many of them have worked in politics, as advisers or spin doctors or journalists, before actually being elected.

They spend a great deal of their time with people like themselves, confirming each other's view of the world.

They are ambitious for office and so are reluctant to draw adverse attention by saying or doing anything that might mark them out as being anything other than totally loyal.

It wasn't always like this, as I was reminded by the death this week of Lord Gibson-Watt, who as David Gibson-Watt, was Minister of State at the Welsh Office in the Conservative Government of 1970-1974.

Wider world

He was large ("6ft 4ins and 17 stone" he once told me proudly) and loud, energetic and genial.

He wasn't a subtle politician, but his Tory self-confidence often inflamed the hooligan element on the Labour benches, particularly as he was a landowner who'd been to Eton.

Sessions of the Welsh Grand Committee would often end with Labour MPs shouting and jeering and David ignoring them entirely as he boomed out his closing speech.

His estate in mid Wales and Welsh agriculture in general were at least as important to him as political life.

He was also astonishingly brave, although such things were rarely mentioned, and was awarded the Military Cross three times during the Second World War.

In many ways David Gibson-Watt represented a tradition that has long gone from politics.

The gentleman amateur, soldier and farmer, brought the experience of a much wider world to the Palace of Westminster.

It was for such reasons, I suppose, that he was voluntarily accorded the respect others now ask for.

Patrick Hannan's weekly political programme, Called to Order, is live on Radio Wales, 93-104FM, 882 and 657AM, and DSat channel 867.

You can also listen to BBC Radio Wales live online at


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