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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Hannan's Call to Order
Veteran political broadcaster Patrick Hannan
After polling day on Thursday, several politicians could find themselves out of work. But as Patrick Hannan - presenter of BBC Radio Wales's political programme Called To Order - reminds us, the forgotten heroes of yesteryear are still going strong in the "Other Place".

I know it's not very correct to say this, but there's something tremendously seductive about the House of Lords.

At most times it has an atmosphere of calm not matched anywhere else in political life as numbers of very distinguished people snooze away their afternoons on those red leather benches, lulled by the gentle background noise of rational debate.

Its formal language reflects this mood.

Leo Abse
Leo Abse: Rare kind of politician

Not for the Lords those raucous cries of "Aye" and "No" used in the Commons during votes, but rather the polite murmuring of "Content" or "Not Content".

And when they break for supper, a notice goes up to say that the House is "At pleasure", a civilised contrast with the behaviour of MPs who don't have official meal breaks of any kind.

This is not to say that there is never any controversy in the Lords, no passionate debate.

They like nothing better than to give the government of the day a bloody nose from time to time, but the prevailing mood is of calm reflection.

Austin Mitchell calls it, not without reason, an eventide home for the terminally confused.

At the same time it can be unnerving for the occasional visitor, invited for tea perhaps.

There, buttering their crumpets at the next table, you'll see people, once stupendously famous, whose existence you've entirely forgotten or whom you assume died many years ago.

It's always reassuring to realise how briefly people glitter in the public eye, how swiftly their days of influence pass.


It's always reassuring to realise how briefly people glitter in the public eye, how swiftly their days of influence pass

That is something a number of people are going to discover on Friday.

To serve as a member of parliament is a considerable distinction (although, I think, not as great a one as it once was) but to be an ex-MP is to find yourself swiftly erased from the public consciousness.

When he retired from parliament in 1987, Leo Abse, one of the most remarkable Welsh politicians of modern times, was asked by his wife: "Who's going to deal with all the phone calls and letters now?"

Abse reassured her. "There won't be all those phone calls and letters now that I've ceased to be an MP."

As it turned out that forecast was a long way from the truth.

Abse was and, more important, still is, an increasingly rare kind of politician.

Someone who adopted causes and pursued them, however demanding they might have been for him, and whatever inconvenience they might have caused the various authorities in his own party.

House of Lords during State Opening of Parliament
House of Lords: Unmatched atmosphere of calm

He was a leading figure in the reform of laws on homosexuality and divorce and one of the most effective opponents of the devolution proposals of the late 1970s.

Nor has he ceased his campaigns, as we've seen in recent months.

Although he's now 84, and was desolate when his wife died five years ago, he still has an unerring eye for controversy and the energy to go on causing it.

A matter of weeks ago it was a new edition of his very critical book on Tony Blair that revealed the story of Viscount Tonypandy's homosexuality.

He certainly isn't the kind of man to doze away his days in the Lords, even if he had been invited to do so.

I suspect, in any case, he was too uncomfortably individualistic to be offered the chance. Which seems a pity.

The House of Lords, even partially reformed, contains a large number of brilliant people of wide experience and notable service.

Sir John Morris, Barry Jones and Richard Livsey, are three former Welsh MPs will shortly join them and make that pool of talent even deeper.

Even so, it could probably do with a few more troublemakers as well, people to whom Leo Abse remains a striking example, to wake the whole place up a bit.

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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/live/rwv5.ram.

e-mail: order@bbc.co.uk

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