Brexit bolters

Where are Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and George Osborne? It was as if they couldn’t wait to leave Parliament, having got what they could out of the system, with no thought of putting something back

Counterpoints

As the Brexit deadlock in Parliament drags on and on, some important voices are missing: those of the politicians who got us here in the first place. Where are Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and George Osborne, three former Prime Ministers and an ex-Chancellor? All of them quit Parliament while still relatively young and at the height of their abilities, Blair and Cameron without even waiting for the next general election. It was as if they couldn’t wait to leave, having got what they could out of the system, with no thought of putting something back.

Whatever we may think of their performance in office, surely the Commons would have benefited from their huge accumulated experience at such a critical time in our modern history. Instead, Blair, Cameron and Osborne went off to fill their boots in the City and elsewhere, with Osborne also sniping from the sidelines as editor of a London freesheet. Brown disappeared to Scotland, apparently in a sulk resembling Edward Heath’s after he was toppled as Conservative leader by Margaret Thatcher in 1975.

But at least Heath did his sulking from the back benches: he continued to sit as a Conservative MP until his retirement aged 84 in 2001 after 51 continuous years in Parliament, the last nine of them as Father of the House. Jim Callaghan stayed on in Parliament for eight years after his 1979 general election defeat, adding greatly to the lustre of the House. And Winston Churchill did not retire from Parliament until 1964 when he was nearly 90, having first been elected in 1900, although it is generally agreed that he stayed on too long.

One reason for the latest generation of political leaders to leave the Commons prematurely may well be that they do not wish to reveal their extra-parliamentary earnings on the Members’ Register of Interests, as is now mandatory. Fortunately, not all distinguished former ministers are so coy. Ken Clarke, whom many would consider the best Conservative Prime Minister we never had, in recent times at least, is still active in the Commons at the age of 78, after nearly 49 years of service as an MP, and indeed has been highly influential in the campaign for the softest possible Brexit.

His pro-EU beliefs, unyielding since his student days, may not endear him to many of his fellow Conservatives, but we should all applaud the example he sets in his devotion to the House of Commons that is so sadly lacking in so many other recent big beasts of the political world.