THE FACT that Britain is preparing for its third general election in less than five years helps explain the unusually high number of experienced MPs standing down.
Fatigued by Brexit, it is also clear that the level of vitriol, abuse and threats from the public – and social media trolls – has also taken its toll on some politicians whose wisdom, particularly over the scrutiny of ill-informed and contentious policy, will be much missed.
Yet John Bercow’s departure after a decade in the Speaker’s chair actually masks a far more subtle change taking place at Westminster. Both main parties are now in the grip of polarising individuals – it is why Boris Johnson wants the Tories to select Brexiteer disciples in his party’s key seats while left-wing candidates, backed by Momentum, have come to the fore under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
This has often been at the expense of moderate politicians who have tried to work on a cross-party basis, hence a risk that the new Parliament, when formed, will become as tribal, and possibly more so, than the current House of Commons.
And while the departure of Tory grandee Ken Clarke, the ex-Chancellor, was much anticipated – he was first elected in 1970 and is now in his 80th year – what is perturbing is the number of high-profile female politicians who are choosing quit when they still have so much to offer Parliament and the country, the consent of their voters permitting.
Though they expected to be scrutinised, nothing, it appears, could prepare them for the particularly pernicious and gratuitous abuse that they – and their families – have received on a regular basis, hence the importance that so many, including this newspaper, are placing on the tone of the forthcoming campaign.
For, if the political culture is so toxic that the brightest and best are discouraged from seeking election or re-election, Britain – and democracy – will, ultimately, be the loser.