When Benjamin Disraeli was asked why he wanted to enter the House of Commons, the answer struck him as obvious. “We come here for fame,” he said, and scurried off to do something exciting. He was partly right; after all, I’ve quoted him here. Yet scarcely any MPs achieve fame. The official history of parliament does not even have a full list of all the MPs that have ever been elected. Why is this, and why do these apparently unexceptional people seek elected office? A recent book of interviews with MPs, Tony Russell’s Commons People (Matadow, £9.99), does its best to answer this question.
As anyone from Stalin to David Brent will tell you, power is wonderfully fulfilling, and many MPs go to Westminster in the misguided belief that it lets them run the country. Except for in extremely rare instances—where in any case it is the mass of backbenchers instead of an individual crusader that get things done—that doesn’t happen. Commons People only interviews backbenchers; perhaps if cabinet ministers were included the results would have been different, though given our government’s capacity to recruit those incapable of saying things of their own, such a grilling might not be very productive.