ALISTAIR BURT: Bob a character – we need more!

MP Alistair Burt.
MP Alistair Burt.

The death of Bob Crow was of course a personal grief to his family, and those who knew him well, and they have the condolences of many. But it also triggered a couple of thoughts, about the role of trade union leaders today, and the place of character in modern politics.

Bob Crow defied two current conventions. My generation, and those a little older, remember when trade union leaders – like Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon - were household names. They were known because for a time they were highly influential in economic and political decisions, which was their job, but also because for a while they appeared to be actually running the country, which was definitely not their job.

Trade union leadership and relationships are very different today. But few who depend on rail services, or work within them, could ever claim not to have heard of Bob Crow, who broke the mould.

But he was also a character on a wider stage. Parliamentarians, like footballers, are not what we were, the national media say. There are no Sir Gerald Nabarros, with trademark moustache, nor Ann Widdecombes. But modern politicians are almost encouraged to be bland. Taking a different line to their party is met, if they are senior enough, with screaming headlines about ‘splits’. Women MPs with any sort of back story are careful in exposing it. Most of us silently envy old Farage that he can, currently, get away with it, though I suspect the media are lying in wait for him too.

When I visited the Maldives, on Government business, I had to wear a suit all the time, in case five minutes off wearing a loud shirt and flip flops gave the wrong impression!

I think more MPs should trust the people, who like us being ourselves more than is given credit for. Stand by for louder shirts!