Politics, it used to be said, is showbusiness for ugly people. You get to hold forth at length in Parliament, on TV and in the local and national press about whatever it is buzzes around your bonnet. With Lembit Opik, famously, it was asteroid strikes. Until he ended up dating a Cheeky Girl (ask your parents, kids) and losing his seat and whatever shreds of dignity remained to him. He tried stand-up, music and most recently, professional wrestling. It didn't go well.
What didn't often happen was a transfer between politics and showbusiness. There was a sense that politics was largely a serious business undertaken out of duty to improve the lot of your fellows. It was often the culmination of a lifetime's work: as a union activist, as an entrepreneur, diplomat or teacher. it wasn't a stepping stone to greater things.
Until the advent of Tony Blair. Entering politics as a young man and unencumbered with any serious ideology, he parlayed the ability to persuade people of his sincerity into a long stretch as PM and now a life of plutocratic luxury doing something mysterious which persuades merchant banks and foreign governments into giving him millions of pounds. His example spread stardust around the houses of parliament like dandruff from a celebrity's collar. Ann Widdecombe, previously famous for insisting that prisoners giving birth should be chained to the bed, turned up on an amateur dancing programme. Still an MP, she combines being dragged round a dancefloor with announcing that gay people can just think themselves straight, amongst other nonsensical opinions. The Speaker's wife appeared on Celebrity Big Brother. Louise Mensch dabbled in politics just long enough to snag a column in the Murdoch press and leave for New York, away from all those constituents whinging about their terrible lives. Worst of all, Lord Drayton resigned from his job as Minister for Defence Acquisitions to pursue a career as… a racing driver. Meanwhile, the MoD spent £30bn it didn't have on 'defence acquisitions' that don't work. This is politics as a hobby - no sense of public service at all.
And now we've reached a new low. Serial self-publicist and reactionary Nadine Dorries has announced that she's joining I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here - not after her political career is over, but during it. Despite being paid £65,000 to represent her constituents, she's off to Australia for a game show. Presumably the Tory whips' office have agreed to this because she's such an embarrassment, but that just deepens the sense that politics is a springboard to a media career or fame and fortune. These people are cynics and dilettantes… which goes some way to explaining why our public sphere is rotten to the core. The only people who'll stick around are the lunatic fringe and the lobbyists.