Gerri Peev: Best be prepared for parliament's new platoon

POLITICS used to be showbiz for ugly people, but today even the younger replacement for jilted Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Philips could struggle to get on to the floor of the House of Commons.

A flick through the latest pictures and profiles of the next generation of wannabe MPs is like browsing a teenager's friends' list on Bebo.

Aspiring politicians need to be as inoffensive as magnolia (before it became associated with commuter belt housing developments).

With history comes baggage, so it helps if they are tyros whose careers have not strayed beyond the bounds of PR consultancies and think tanks.

Could this explain why so many newcomers are wrinkle-free yet joyless party hacks?

It is as though a platoon of Girl Guides and Scouts was coming to run parliament. Be Prepared.

Indeed, one of the most high-profile prospective candidates is head of campaigns at the Scout Association.

Stella Creasy is a career politician who has worked with another young, ambitious politician: Douglas Alexander. She has a PhD in psychology, which could be put to good use in the Commons.

The new broom clearing up the Commons expenses detritus is also sweeping out some of the experienced talent.

On the day that 27-year-old Chloe Smith was elected as the Tory MP for Norwich North, an even more significant but overlooked piece of news emerged. Thurrock MP Andrew MacKinlay announced he would stand down from parliament at the next election.

He is officially a Labour MP but one of the most independently-minded politicians. A constant inquisitor, he adds spark to boring Commons sessions when lesser men and women scurry to the tea rooms. MacKinlay had the misfortune of being bugged by the security services under suspicion of having links to the Russians.

This is what happens in a modern democracy: if you are off-message, you are branded a traitor.

He is quitting parliament, citing mental and physical exhaustion. MacKinlay is right to go, for the new generation's eagerness to please will wear him out.

In contrast, Smith's robotic hand gestures, smiles and message could only have delighted the party faithful. At an age when most people are just beginning the shrug off the fog of binge drinking and student debt, she managed to come across as a young version of Ruth Kelly, even managing to shoot slightly condescending glances at David Cameron.

Top of the Tories A-list is 33-year-old billionaire's son, Zac Goldsmith, who is gunning for the Lib Dem-held Richmond Park. Goldsmith once said that he would only vote Conservative if he were drugged first.

Either that has been arranged by Cameron's front-bench or the environmental campaigner has had an extraordinary conversion. He has also said that he had found "politicians are people that cannot be taken at face value. There are very few politicians I have been impressed with".

Goldsmith's card has already been marked, however, as his opposition to nuclear power does not sit comfortably with Conservative policy.

"Seen but not heard" will be the strategy that the leader no doubt gives the telegenic Goldsmith, whose grandfather Frank was a Tory MP and chum of Winston Churchill.

Also of political pedigree is Laura Sandys, the daughter of former Tory MP and defence secretary Duncan Sandys.

And Labour's Glasgow South candidate is Anas Sarwar, the son of Scottish affairs committee chairman Mohammed Sarwar.

Littered among the candidates is a chick-lit novelist (she will find plenty of material in the Commons), a former GMTV presenter and countless communications executives.

One who refreshingly bucks the trend is Shaun Bailey, one of the few black candidates standing for the Tories with a striking chance of winning the seat. Raised on a council estate, Bailey has an unorthodox approach to tackling drugs, crime and urban misery.

He often espouses his passion for personal responsibility as a way of solving society's ills across the airwaves.

One of the few "do-ers" rather than talkers to potentially make it to parliament, one hopes he is given the space to enact some of his ideas on a wider scale, without it being "professionalised" by PR axis in Tory HQ. If politicians do not have the aesthetic appeal of a model, then they better find an accessory: witness Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik. This week he has managed to find yet another willing accomplice. Having worked his way through a weather presenter and Cheeky Girl, he has now attached himself to a lingerie model.

Opik – for all his eccentricities – is a shrewd operator, who at 44 perhaps takes a little too literally the adage that he must cling on to youth at any cost.

So far, 100 MPs have already announced they are standing down from Westminster and many more are expected to out themselves in the coming months. No-one wants to have their retirement associated with the expenses scandal.

One of the ones who will obviously not grace the curry houses of Pimlico any longer is Alex Salmond. As First Minister, his priorities have lain elsewhere for some time. But even his detractors will miss his robust performances in the chamber, particularly when contrasted against the threatened charisma-free future of the Commons.

Youth should not be a disqualifier from becoming an MP. After all William Pitt the Younger was 24 when he took office as prime minister. In the 18th Century, 19-year-old Old Etonian Charles Fox followed his father Henry into parliament. He eventually became a champion of parliamentary reform.

But it is often only when their human failings are exposed – and overcome – that politicians can go from being mediocre to truly memorable.