Admitting that you want to be an MP in the present climate marks you out as either a social misfit or someone suffering from delusions. I have almost got to the stage of feeling I should attend a meeting of Politicians Anonymous to bare my soul. My name is Iain and I want to be an MP. There. I've said it.
My family and friends think I am mad. Why would I want to subject myself to a life of constant public scrutiny over everything I say or do? Well, I take the view that if those of us who aspire to public service allow ourselves to be put off by the current breakdown in trust between voters and politicians, we are heading for a very slippery slope indeed.
The present situation over MPs' expenses is very serious, and the disconnect with voters is worse than it has ever been, but let's not kid ourselves that there was ever a golden age in relations between voters and MPs. Voters have always been suspicious of politicians and their motives, and that is a perfectly healthy state of affairs.
What has changed is that people now believe that all politicians have their snouts in the trough. We've gone back to the days of 18th-century rotten boroughs. All that's missing is Hogarth to capture the scene.
Last Saturday, I spent the morning talking to shoppers in Bracknell, where I am competing to become the Conservative candidate. Expenses came up in conversation several times, and I found myself having to try to prove that I wasn't an expenses criminal in the making. I showed my 10-point Pledge of Integrity, in which I promise, among other things, to live in the constituency, but not at the cost of the taxpayer. I promise not to claim for food or furniture. I promise not to promise what I cannot deliver and to tell constituents my real views at all times. And much more.
But the point is, I shouldn't have to spell this out. People should be able to take it for granted that their elected representatives will act with honour and candour at all times. Five years ago, as the Conservative candidate in North Norfolk, I issued a similar pledge as I could see which way the wind was blowing. This initiative did not go down well with several Tory MPs, nor with my fellow candidates. "Imagine where this might lead," said one. Indeed. Just imagine.
It is not often that I am five years ahead of my time, but now almost every Tory candidate is issuing a variation of the same pledge. Chloe Smith, the party's newest MP, made it a key feature of her by-election campaign in Norwich North.
Why do we have to issue a pledge of integrity? Because people think politicians don't know the difference between right and wrong. And nor does the system of scrutiny by which they are governed. It is tragicomical to think that several MPs who have done nothing wrong will have to pay back money for offences they didn't commit, while a former Home Secretary, who wrongly claimed £116,000 in second-home expenses gets off without paying anything. No wonder voters think politicians have the morals of an alley cat.
It would never occur to me to claim £400 a month for food I would have consumed anyway, let alone to charge the taxpayer for a television or garden furniture. My mother said to me recently: "Thank God you lost at the last election. You might have got caught up in all of this." I'd like to think I wouldn't have, but when the party whips tell you to make sure you claim for this, that or the other and that you should view it as a salary increase, you can see why some members did what they did.
For the new intake of MPs who will be elected in 2010, things must be different. Their levels of personal morality and probity will have to be beyond reproach. It is down to them to make the change, ensure things are done differently and to rebuild trust with the electorate.
I can't pretend I am not daunted by the challenge that lies ahead. But if David Cameron and George Osborne can face the economic thunderclouds that stand in their way, the rest of the troops must look to their own challenges, in particular the way they conduct themselves in Parliament and their constituencies.
Cameron recognises that the world has changed: 24-hour news, blogs and Twitter mean that the old command-and-control methods deployed so successfully by Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson are now utterly redundant. In an age of increased individualism and easy communication, such attempts to control the message jar with the public's expectation of how politicians and political parties should operate. As effective as command and control may have been in the past, today it simply serves to weaken public confidence.
Nor will the next tranche of MPs be particularly easy to boss. The Tories know that after the next election there will be at least 150 new members on their benches in Parliament and maybe many more. Half of the Conservative Parliamentary Party won't be used to the ways of the whips. Their test will be this: will they succumb to the old ways of doing things and behave like sheep, or will they act as a group and insist on doing things differently?
In the past, it was easy for whips to threaten an MP who was intending to rebel. "We had thought of you as ministerial material, but if you vote this way, you'll end up on Standing Committee B on European Statutory Instruments." That was usually enough to divert the cowering member into the correct division lobby. But not everyone goes into politics determined to climb what Disraeli called the "greasy pole". Not everyone wants to be Prime Minister.
Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP for Clacton, has proved that you really can change things, even from the backbenches. It was he who got rid of Speaker Martin. Many of his ideas, in particular about devolving power from central government, have now been adopted as Conservative Party policy, but he steadfastly resists the allure of front bench office.
Those bent on career advancement will always be vulnerable to control by the party machine. Yet the rise of political primaries in selecting parliamentary candidates, the public appetite for direct debates between party leaders and the emergence of political blogging all point to a new age of politics in which individualism and independence are rewarded. David Cameron has recognised the public's desire for change by promising to curb the powers of the whips, enhance the role of select committees and give more time to backbenchers in debates.
The rise of political blogs is provocative to a political hierarchy determined to exercise control. My own blog, Iain Dale's Diary, provides me with tremendous reach and arguably gives me influence far beyond that enjoyed by the majority of current backbenchers.
I understand, therefore, the pressures that will be put upon me to stop blogging if I am selected as a parliamentary candidate. But my blog's success lies, at least in part, in the fact that I am not restricted by the party line and that I can say what I think on given issues without reference to the desires of party whips. To misquote William Hague, I am in the Conservative Party, but not run by the Conservative Party.
Unsurprisingly, that's not something that sits easily with aspirations for advancement within the party. Indeed, at the most senior levels of government such individualism stands opposed to the principle of cabinet collective responsibility.
If I am to look at myself in the mirror each morning, though, I must do it on my own terms, while recognising that there will always be limits beyond which I cannot venture. Can I successfully tread that tightrope? Time will tell. But if a party demonstrates a lack of trust in its own candidates' good judgment, the public will want to know why they should trust those candidates to exercise good judgment on their behalf.