Two MPs have announced in the last 12 hours that they won’t be standing again in 2015.
To take them in reverse order, about 20 minutes ago Sir Tony Baldry announced that after representing Banbury since 1983 that he’s fought his last election. Interestingly he links it to a combination of his age and fixed term parliaments:
“One of the consequences of now having five year fixed term Parliaments is that if I succeed in being re-elected at the forthcoming general election, given my age, most people will assume that Parliament will be my last. I think this creates a danger that I may be unable to be as effective as I would wish to be…”
He’ll be turning 65 next year, so it’s far from an abnormal age at which to retire – and 32 years is a good stretch in the Commons. He’s spent those years campaigning particularly on rural issues, and I’m sure the selection battle to succeed him in Banbury’s 18,227 vote majority will be an intense one.
The other MP stepping down will attract rather more comment. Chris Kelly was first elected in 2010, taking Dudley South from Labour with a majority of 3,856. He becomes the ninth MP from the 2010 intake to leave after only one term.
Here’s the full list of first time MPs who’ve decided not to stand again so far: Louise Mensch, Jessica Lee, Mike Weatherley, Laura Sandys, Lorraine Fullbrook, Dan Byles, Jonathan Evans, Aidan Burley and now Chris Kelly.
There are a few things to note:
- First, the idea that the problem is solely with female first time MPs has proved to be mistaken: four of the nine are women, five are men. Kelly may well not be the last, and we won’t know the final proportions for a few months. Sadly I doubt it will stem selective headlines from some parts of the lobby on the topic.
- Nor is the issue a purely Conservative one. So far, 27 Tory MPs either have gone or are going at the next election – 8.8 per cent of the starting total. By contrast, 30 Labour MPs are going – 11.6 per cent of the parliamentary party they started with in 2010. 9 Liberal Democrats are leaving – 15.8 per cent of their tally from 2010.
- Of course, part of this is natural wastage – the majority of Tory MPs who are standing down are at (or beyond) the age at which they might understandably want to retire.
- Instead, the notable issue isn’t so much gender or wider disillusionment in the Parliamentary Conservative Party, rather it’s a question of why first term MPs don’t want to stand again. Nine out of 147 is uncomfortably high.
- I’d take Labour’s claim that the 2010 intake MPs who are going are all doing so because of their marginal seats with a pinch of salt. For some that may well be a factor – but by definition the vast majority of 2010ers are in marginals – that’s the reason their seats changed hands at the last election. The real motivation is a complex mixture of different factors
- There’s good reason to think that for some the experience of being an MP hasn’t lived up to the hype. Privately, many MPs cite the way the job has become more about social work, doing things the council really ought to do, than about national politics. Others have found the experience of coalition, and thus the reduction in opportunities to aspire to ministerial office, frustrating. Of course, at the same time various other MPs have taken that as an opportunity to campaign from the backbenches instead.
- Don’t underestimate the power of personal factors. If a family member falls ill – or, like Mike Weatherley, the MP themself falls ill – then the impact is the same as on any other busy professional, in that they take stock and re-evaluate their priorities, the commitments they can sustain and so on. Also, the experience of being an MP often clashes with family life – by February 2013 one sixth of new MPs had suffered the breakdown of long-term relationships since the election. It shouldn’t be a surprise if others choose to leave Parliament rather than lose their marriage or miss out on seeing their children.
Some turnover of parliamentarians is perfectly natural – and can be a good thing, as our politics would never change if all the faces stayed the same. We should study why new intake MPs are leaving at a faster rate than previously – but that means studying it properly, not simple leaping to explanations that fit partisan or single issue obsessions.