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Smallbone Peter

Peter Smallbone is a Conservative activist based in Birmingham.

You get elected onto your local council. You like the work, but want more – you want to be an MP. So you get yourself selected for some unwinnable constituency, slog your guts out, lose, then get selected for another one, then maybe even another one before an Association somewhere vaguely winnable finally takes a chance on you.

Finally, your dreams come true. You win. You’ve made it!

Why, then, would you jack it all in five years later?

This is the question I’ve been pondering over the last day or so. It turns out that this might be the wrong question, and armed with a bit of maths, I’ll try to explain why.

So far, six Conservative MPs who were elected for the first time in 2010 have quit or have declared they will: Aidan Burley, Dan Byles, Lorraine Fullbrook, Chris Kelly, Jessica Lee, Louise Mensch, Laura Sandys and Mike Weatherley. Based on information from various online sources (corrections welcome), here are their previous histories in terms of elected office:

 

Name Been a Councillor PPC in a Previous Election
Aidan Burley N N
Dan Byles N N
Lorraine Fullbrook Y N
Chris Kelly N N
Jessica Lee N Y
Louise Mensch N N
Laura Sandys N N
Mike Weatherley Y Y
Total Yes 2 2

 

(Note that I didn’t include ‘stood as a councillor but was never elected as one’ as it was too hard to get reliable information.)

An interesting pattern is starting to emerge. Most of our quitters had never been a councillor or a PPC in a previous election – only one, Mike Weatherly, got his hands dirty with both.

Maybe there’s nothing in this though – what if the rest of the Class of 2010 show roughly the same pattern?

Let’s have a look.

I examined the electoral histories of 44 other first timers (it would have been more but frankly I couldn’t be bothered reading any more Constituency profiles and Wikipedia pages – 44 is enough to give a representative sample) and compared them to our eight quitters:

 

Fate Been a Councillor PPC in a Previous Election
First time Tory MPs who are quitting 25% (2 of 8) 25% (2 of 8)
First time Tory MPs who are staying 43% (19 of 44) 66% (29 of 44)

 

Side by side, the figures are really rather interesting: it seems that you’re much more likely to stay if you’d done something at least vaguely MP-related in the past.

Eight quitting MPs isn’t really very many on which to base a conclusion though, and it’s true that if a couple more had been a councillor or a PPC previously, then the two groups wouldn’t look all that different.

The way to determine whether or not there really is a difference is to use a statistical test. In this case, the most appropriate one is something called Fisher’s exact test. When you apply this, it turns out that there’s no significant difference between the two groups if you look at who’d been a councillor, even though there’s quite a difference in the percentages. (A cautionary tale for those of you who rely on data for policymaking.)

On the other hand, there is a statistically significant difference between the two groups if you look at who’d been a PPC in a previous election. (If you’re really interested, there is less than a five per cent probability that the difference had arisen by chance. Questions at the end.)

Why this is we can only speculate. Maybe some people who get in on the first attempt don’t really know what they’ve let themselves in for, or maybe some veteran campaigners who hang on are victims of what’s called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

And of course, none of this tells you anything about the relative worth of any new MP – Sajid Javid, for example, had never stood for public office before being elected in 2010 and has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of government. Maybe our less ‘seasoned’ first timers turn out to be more effective for some reason, but we’ll leave all these questions to another day.

So, back to the question we should be asking, at least if you’re a Constituency Association: Have you stood before?

20 comments for: Peter Smallbone: The big question that prospective PPCs should be asked is: have you stood before?

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