The best laid plans… Will David Cameron really seek re-election as Witney’s MP in 2020, even if he has resigned as Prime Minister in the meantime? His recent words on this subject were, as Paul Goodman pointed out last week, a little ambiguous – but they were enough to inspire today’s To The Point post. How easy it would be, I thought, to construct a chart showing how much time previous Prime Ministers had spent as MPs after leaving Number 10.
…etc, etc. I was wrong. It wasn’t easy at all. There happens to be a lot of conflicting information on the Internet, and the worst of it concerns old Prime Ministers’ departure dates from the Commons. For those former PMs who stopped being MPs at a general election, some sources give the actual election date, others the date of Parliament’s dissolution ahead of the election – I have gone with the latter. For those who stopped being MPs within a parliamentary term, it gets even more complicated. Consider Clement Attlee. Wikipedia gives 26th December 1955 as his last day representing Walthamstow West. The generally more reliable TheyWorkForYou gives 16th December. But when I checked both dates against the Times’s wonderful archive, I discovered that Attlee’s elevation to the Lords was announced on 7th December. A day later, according to Hansard, Herbert Morrison paid tribute to him “who has now left this House”. So 7th December 1955 is the date I have used.
From Blair to Heath, and everything in between. Anyway, you can check my spreadsheet of dates by clicking here – if you spot any mistakes, please do say, and I shall correct them. The result of it is the chart at the top of this post. Discounting Robert Gascoyne Cecil, who inherited a peerage and left the Commons about 34 years before ending his premiership, the two former Prime Ministers with the shortest stays in the Commons are Anthony Eden (who retired due to ill health) and Tony Blair (who just hightailed it outtathere). The longest was Edward Heath’s, who put in a 27 year shift between his defeat in the second general election of 1974 and his retirement at the election of 2001.
Cameron’s opportunity. I should say, this is not a competition. How could it be when the dates are determined by such things as the timings of general elections or, more conclusively, death? But Cameron has an opportunity to distinguish himself from his immediate predecessors nevertheless. If he does stand for Parliament in 2020, having already departed Number 10 during the preceding term, he will be the first former Prime Minister to contest an election in this way since James Callaghan in 1983.
How things have changed. All of this also relates to another To The Point post I wrote, about how Prime Ministers are getting younger. From Henry Campbell-Bannerman to Neville Chamberlain, in the early years of the 20th Century, four former Prime Ministers departed the Commons at the same time as they departed this mortal coil. Nowadays, that is less likely. Whether they decide to spend it the Commons or not, Cameron and his successors will generally have more time outside of Number 10.