What happens to politicians who have lost political office? Does it matter to anyone other than those immediately affected? Recent research published by The Open University Business School (OUBS) considers these questions and reveals the personal and professional conflicts faced by MPs and council leaders who are leaving political office.
The report, Losing Political Office draws on interviews with current and former MPs and council leaders. The former politicians included both those who had chosen to leave office and those who had been electorally defeated. It reveals both the profound difficulties for many of those leaving office as well as, for a small number of former MPs, their relief at no longer being in parliament. It demonstrates a widespread reluctance among current politicians to think about how and when they might leave office. Key conclusions of the report include:
• Whilst a minority were pleased to be relieved of ‘the chains of office’ (‘it was so devastatingly awful to be an MP’), most, including those who had chosen to leave office, expressed their sense of dislocation and grief at the loss of office: ‘It was like a bereavement, and it was, but there was no funeral.’
• That they were avoided by many after losing office was an issue for a number: 'Ex-MPs are like rotting fish. Failed politicians are the worst of the worst. That’s what I feel and there’s an unspoken feeling that the failure is contagious.’
• ‘[The notion of leaving is] something I prefer not to think about… my preferred life course is one where I wake up one morning, dead’ (from a current MP).
The research aims to generate debate on the how and whys of the exit from political office, a subject on which there has been limited research despite politicians’ leaving office being an integral part of our representative democracy. The research considers possible wider implications, including the future recruitment of politicians, as well as provoking further discussion on how to ‘reuse’ the talents and skills of former politicians to benefit society.
Visiting Fellow at The Open University Business School and author of the report, Dame Jane Roberts, a psychiatrist by profession and formerly Leader of the London Borough of Camden, said:
“If the risks of gaining political office and leaving that office are too high, we may further narrow the pool from which our elected representatives are drawn and, as a result, entrench the perception that elected politicians are a class apart; this serves none of us well.”
The report was launched at a House of Commons event recently, with keynote speakers Charles Walker OBE MP, Councillor David Sparks OBE and the Rt Hon Dame Tessa Jowell MP.
Keynote speaker, Charles Walker OBE MP, said:
Keynote speaker, Councillor David Sparks OBE, said:
Councillor Sparks also commented: “We will take on board the recommendations of this research and apply them where practical.”
The report, Losing Political Office is available on the OUBS website: