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Are MPs becoming an endangered species?

By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

The number of MPs standing down at the next election is growing. The number lining up to replace them is in decline. Why is politics no longer seen as the attractive career choice it once was?

Parliament is now in recess. MPs have gone back to their constituencies for the Summer and know that, on their return, many of them will be in full-blown campaigning mode, as the next General Election will likely take place in the Autumn of 2024.

However, a much larger number than usual, north of 60 at the moment, will be enjoying a long farewell from the House of Commons, having decided not to contest their seats next time around.

A few of that number are of an age that the term ‘retirement’ can fairly apply. But a much bigger number are standing down simply because they have had enough.

And although there are always people who are willing to fill the shoes of parliamentarians who are seeking pastures new, the number lining up to become MPs is shrinking, the quality of the candidates generally thought to be declining too.

One of those who has handed in his ‘notice’ is the current Defence Minister Ben Wallace.

The Conservative MP for Wyre & Preston North, who is just 53 years old, and who spoke at the excellent ‘Future of Britain’ conference hosted by the Tony Blair Institute in London this week, has decided to call it a day, despite regularly being polled as the most popular cabinet member among Tory members, having served in the Commons since 2005.

He told the conference audience that, after nineteen years, he wanted to ‘spend more time with his family’ – and I’m sure, in part, that is one of his principal reasons for leaving politics behind.

However, he also spoke of the increasing demands faced by a politician. The 24/7 attention via social media and the press, the online abuse, the fake rumours. Only last week Wallace was accused of having an affair with former prime minister Liz Truss, whilst taking copious amounts of cocaine! Publicly, he laughed this off, but what impact do such abhorrent stories have on your partner, your children, your wider family?

He also revealed that, compared to when he was seeking selection to his first seat, up to 600 people would be in competition for ‘safe’ Conservative seats, local Associations were now receiving less than 50 applications.

Becoming an MP just isn’t that attractive a proposition nowadays – and given the lousy pay, the increasingly limited influence a backbench MP has on the government, the antiquated working conditions within Westminster, the endless hours of travel if you represent a constituency outside of the South East, the very real personal danger you face (two MPs have been murdered in recent years), and the insecurity of the job, given you are up for re-election every 4-5 years – it is easy to see why.

We need to radically review the job, the job description, the pay, and the working conditions of those who still see public service as a viable career option. But, in a country where the reputation of politicians has never been as tarnished, that is a debate that is challenging to have.

The truth is, though, that unless and until we do, then we will continue to see a decline in both the number and the calibre of those who seek to serve in the ‘Mother of Parliaments.’

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