UK: One year on, how 132 ex-MPs are coping on yer bike.

UK: One year on, how 132 ex-MPs are coping on yer bike. - Many of the MPs who lost their seats last year are still struggling to put Lord Tebbit's advice into practice.

by Rhymer Rigby. The ex-Australian prime minister, Bob Menzies, hadthe following advice to offer callow, aspirant politicians: 'Young man, get acareer first - politics is too uncertain and you need something to fall backon.' Unfortunately, this is ad
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Many of the MPs who lost their seats last year are still struggling to put Lord Tebbit's advice into practice.

Thus in the early hours of 2 May last year some 132 MPs (126 Conservatives, three Liberal Democrats, a pair from Northern Ireland and poor old Sir George Gardiner of the Referendum Party found themselves in a rather unenviable position. For here was a large group of people who had moved overnight from positions of considerable power, influence and (at least relative) wealth to, well, nothing really.

Great Britain plc had, in effect, suddenly sacked a fifth of its board in a bloodletting with few parallels. If a company sacks a couple of hundred salesmen, there are always other companies around. Sadly for Westminster's outgoing class of '97, there is only one House of Commons. To heap misery upon those affected, there probably won't be another general election this side of the millennium; moreover it seems likely that many of the lost seats will remain that way for the foreseeable future. So, like it or not, there are a number of once honourable members who must find something honourable to do to pass the time.

In the year following their election defeats, the grim reality of competing in the jobs market has hit some ex-MPs hard. Of course, it's worth remembering that there are those for whom life after parliament has been a relatively easy ride. Take, for example, David Mellor - it was always obvious that the media-friendly ex-member for Putney was unlikely to be hanging around his local job centre for long. Likewise, the ex-chancellor, Norman Lamont, had seven company directorships, a couple of other jobs, his memoirs and a media sideline to fall back on when the voters tired of his owlish countenance.

Then there were those who, although from a far lower profile, always had something they could go back to - like a business of their own. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside), for instance, could walk back straight into the family business. And then there are the innumerable MPs with a professional background of some sort. As Edwina Currie (Derbyshire South), herself one of the fallen (see box, p72), points out: 'If I had to pick a single group who seemed to be doing best out of it, it would have to be lawyers. And those with a lot of good city contacts are OK.' Even so, she points out that even erstwhile lawyers (such as David Hunt (Wirral), Jerry Hayes (Harlow) and Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)) can find returning to their original calling pretty tough, especially after an absence which may have covered three decades.

Finally, there are those who have found the whole business of having no outstanding business a pretty traumatic affair. As Iain Sproat, the former member for Harwich (see box), says, 'It's difficult to generalise but I think that anybody who had a majority of over, say, 10,000 did not expect to lose.' Sproat also notes that some of his colleagues gained more than others when the game of ministerial musical chairs finally ended.

For example, any MP who had been involved with the DTI would probably have been better placed to move into business than those who were in, say, the Department of Education. Currie takes a similar - though, as might be expected, rather blunter - view. 'Some', she says, 'are having a terrible time. It depends on whether they believed they'd win or lose, if they believed their own propaganda. Those who realised the likely scale of the defeat started making preparations earlier. But many of my colleagues are now seriously underemployed - doing two days a week as consultants, which just pays the bills. One colleague just pulled three kids out of public school and a lot of houses went on the market last summer.'

What then does a rank-and-file MP with a decade of parliamentary experience have to offer business? Often, says Mark Weedon of headhunters Alexander Hughes, the answer is not very much at all: 'The link between parliamentary experience and the business world is often so bloody tenuous. It can actually be very difficult for us as a search firm to say to a client company: "You should meet this guy because ..." That's the problem with people who have done nothing other than politics.'

Jacques Arnold, the former member for Gravesham (see box, p74), takes a somewhat more upbeat line, noting that, although 'the art of management is not necessarily something an MP can bring to a company', what many can provide is 'a vision, a perspective and an enquiring mind ... and these are useful'. This is a point Sproat picks up: 'I think as far as being a minister is concerned, you bring in the attitudes of mind that come from having to consider a very wide range of issues. You've got huge amounts of money, huge policy decisions to make and you get used to looking at things in a very broad way.'

A further plus that ex-MPs may bring with them is a pile of contacts, though how useful these actually are is sometimes doubtful. One election adage goes, 'there's nothing as ex as an ex-MP', and if all his or her contacts are other ex-MPs - well, multiply nothing by nothing and you still get nothing. Even so, former MPs' contacts may help to open doors, if only at a relatively low level. And, of course, for those who had extensive contacts with, say, heads of foreign governments, there may still be some mileage in being able to call up and say: 'You may remember meeting me as a minister - well now I'm representing Megabank.'

However, the consensus seems to be that ex-MPs should not place undue importance on their years of Westminster networking. As Currie notes: 'What a lot don't realise is that many of their political contacts become redundant overnight. One colleague was very miffed when he went for an interview with a lobbying firm and they asked him how many Labour MPs he knew - didn't like it a bit.'

Rather obvious, perhaps, but for those who haven't retired, aren't high-flyers, or don't have a vacancy awaiting them, it really has been a case of 'on yer bike'. As both Currie and Sproat say, what separates those who have successfully made a go of things and those who work as 'advisers' a couple of days a week is individual attitude and character. Many were on the phone at 9 o'clock the morning after - but certainly not everyone has taken Lord Tebbit's memorable piece of advice.

On the plus side, those who have yet to fully find their feet can take some rather ironic comfort in the fact that, as unemployed or at least underemployed people they will certainly benefit from the balmy economic climate that they (for most were Tories) helped to create. But in order to do so, they will have to learn to adjust. Currie's rather acid comment sums it up nicely: 'If they were clueless before the election, then they're clueless afterwards. Losing your seat doesn't generate a terrific extra amount of brain.' Her detractors may point out that, 'well, she would say that, wouldn't she'. But, then again, she's got a couple of pretty smart jobs.

A SERIES OF STRINGS TO HIS BOW

Like many ex-MPs, Iain Sproat has something of a 'portfolio' of interests, rather than a single, full-time job. After his defeat, Sproat acted quickly, contacting Chris Rendel, the then managing director of advertising agency FCB. Sproat had previously been on the board of FCB and Rendel immediately invited him back as a consultant.

Shortly after this, Sproat became involved with headhunters David Shepherd & Partners in the recruitment of other ex-MPs. Having spoken to several dozen ex-colleagues who were out of a job and at something of a loss over what to do, he suggested that 'David Shepherd should approach its clients and say: "Here's an extremely able former cabinet minister who is looking for a job. You might like to consider him as a consultant or a non-executive director."'

Sproat was also approached by the Brian Johnston Memorial Trust - which aims to bring cricket to young disabled people - and on whose board he has accepted a seat. Sproat also owns a majority shareholding and has resumed the chairmanship of Cricketers' Who's Who, a company which produces - as you'd expect - a Who's Who for the cricket world. On top of all this, he is chairman of the board of The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin in English - the business' name, again, is self-explanatory. And, drawing on his Westminster experience he is advising foreign governments on sport and tourism.

On the political side of things he remains active in his former constituency and is chairman of a shadow cabinet committee - which is important, he feels, as he has every intention of standing for parliament again.

Sproat is, in a sense, lucky: he has had a spell out of parliament before, in the 1980s, when he spent his time advising large companies such as Rothschild and American Airlines. 'No doubt,' he says, 'that helped me to look at things with more of a business eye.'

COUNTDOWN TO CELEBRITY STATUS

It should come as no surprise that, a year after losing her seat, the outspoken former MP for Derbyshire South isn't exactly wandering the streets.

Indeed, in March, the redoubtable Ms Currie signed a year-long contract with BBC Radio Five Live, where she will be presenting the weekend show, Late Night Currie: 'I'll dig out all the old contacts from the TV and radio work I've done before and look forward to taking every opportunity to build up my own personal audience.' In a similar vein, Currie has a number of television appearances booked - Celebrity Countdown, for instance ('it's a lot harder than it looks'). And she will be appearing on the panel of a discussion programme which is presently shooting at the hectic rate of three episodes a day - 'I must', she says, 'remember to bring three blouses along.'

The other main source of income is her novels: she has signed a two book deal with Little, Brown, a publishing company owned by Time Warner. The first, She's Leaving Home, the so-called parliamentary 'bonkbuster', was published last September and narrowly missed winning the less-than-coveted Bad Sex in Fiction Award; the paperback arrives in July, 'so that'll be another book tour'. Currently 'in the throes of writing the second', she is coy about its subject matter, revealing only that 'it is a book for the millennium - so that should take me through the millennium.'

As to what Westminster taught her: 'I think that what was most important were the skills I picked up on the way - being a wordsmith of course and TV appearances, that sort of thing.' As an MP, Currie was often reviled by her more demure colleagues for what they saw as her outre behaviour - in the world beyond Westminster, her talent for self-promotion is more likely to be a source of envy. She has no intention of standing again.

EXPENSIVE TIME ON HIS HANDS

A couple of months after the election, The Times did a survey of what the defeated Tories were up to. At that time Jacques Arnold, the former MP for Gravesham, was looking for work and told the paper: 'It's a matter of getting people sufficiently enthusiastic, because employing me isn't cheap.' Costly he may be, but a year on he seems to have found one or two things to do with his time.

Arnold's present occupation has its roots in his pre-parliamentary career.

He had worked in banking before taking his seat, though, as he points out:'During my time in parliament the world of banking has moved on in leaps and bounds. The first problem is that, having been out of business all those years can make lack of "technical" experience a real problem.'

Both before and during his time in parliament, Arnold was very involved in developing UK connections in Latin America. So he has set up his own consultancy, advising 'British companies, particularly those which are investing in Brazil. There's also the bringing together of partners for joint ventures and the bringing in of venture capital, both from British and Latin American countries.' As for the future, he says he is keeping his options open both ways - ie business and politics - and 'I'm always on the look out for a challenge'. Nevertheless, Arnold admits that his consultancy work takes up 'most of my time but is far from full-time'.

One gets the feeling that Arnold, despite cancelling a photo call with Management Today because he was 'too busy', may be feeling a little under-challenged at the moment.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ex-members honourably employed

Sebastian Coe has found work in Tory Central Office as chief-of-staff to the leader of the Opposition, William Hague.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (left) is a consultant to an oil company and is often to be found in Azerbaijan, which is billed as the next Kuwait.

David Evans has returned as managing director to Leapsquare, his business consultancy.

William Waldegrave (left) is a corporate finance director at Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and writes for the Telegraph.

Tom Sackville is working in London as a consultant in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Rupert Allason had already written books, specialising in the secret services; he has gone back to scribbling.

Jerry Hayes is now a political commentator and turns out a fortnightly column for Punch magazine Liz Lynne, a Liberal Democrat, now works in speech consultancy but remains active in politics.

Gyles Brandreth has returned to working in publishing and news media.

Matthew Carrington (below) is chairman of the Outdoor Advertising Association, the trade body for poster contractors.

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