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After Office

What Happens To Unemployed Politicians?

December 18 2007 - Research by the School of Politics and International Studies at Leeds University has investigated the experiences of Members of Parliament on losing their seats, including problems of adjustment and finding employment.

Life after Losing or Leaving: The experience of former Members of Parliament by Professor Kevin Theakston, Dr Ed Gouge and Dr Victoria Honeyman is based on a survey of 343 members of the cross-party Association of Former Members of Parliament in October 2006. A total of 184 responded, of whom 40 per cent had suffered election defeat and 60 per cent had retired or lost their seats as a result of constituency boundary changes.

This included 10 per cent who chose to leave to start a new career.

The findings challenged the common perception that former MPs readily find lucrative employment. About half of those who left involuntarily reported that it had taken between three and six months to find a new job and one in seven took over 12 months. Only 20 per cent said they were able to find work immediately or almost immediately. About 40 per cent of respondents experienced loss of income, with 20 per cent earning "about the same". One third said they were financially better off after leaving Parliament.

Kevin Theakston commented:

"The report will help puncture media and popular myths of the 'political gravy train' variety by showing what the real situation is in terms of former MPs' employment, earnings, pensions and so on."

Many respondents reported difficulty adapting to life after leaving Parliament, and felt isolated from the political party which had previously formed such an important part of their lives. Just over 25 per cent said they had been able to return to their previous employment; a third said they had not. One commented that "new jobs are not easy to come by". Another said "many MPs do not appreciate their skills on entering Parliament will not be and are not relevant when they leave".

The study found that one third of those defeated in elections had not anticipated this outcome. One MP who lost in the 2005 election described it as feeling like being "cut off at the knees". Many missed not being at the centre of politics, one commenting "I would wake up in the morning, listen to the radio, and form views on the issues of the day and then I realised that no one wanted to know what I thought." More than half continued to be active in local politics. A number felt that political parties should do more to support defeated MPs to adjust and find employment.

Kevin Theakston said:

"There has always been anecdotal evidence of ex-MPs who have suffered nervous breakdowns, marriage break-ups, depression, alcoholism, and serious debts problems. But our project is important because there has been virtually no systematic research into these issues - into what happens to former MPs and into the experience of leaving Parliament. Politics is a non-commercial career and our report shows that the idea that there are hundreds of ex-MPs walking into cushy and lucrative jobs is rubbish."



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