Giving up a seat voluntarily after one term is pretty rare – so why are so many government MPs quitting?

8th January, 2015 7:27 pm

When no fewer than eight MPs from the main governing party, seven in seats targeted by the opposition, decide to throw in the towel after just one term in office, something’s up. As well as being an immense privilege, attempting to become an MP is a huge undertaking.  Before they even get a chance to come anywhere near the green benches, most candidates dedicate years of their lives to the process of getting selected to fight to represent an area and then campaigning to win. If they’ve had to fight the seat several times before winning it, multiply that several times over. So once you have the privilege of being elected, giving it up voluntarily after one term is pretty rare.


There will always be a few individuals who decide after five years that parliament really isn’t for them – that’s natural enough. But these eight Tory MPs (plus one Liberal Democrat) who have announced their retirement after just one term are extraordinary. To put it into context, after Labour’s landslide in 1997, which gained the party 145 new MPs, just two in target seats stood down voluntarily in 2001. The Tories’ eight one-term retirees in 2015 come from a pool of just 97 new MPs. And to this eight we can add the one who has already jumped, Louise Mensch – late of Corby, now of Manhattan, who abandoned her seat after just 27 months.

What could have caused this?

A good hint might come from the security of their seats. Across those eight constituencies, their majorities over Labour at the last election averaged just over 3,000 votes. Among them are the most marginal Tory-held seat in the country (North Warwickshire, where Dan Byles is abandoning his majority of 54) and their smallest majority in Wales (Cardiff North, with a majority of just 194). These are the sort of MPs who will have had to fight doubly hard, give up vast swathes of their time, in the run-up to 2010, to carve out hard-won footholds like that. That they are jumping now tells us one simple thing: they have very little faith in David Cameron or his ability to win this year’s general election. If the Tories thought they could steam to a majority in May, they wouldn’t have sitting MPs in seats like these so despondent about their electoral fate that they are simply walking away.

Labour has set itself a tough task in seeking to be a one-term opposition. As Ed Miliband set out this week, it is a slog that will be won in the hard slog on the doorstep. Four million conversations across the country between now and polling day, convincing voters that Labour has the policies that will secure an economic recovery that works for all, tackle the deficit and pull the NHS out of the crisis into which it is rapidly sinking. And perhaps one of the best places to start those conversations is in those nine seats being vacated by their coalition MPs. History suggests that incumbents often do well after their first-term. In those seats, any such advantage has just melted away. And if the Corby experience is anything to go by, that helps in handing those seats straight to the opposition.

That’s why on Saturday, I’ll be joining activists from across the country in taking part in Progress’ Operation Flight, targeting nine seats where the incumbent is flying off. I’ll be supporting the excellent Natasha Millward in Dudley South, who is seeking to replace Tory Chris Kelly.

There will be campaigners too in Cannock, Cardiff North, Brent Central, Erewash, Hove, North Warwickshire, Redcar and South Ribble. The incumbents have shown they have little faith in David Cameron or Nick Clegg to help them defend their majorities. Instead, those seats can be at the core of building a Labour majority in the next parliament.

John Woodcock is the Labour MP for Barrow & Furness and Chair of Progress

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