In a social media age my timeline this week was filled with new MPs ‘selfie’ photos of them swearing into the new Parliament. Clearly they were ‘official’ selfies from some of the new camera angles that seem to have been installed. I guess seeing the photos and claims from new MPs to be ‘looking forward to serving constituents of x y or z’ are better than the last 2 years of “great labour doorstep” session selfies on Twitter.
I have to admit that for most of the time I feel comfortable that I have moved on from my 13 years in parliament and 20 as a parliamentary candidate. I believe life has its seasons and in 2010 my season in front line politics came to an end. But at little moments like the swearing-in I do feel a slight disappointment not to be there. Understandinly I miss the chance to represent people in our parliament. This is why I was happy to talk last week to the Radio 4 Today programme on life after politics when they called. They felt I had managed to create a new life after parliament and wondered how I had done this.
There is alwas a danger of doing these interviews and then R4 tweeting the story on their website. You don’t go on radio to seek any sympathy – indeed far from it. But you know there will be a backlash from trolls who love to be abusive about any MP – even former MPs! I agreed to do it because I wanted to bust some of the myths that surround our demise and to remind listeners that most MPs are relatively normal people who suffer personally when they lose their job and way of life. They suffer as all other people do by feeling a sense of rejection. They are not special people or superhuman. The Commons is full of people you will never hear of like me. We are humble back benchers ho don’t seek the limelight or Ministerial office. We don’t walk into highly paid jobs. This is not special pleading as I coped pretty well with losing but I know MPs from all sides of the House who have found it tough. I only mean as tough as anybody losing their job – but in a post 2010 world being an MP is no longer all the glamour it was cracked up to be!
Many of the myths that have built up are worth dispelling. I was quite shocked how little people understood about the life of an MP and just how little the ending was equally misunderstood. I was asked so many questions that I thought it worth writing up at the time.
As you leave the election count you are effectively given your P45. In front of public gaze you are made redundant. You are described daily in TV, radio and print as a/the loser. There is little escape locally. I didn’t want to lose but had worked out that unless something dramatic turned up I was going to lose. So at least I was mentally prepared. I even had a line from the West Wing in mind – in Politics sometimes the other guy wins. I know lots of former collagues who hadn’t prepared themselves for defeat. It is harder for them. I know others in other jobs who have lost their work through redundnacy who assumed they would be ok do take it much harder.
Of course for days afterwards people approach you and say they couldn’t understand how you lost. They and everybody they knew wanted you to win! On my Facebook timeline people were adding their comments to my result with expressions almost bordering on grief. After about 36 hours somebody did post – He hasn’t died you know!
Indeed I was quite surprised how much of a sense of relief I felt on the Friday morning knowing my fate had bee sealed. It was as though a burden had been lifted. The time in Parliament from 2008-2010 had been tough. Lots of colleagues had been exposed by the MPs Expenses scandal – my close colleague David Taylor had died of a heart attack, probably caused by the press stress, only weeks before. The global banking recession had been a tough time tyring to put our economy back on track and seeing the fall out as many people’s lives were turned upside down. So I guess adding my name to the unemployment figures was not a shock and something hundreds of thousands had been through. Unemployment happens and quite rightly in a democracy it should happen to MPs too. In fact it should happen to more & more often.
I got my first job offer on Saturday morning. I popped into Bradley’s, our local village shop, and Paul the owner asked if I wanted to do the Sunday Paper Round as they were short of a couple of deliverers! I was also struck at my new found freedom. A former constituent asked me some question about the voting process in Sheffield (there had been queues at 10pm if I recall correctly). I was able to say – “I don’t know about it, I don’t really care and guess what – it is nothing to do with me anymore” It was a liberating feeling. Suddenly not every situation around the world was resting on my shoulders.
However, on Monday the hard work started. I now had a staff team to make redundant and close down an office I had run for 20 years in Loughborough. We had over 22,000 case files of individuals and desks, office leases and employment law to deal with. Being an MP was always like runing a small business. This was the toughest part. As any employer will agree letting people go – destroying their lives – is hard. I see the media still lump the resettlement grant into the headlines about MPs expenses. The reality is that an MP like me gets 6 months redundancy pay after 13 years of service. I realise this is not ungenerous. However, compared to many other professionals I know it was not too wild! Especially as I have to ‘work’ the period in question closing down my office and my life as an MP. I was surprised how much there was to do. But for the media to pretend we get £100K+ of expenses is so misleading. They use the word expenses so pejoratively. None of us get to see that money. It is staff salaries and statutory redundancy pay, Office rent and end of lease payments for office equipment and even professional shredding services.
I was fortunate that I didn’t need to sign on. I decided quite quickly that I should move on from the political front line. This is important . You need to decide if you are going back or forward with your life. I created a lifestyle business at Saje Impact (www.sajeimpact.net) which used my passions in life to eek out a living and volunteer for numerous charities. I was not typical I found out later. I bumped into other former MPs who had received no paid work for over two years Others – the high profile ones – of course got lucrative NEDs. But these are the minority. Yet the public assumes that’s what all MPs do. It isn’t. Many struggle. We have an amazing set of skills but not that they are always obvious.
The other great myth is about the pensions and employment situation People I meet assume I am on my pension. I am not and can’t receieve this until I am 65. I still have 14.6 years to go! The other is an assumption that you simply go into opposition in the constiteuncy and are somehow ’employed’. There is no role of opposition in a constituency. I can assure you there are no employed candidates. Indeed it costs time, effort and a lot of money or a forgiving family to become a candidate. This is increasingly a problem for our democratic system as I have written about before. It reduces the pool of people willing or able to put themsleves forward to be candidates. It is helping to create a political class. I couldn’t afford to think abou being a candidate again as I had no job or income and a family to house & feed.
Finally I wanted to emphasise none of the interview was looking for sympathy. I knew the risks. I took the hit. But I was fed up with some of the myths continually going unchecked. Being an MP is not just a job – it is a way of life. It is a 24-7, 365 days a year public service position. I know my fello interviewee described the process as like grief and in one sense I agree. It is a ‘grieving process’ In the same way that it makes the ‘job’ very special it also means it takes a great deal of readjustment. I would say in the same way as people from military backgrounds struggle to adjust to civvy life. There are just some jobs which are more difficult to adjust. Again I am looking for no sympathy for me or those others who lost their roles, but understand the problems and at least be pleasant to these human beings! I am also not claiming being an MP is the same stress as being in the Military but it is true of some jobs being bigger than the person and becoming a full way of life – not just a job
My simpe ask is that MPs who lost this time are at least treated as human beings at a vulnerbale time in their life. Just don’t kick them whilst they are down however much you disagreed with their politics.
You can see from http://www.sajeimpact.net or my twitter @andyjreed_obe what I now do with my life and how I now feel I am able to make a positive impact on the world away from front line politics. I hope I have been able to show it is possible to move on. But it has never been as easy as I would like to think. MPs don’t deserve your sympathy but they should be treated as vulnerable human beings. If they accept their defeat in grace they should be treated with a little respect and some understanding. No more – no less.