After a disastrous showing in May general election, what are ousted Liberal Democrat MPs up to now.
A life peer, a charity worker and an energy consultant – these are the lucky ones. Four months on from a disastrous showing in the general election, many of the Liberal Democrat MPs who lost their jobs in May remain jobless.
Forty-seven Liberal Democrat MPs were voted out, leaving only eight in the parliamentary party. While the most well known – the likes of Menzies Campbell and Vince Cable – have the choice of retirement, what of the rest?
“Looking for a job,” says Jenny Willott, a former assistant whip and privy counsellor. “I’m doing bits and bobs of freelance work,” she says, claiming the loss in May was a welcome relief to spend some time with her young family over the summer. “Ultimately however, I’m still looking for a paid job in either the voluntary or private sector.”
“Bits and bobs” has emerged as a common professional progression for those ousted. Others have taken a more traditional post-politics route.
“My book comes out next week,” says Norman Baker, a former minister for the Home Office. “Not an exposé as such, but a political memoir. The first major coalition memoir. It’s quite entertaining and funny, at least according to those that have read it. I’ll write some more books, both fiction and non-fiction, and continue to write newspaper articles. My band is also quite happy that I’m around more often now.”
Baker is the lead singer for the Reform Club, a pop group. According to one comment on a YouTube video that has just over 25,000 views, the former MP is “not bad”. There’s a new album on the way and Baker has work to do. Still, employment remains bitty.
While a fall in the standings was expected, such an almighty cull of Lib Dem parliamentarians was not, and many succumbed without a contingency plan. Simon Hughes, former justice minister and deputy leader, was one of the most high-profile losses. “Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you have inquiries relating to speaking engagements, media appearances …” reads a message on his personal website.
Meanwhile, Lynne Featherstone is one of a handful of ousted MPs returning to Westminster via the House of Lords. “Somehow we’ve got to get across the message that we’re all going to die,” she says, describing her new role as the spokesperson for energy and climate change.
On top of this portfolio, the former home office minister sees her peerage as an opportunity to “continue holding the government to account”. Same-sex marriage, LGBT rights and female genital mutilation are at the top of her agenda as she tries to prove that the Liberal Democrats are “bowed, not beaten”.
Featherstone, like many of her fellow ex-MPs, is already up in arms and helping the #LibDemFightback. “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” she says, pledging to represent the Lib Dem voices she believes still exist.
Most of the former MPs will continue, in true Lib Dem style, to fight on as party activists, and many will be at their conference this week. Julian Huppert, the former MP for Cambridge is back working full-time at the university. Pre-parliament he was an academic researcher. Now his new-found skillset is being put to use in developing science policy.
“The desire to be in public service never leaves,” says Huppert. “I’ve been involved my whole adult life – I’ll always have an interest in making things better for people.” Whether he’d consider standing again, he’s undecided. (The likelihood appears to be that he won’t.)
There are exceptions, but when it comes to standing for parliament again, most believe their role is done. Danny Alexander, once a powerhouse in the coalition, has wandered into the wilderness, literally. Tweeting just twice since the election aftermath, on both occasions it was to describe the beautiful walks around his rural Scottish constituency. Cable has written a book, Ed Davey has entered the private sector and Sarah Teather is delivering educational services in South Sudan.
For Willott, four general elections and 10 years in parliament is enough. “It’s time to give someone else a chance,” she says.
• This article was originally published in The Guardian and The Observer on 19 September 2015. To access the original, please click here.