HoC 85mm(Green).tif

Administration Committee

Oral evidence: General Election Planning and Services, HC 209

Monday 24 October 2022

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 24 October 2022.

Watch the meeting

Members present: Sir Charles Walker (Chair); John Cryer; Michael Fabricant; Marion Fellows; Sir Greg Knight; Dame Maria Miller; Mark Tami; Giles Watling.

Questions 13-32


I: Dame Jane Roberts, Visiting Fellow, Open University, Professor Meg Russell, Director, Constitution Unit, University College London and Alex Gordon Shute, Founder, Ithaca Partners.

Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Jane Roberts, Professor Meg Russell and Alex Gordon Shute.


Q13            Chair: We have three witnesses today—Alex Gordon Shute, Professor Meg Russell and Dame Jane Roberts—as part of our inquiry into general election planning. Today the Committee is focusing on leaving Parliament as opposed to arriving in Parliament. Some of you might have given evidence to Select Committees before; others have not. We are a very gentle Select Committee. Can each of you make a one or two-minute opening statement about what you do and who you are for the benefit of us and those viewing? Alex first.

Alex Gordon Shute: I am Alex Gordon Shute. I founded a headhunting business 15 years ago called Ithaca Partners. In terms of search, some of the community that we headhunt are also people that have been active in politics potentially as spads or as civil servants, so I know a little bit about your world. That means that I have between 300 and 400 conversations a year with people deciding what to do next, and I have done for 20 years.

Professor Russell: I am Meg Russell, a director of the constitution unit at University College London. An awful lot of my work over the last 25 years has been on Parliament—I used to work here before that. I am here to talk not about the nitty-gritty of how you help people to leave, but more about the circumstances that might lead people to leave. I am more concerned about the bigger picture in terms of whether people are leaving more quickly.

If you are asking how you support people when they leave, I think there is a prior question as to whether you could support them better by making it more bearable for them to stay. There are certain things that have been going on in recent years that have made it very difficult to be an MP. I also think that the arrangements for standard retirement have become less generous. When you put those two things together, you wind up with this problem that there are people leaving who are not well supported when they have left. 

Dame Jane Roberts: I am here largely because of my research into losing political office, out of which a book emerged. I am a visiting fellow at the Open University. The research was started when I was an academic at Warwick University. Of relevance is that by profession I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I was also elected leader of the London Borough of Camden and chose to step down in 2005. Although my research focuses on losing political office, part of the research and subsequent thinking looked at the broader picture in terms not just of its impact at a human psychological level, but the wider impact on a system of representative democracy—looking at entry into Parliament and support once there, as well as departure from.

Q14            Chair: Alex, I am going to ask you a question. You have a lot of dealings with the corporate world. From your experience, how does the corporate world view ex-Members of Parliament? What do you think the difficulties are around being an ex-Member of Parliament in transitioning to a new career or role?

Alex Gordon Shute: The main difficulty is that the corporate world often does not know what to do with you as ex-Members of Parliament. You have had very high-status public roles, but you often do not know very much about their world and they do not know very much about your world, so the sense of how the two worlds translate and how you work out where the common ground is quite difficult. I think it is hard. MPs leaving office and going to the corporate world often have an easier time if they had a corporate life before they became MPs. Again, the translation job is easier. They understand the language, structures, formalities and processes. If you have never done that before and you are looking to go into that world, it is harder. Usually, a softer bridge between the two worlds is something to do with using your political experience, but not always.

Q15            Chair: Michael is going to come in on the back of this, and all three of you can answer this question. I will start with you, Alex, and the second part of my question will open it up to our other guests. Do you think Members of Parliament now pay a career penalty for choosing to enter public life? In a sense, because there is such a gap now between politics and business, we have fewer outside interests. I am not saying that is good or bad; it is just fact. There is also the negative publicity around being a Member of Parliament, so is there a danger that politics actually carries a career penalty?

Alex Gordon Shute: Potentially there is that danger, although you may not realise that, outside the Westminster bubble, the world does hold MPs in high esteem. You do govern the land, and a lot of senior people in corporate life are very pleased and proud that you do. I would not say that there is a status issue with MPs coming out of politics and looking to go into the corporate world. It is more a skillset and knowledge base issue. People do not quite know what the skills are and what to do with you, because it is quite difficult to translate them into their world.

Q16            Chair: Would you like to come in on this, Meg and Jane?

Professor Russell: I can do so briefly. It is very refreshing to hear that from Alex—I am very glad to hear that. In terms of the difficult politics that I would identify, I would trace that back to the expenses crisis. The end of the 2005 to 2010 Parliament was very difficult and there were so many negative headlines about MPs all being on the fiddle and so on, and lots of negativity towards MPs. Then we had a brief lull before we got into the Brexit years, when things got so bitter inside here and there was so much nastiness. There is probably a connection between the things you are talking about here and the things that I am interested in talking about, which is the overall culture of politics, and that applies to why people might want to leave but also to why people on the outside might think that there’s something vaguely toxic about having MPs on their books, which is obviously a problem from both ends of the telescope.

Dame Jane Roberts: While I think that the expenses issue undoubtedly made things worse, there is good evidence that, prior to that, it was very difficult for MPs, at least in the UK, to find employment after leaving Parliament. The research only really started at the beginning of this century, but even before 2010 all the evidence is that there is no revolving door. The problem is that the public perception is that there is a revolving door for MPs to step into lucrative jobs, which is simply not the case. If you are Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps, but few make it to be Chancellor of the Exchequer—except for recently, of course.

Chair: We are not going to be tempted down that path.

Dame Jane Roberts: May I just add something on my own research? My research was in-depth interviews with 24 politicians—both former and current MPs and council leaders. The interviews painted a really vivid picture—we did not use the term “career penalty”—of literally wearing out a pair of shoes, struggling to find employment. It is a long-standing issue, which undoubtedly has been made worse over the last 20 years.

Chair: We have lots of colleagues here who want to ask questions. I am going to take them in the order that they caught my eye. Michael, you would like to follow up.

Q17            Michael Fabricant: I was interested in the certain amount of disagreement between the two panellists on the left. Alex felt that, despite what people think, there is no toxicity out there and that MPs are held in reasonably high regard, whereas Meg felt that perhaps that is not so any more. Could we explore that in a teeny bit more detail? Then I have a specific question for Alex. To what extent, Alex, would you come back on what Meg says? Do you think it has changed, or do you think that we are still held in some regard?

Alex Gordon Shute: I think it is okay, actually. That is my view. I think that one of the issues going on is that we may be concerned that we are only looking inside Westminster and the issue of MPs going through career transition. The fact is that career transition in middle age when you have had a career already is quite a difficult thing to do. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to not be a pilot and to be a PR consultant, or whether you are trying to not be an MP and to be a captain of industry. It is quite a difficult thing to change from one very particular environment to having a successful career in another very particular environment when you do it in the middle of your career, because there is a level of expectation about your earnings and status that is quite difficult. You are not starting at the bottom again. You are trying to come into it midway through or at quite a senior level. I think those problems are common to many careers, including MPs. It is about trying to find a sensible way to translate what you have done previously into new worlds. There is quite a lot of exploring and experimentation and bridge-building conversations that need to happen, and it takes a lot of time, and it is not that easy to do.

Q18            Michael Fabricant: Do you think headhunters have a role? I happen to know a number of headhunters—not because I have been after a job; I just happen to know them as personal friends. They talk with despair about the unsolicited approaches they get from Members of Parliament who are about to leave—not you, Chair, but others—and those who have lost their seat, not because they have chosen to leave, as in the scenario that Meg talked about; they lost their seat against their will because the electorate had decided, maybe through no fault of their own, that they were going to vote otherwise.

When an unsolicited approach is made, is there a role for the headhunter to say, “Well, look—this is what we think can be done to educate the ex-MP” and to also speak to people on their client list and say, “You could make an unusual choice here”?

Could I give an example that is not about an MP? Egon Zehnder, a big consultancy firm, was brought in to choose the successor to Sir Charlie Mayfield, who was the chairman of John Lewis. They came up with a number of names and, without giving too much of the game away, Sharon White got the job. Sharon White had never worked in retail, nor had she worked in business. She had been a civil servant—a very senior and very able civil servant. Some people felt it was a mismatch, but it seems to have worked. Is there not a role for MPs in that situation—to work in that type of different environment?

Alex Gordon Shute: Yes, and I think some do. I think some headhunters are more open-minded than others about the transitioning help they can give MPs in that scenario. Yes, I think there is. It is worth remembering that quite often organisations will look at their own networks to see whether they can source interesting candidates for senior roles before they go to a headhunting firm. By the time they are paying a headhunting firm’s fees—when they are parting with money—they usually want to have nailed the job description to the floor and be quite specific about what it is they need. One of the easy things to put on that list is prior experience. It is not always the case, but a headhunter’s process is not necessarily going to be the most imaginative way for a former MP to get their next role.

Chair: It is also worth pointing out for the record that headhunters are not providing a public service either. They are commercial enterprises. They are not here to help us or any of their candidates; they are here to serve their clients.

Q19            Mark Tami: In 2017, a number of people were elected for a short period of time and lost their seats in 2019. A number of them had left half-decent jobs to be turfed out after two years. Whether then or at other times, in some ways the central problem is that the people that are leaving are not therefore going to be from the party that is coming into Government, so they are less desirable. Because of our lead in the opinion polls, people that didn’t talk to you for donkeys’ years are suddenly all over you like a rash. That is the way it works. That is a problem, which I do not know the answer to. People are not queuing up to employ ex-MPs of the Opposition party, which is what happens, by its very nature, when people win and lose elections.

Dame Jane Roberts: I totally agree with that. There is not much you can do about that, but there are things you can do that would improve the situation. While it seems to me that MPs acquire a whole range of skills while they are in Parliament, the evidence from the research—certainly my own research—is that those skills are not well understood or well articulated to prospective employers. In a way, there is much more that could be done, even though the political reality is precisely as you say.

Q20            Chair: Are you talking, for example, about micro-qualifications that we could improve while we are here?

Dame Jane Roberts: Yes, absolutely. There is a whole range, whether it is about running a staff team, management, running a business, negotiating, compromising, influencing, public speaking, communication—

Chair: Budgets.

Dame Jane Roberts: Policy making, teamwork—there is a whole range of skills that need to be articulated better, and perhaps documented and certified in some way. I don’t know, but they certainly need to be articulated and better understood more broadly.

Q21            Chair: They could be certified and accredited. You could, while you are here, build micro-qualifications.

Dame Jane Roberts: Absolutely.

Chair: This is zoning into your area now, Meg.

Professor Russell: What you say is completely fair, but it is also important not to exaggerate it. If you look at the figures for people leaving Parliament in the last few elections, 79 MPs were defeated in 2019 but 74 departed voluntarily. I am not sure to what extent it was voluntary, because I think some of them left in very difficult circumstances, but if you go back to 2015 there were 92 who were defeated and 90 who retired. Similarly, in 2010 the number who stepped down was even higher than the number who were defeated.

Q22            Mark Tami: But quite often people step down because they think that they are going to lose. Having dealt with people who have lost, in terms of IPSA and all those other issues, I can tell you that there is a massive difference between the mindset of someone who has chosen to step down, and how they feel in themselves, and that of someone who has lost. Someone who has lost is nowhere near in such a good place as people who have voluntarily taken that decision, rather than the electorate having taken the decision for them. I think you can read too much into people voluntarily leaving, because a lot of people look at the writing on the wall and say, “I think I’d rather go of my own accord.”

Chair: Do you want to come back on that, Meg, before we go to our other witnesses?

Professor Russell: That is fair, too. It is a complex picture. It is important to draw the distinction between people who are defeated and people who choose to go, and I think you are right that people who choose to go may be more prepared. Particularly in 2019, there were quite a lot of people who chose to go in quite bitter circumstances, and not particularly gladly. I think quite a lot of those were on the Conservative side, notwithstanding the fact that the Conservatives went on to win the subsequent election, and that was pretty predictable, so it is a complicated picture.

Alex Gordon Shute: The universal truth is that people exit organisations and jobs at their best when they exit feeling respected and appreciated, and that their contribution was appreciated. That is universal whether it was planned or unplanned that you left Parliament. In the unplanned version, you usually need to go through basically the grieving process, which is what it is. There is an emotional element to the process and there is a practical element. The practical obviously involves, “How am I going to earn a living? Where do I go from here? How do I get my sense of validation and status in the world if I am not an MP any more?” There are all sorts of issues, but the emotional side is enormous, and the problem with losing your seat unexpectedly is that you do not have time to go through that process properly. That time is something that a proper process from the House could help people with, so there are potential remedies to some of the worst aspects of it.

Dame Jane Roberts: I just want to caution against too rigid a distinction between those who are defeated and those who step down, for two reasons. One is because, as Meg says, those who stand down do so for a variety of reasons, some of which are not entirely voluntary, such as to avoid personal embarrassment if they think that they might lose. There is a whole range of different reasons, but my research and in-depth interviews revealed two things, even for those who were standing down. One is that most, with the exception of one, had made no plans at all. It was unbearable to think about. You might ask why.

Secondly, across the board, even if you stand down, and even though you have the possibility of planning—and, in some guises, it is of your own choice—it still involves a very considerable loss. That loss, as I have written a lot about, is akin to grief. That is true about all work, but there are particular reasons why leaving Parliament involves an intensity of emotion that does not often apply to other jobs in the same way. I would be a bit cautious about saying that those who stand down are fine, because the flip side of course is that you are the architect of your own demise, which brings with it its own complication—you cannot blame the electorate.

Q23            Mark Tami: But you do not have the same baggage that goes with it. Speaking to colleagues who lost, it is even stuff with people trying to be nice to you in the supermarket or something—“Oh, I am so sorry you lost”—or they think you are still the MP and things like that. That is very wearing on people. Even worse, if people say, “If only I’d known you would lose by 200, I would have voted for you.” That is one of the worst.

I had planned. I was almost certainly going to lose in 2019, so I had packed the office up here, everything was in boxes, and I was not coming back, because I did not want to come back and be one of those people you bump into. So, I think some people do plan when they see the writing on the wall and think: “This isn’t going to end well.”

Dame Jane Roberts: Some people do, but I was surprised at the number who had not.

Chair: It is also quite difficult to plan, because none of us is in control of the general election date. I am often asked, “When could you start?” “At any time between six weeks and two and a quarter years.” Anyway.

Q24            Giles Watling: I plan to turn up like the ghost of Hamlet’s father after I leave this place. I have one quick question. When I first came here in 2017—I am a relative new boy—after a lot of bad media about MPs, I was impressed. I looked at my colleagues in all parts of the House and thought that here, on the whole—the vast majority—was a bunch of extremely devoted and dedicated people, working for not a great deal of money frankly, but for other reasons these very talented people were giving their time and energy. I thought: “Why is that not being promoted?” Where are we missing out on that sort of promotion, because the vast majority of people I come across in this place are really dedicated?

Any job hunt is difficult. As you say in your report, Dame Jane, if someone comes out of this place, it must be awful to feel, “I don’t matter anymore”—to feel demotivated, because the bubble has been pricked. Then they go to Alex to say, “Can you help me?” But how do you build people up? It is a long question: what can we do to change the media’s view of MPs? Ever since the expenses scandal, it has been negative. What can we do? I will go to Alex first.

Alex Gordon Shute: I am not sure we are the right people to ask what you can do to change the media’s view of MPs. What is possible is to help MPs, or former MPs, be better understood as they transition into the corporate world and, as Dame Jane talked about, to help you articulate your skills better and talk about your experiences in a way that plays them into other environments. Of the media question, I am afraid I would say: “Above my pay grade, boss.”

Professor Russell: At risk of leaping into the middle of something, I might lead up gradually to the tough time that MPs had in the last Parliament. It is very difficult to set the tone for the media, but it is of course partly set by our political leaders, and there was some toxicity coming from our political leaders in the last Parliament. Think of that speech by Geoffrey Cox, saying that this House of Commons has no moral right to sit, which was then of course on the front page of the newspapers. Think of the language that Paula Sherriff complained about, which came from Boris Johnson. It was about the “surrender Bill” and all of that, when she said that MPs were receiving death threats, but he responded: “I have never heard such humbug in all my life.” Those are quite unusual and extreme examples, but not doing that would certainly help. That does not happen often, but when it happens, you are writing the headlines for them.

It is a very difficult tanker to turn around, but everyone in public life—all of us and all of you, and way beyond this room—needs to be aware of the importance of valuing and talking about the value of Parliament and the people who work in it. Often, I think we lose sight of that in the middle of the party political battle. In the end, that harms the institution and everyone who works in it.

Alex Gordon Shute: The one thing I would say is that everybody I know who knows MPs personally talks about how magnificent they are as contributors to the UK, about the great sense of duty they bring, and how incredibly hard they work. It is a bit like the NHS analogy. Most people will say the doctor or the nurse that they dealt with was marvellous, but that the NHS as an institution is falling apart. The personal experience of MPs is tremendous.

Dame Jane Roberts: I would add to that. In the public space there is a bit of a void in terms of people other than politicians talking about, first, the importance of politicians per se. We depend on politicians for the good functioning of our society. Politicians are really important to us all on the one hand, and secondly, my experience is that MPs across the party political spectrum by and large are very hardworking and come into Parliament to make a difference. But you do not hear people of influence say that, whether it is in the media, whether it is celebrities, whoever celebrities are, or more publicly generally. There needs to be a voice for saying that and not being frightened to say that. MPs cannot say that—well, you can say it, but you will not get much of an audience. You need other people to say it, and I think that public space needs to be filled. When the public, whether it is on “Question Time” or forums like that, use throwaway comments such as, “Oh, they’re all the same”, or, “They are feathering their own nest”, just calmly scrutinise that, push that and raise the flag for politicians as a species.

Giles Watling: Thank you. I shall continue to do that.

Chair: We are brilliant negotiators and problem solvers. None of us, or very few of us, has a great elevator speech to project that to potential employers. We have not got time to spend 45 minutes with every constituent every day, because we have 72,000, so we are very good at identifying the problem and coming up with a solution.

Q25            Dame Maria Miller: Thank you so much for coming along today. It is incredibly helpful to hear your insights. I have a couple of questions. I was really interested in Alex’s comments at the beginning when she touched on career change among the over-40s, and also redundancy. Should we look at that in our report as being something that this is akin to, or is this very different from that experience? I am interested in the views of all of you on that. Being over 40 myself—I know, Sir Charles, you will be surprised to hear that—and having had a career before I came in here, I know a lot of previous colleagues who would find it difficult now to make a career change. Are we trying to say we are an exception when we are not? Or are we an exception?

Alex Gordon Shute: In lots of ways MPs are not an exception. As I said before, to transition careers in the middle of your career is quite a difficult thing to do. There are some tried and tested things that work. I think it would be helpful, given the amount of public service that MPs put in to being in this House, and a useful thing for the House to support them with those things as they are exiting, whether through their own volition or not. There are three strands of things that are worth bearing in mind. The first is money, because money buys people time. You have to know that you are going to be able to pay your mortgage or that you can take a bit of breathing space to work out what you are going to do next.

I have spoken to a couple of MPs who lost their seats, as preparation for coming to this Committee, and one of them talked about the fact that the three months of—effectively—redundancy money that she was paid was just about enough to give her time to finish all the business of having closed up as an MP. It gave her no breathing space whatever. It just gave her enough time to finish off as an MP. To not give anybody a breathing space in terms of money feels like a mistake to me, and it is certainly not something that pretty well any other organisation would ever do—public sector or private sector. There is usually some kind of breathing space on redundancy.

Secondly, one-to-one outplacement-style help is very effective. That takes people through a process of self-assessment, whether it is through metrics or through discussion about their skills and strengths. It might be through some 360-degree feedback on them and their skills and where they are best suited. So there is awareness of self, process and structure, and how you go about finding a new job and what the methods are. If you have not looked for a job for a while, you probably do not know, for example, that LinkedIn is as much an important shop window as your CV. There are all sorts of rules of the game. That is the process and structure.

That person then also provides a sounding board as a place to go back to when you are starting to talk about different roles, and that is very important, because what you are doing through career transition is reinventing yourself. Testing the versions of what you might end up being as the reinvented self is quite an important conversation to be having with someone you trust. Then there is practical help on building up your network of the conversations to test those new versions of self.

There are occasionally some institutional versions of help. For example, there is a wonderful organisation called Live Music Now, which is a charity that helps young musicians coming out of music college. It pays them the going rate as a musician to take music into places that otherwise would not have it, so it is charitable in both senses: it is helping the musicians, and it is also helping the prisons, hospitals, care homes and schools that it takes music into. It gives the musicians a sense of confidence, some money, a sense of purpose and a way to build their portfolio, and it obviously gives the places they take music to some wonderful stuff. If public service was the theme and there was some sort of institutional version of that for people who had finished as MPs, where you took the message of what you have been doing for democracy into new, interesting places and were paid a certain amount for it, that is also the kind of transition that might be valuable to people. It is those three themes that are proven ways to help.

Q26            Dame Maria Miller: That is really interesting and incredibly helpful for our report; thank you. Can I bring in our other two panellists? Do you think MPs are an exception, or do you think we are not quite as exceptional as we think we are in these circumstances?

Dame Jane Roberts: I think there are elements that are in common with other roles and jobs, and there are other elements that are, in degree, particular to MPs. There is the joy of mattering—you matter, particularly in your constituencies. That is a really heady brew and makes it difficult to transition. There is the degree to which you are under scrutiny, which I imagine is a real pain a lot of the time but has a flip side as well. I think there are elements of being an MP that are, in degree, different from other roles.

I would like to answer your question in terms of what MPs might have done previously and if they completely change role. As you will know, MPs are coming into the House at a younger age. Increasingly, they come from a narrower range of backgrounds, which therefore means they are much more reliant on their time in Parliament, and that makes for difficulties. Even if they had a prior career, it is very difficult to keep up those skills. One of my interviews was with an academic who was concerned that when they left Parliament, they would not cut the mustard in terms of academia any more, having been out. I know that Howard Stoate stood down in 2010 or 2015 as a GP, because it is very difficult to keep up the skills, whether it is a professional skill or a craft.

It seems to me that the increasing professionalisation of MPs and the younger age at which they come into Parliament, probably having been Spads or this, that or the other, makes it much more difficult to argue your case in the world of work later. I very much agree with Alex in terms of the preparations from a practical point of view, one to one, that can be made. Many of the MPs I talked to had no idea about LinkedIn, social media, interviews or CVs because they had been out for such a long time. If athletic associations, sports associations, the private sector and the public sector can make all sorts of preparation for people who are either going to be redundant or retired, why on earth should that not apply to MPs?

Q27            Chair: I am going to bring Meg in. It is very important—and I think you have recognised this—to note that we are not changing jobs. You change job when you leave one accountancy firm for another accountancy firm or one law firm for another. There is occasionally a colleague who goes to the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, but 99% of the time, as you have all touched on, we are changing careers. That is the challenge, Meg.

Professor Russell: It is very hard to generalise, or to say that anything is unique, but on the way you describe career change, it can often be seen as a very positive thing: “I’ve done this with my life and now I’d like a change of direction and I’m going to do that.” I have my doubts as to how many MPs go through that kind of positive thought process. We have talked about the ones who are traumatised by losing their seat, and I think that probably a lot of people who step down early do so in a somewhat traumatised position.

I have been trying to look into what the allowances on leaving and the pension arrangements are, and I think one of the spin-offs from the expenses crisis was that these systems were made much less generous, because there was a mood—not necessarily a justified mood—of wanting to punish MPs. When IPSA took over the pension scheme, it became much less generous. That has happened to a lot of people, but MPs are perhaps in a particularly difficult position, in terms of managing the transition. Also, on people leaving with three months’ money, before the expenses crisis—for people leaving before 2010—if you had been in for 15 years, you got a year’s pay, but that got changed.

I did say this at the time: who defends MPs? It is very, very hard. I want to defend MPs, and I think the institution wants to defend them, but it is a controversial thing to do. I remember that when the allowances system was reviewed, I was one of very few people who put in anything saying that I thought what was being proposed for the housing allowance was too mean. I don’t think MPs felt that they could say that for themselves. There aren’t many people out there who are sympathetic and knowledgeable and want to stick up for MPs. Some of those changes were actually detrimental to allowing people to leave in the comfort that they deserve.

People used to be able to take their full pension at 60. That, I think, also stopped in 2010. This is one of the reasons why there are MPs worrying about what they are going to do when they get out there. Even if they left at a relatively early age in the past, they used not to have those financial worries. I also think they didn’t feel hounded out in the way they often have since 2010.

Dame Jane Roberts: I very much agree with that. I think that the mood changed for those MPs who were standing down, because of a sense that “it’s fine, because they have chosen to stand down. They’ll all be fine.” Actually, all the evidence, including from 2019, is, as has been said, that there is very little time to do all the things you have to do when winding up, let alone to attend to your own employment position. Certainly for IPSA, anecdotally—I hear from MPs who were defeated in 2019—the focus, in some ways understandably, is on new MPs, because, again, politics is about hope and promise for the future. Little thought and time are given to those who are departing.

Q28            Dame Maria Miller: This question is probably for Meg and/or Jane. Is there any evidence we should be looking at on whether the situation has changed who is willing to stand for election? That would help to demonstrate that there has been a change.

Dame Jane Roberts: Meg may know the evidence. I have advanced the argument—which is slightly different, it has to be said—that the issues around losing political office and MPs departing is important for our representative democracy, and not just on a human, psychological level. There is also an impact on partners and families. I want to make the point that the impact ricochets widely across families—I interviewed partners where I could. However, there is also an impact more broadly, for democracy as a whole.

If you narrow access to Parliament, and if MPs are not that well supported, particularly in an era of social media, threats, abuse and all the rest of it, and if you make it too risky to leave—it will always be difficult, but if you make it more problematic, more brutal, than it needs to be—that might well put people off entering in the first place. Is there evidence of that? It is hard to put hand on heart and say that, but it seems a very plausible, coherent argument.

Professor Russell: It is very difficult to draw evidence on many of these things. When you are an academic, you have to be very cautious in what you say about causation and so on if you haven’t got the data, which is frustrating; you can’t say a lot of the important things you want to say because you don’t have firm evidence. I doubt that people coming into politics look very much at the deal for people who exit politics, because they are not thinking about that at the time.

Something that will put people off coming into politics is the endless stories in the media about politicians receiving abuse. We all know about the death threats. We read stories about the people who have been prosecuted for abusing MPs, the threats to MPs’ families, partners, children and parents—not just to themselves—and about the panic alarms in their houses and so on. Who is going to want to go into that? If you are worried about people coming in, as well as people going out, I would come back to that brutal, toxic political culture, which needs to change to attract sensible people into politics.

Dame Jane Roberts: I agree with that, but some people will think, “Am I really going to give up my career in x, y or z?” because the risks, in terms of income and family, are too great.

Chair: We have the professionalisation of politics. The whole debate over the past 6 months, post the Owen Paterson affair, is whether MPs should have any outside interests—business interests, or whatever. It is all right if you have a profession, it seems, but you have to almost sever your links, now, with your former profession or business career, which is very dangerous because that is a career penalty. However, again, I am making statements, not asking questions. John?

Q29            John Cryer: All three of you answered the question that I was going to ask. It was about—I think Alex used the phrase—“a proper process” for MPs who have lost or are leaving. You have sort of covered that.

We have talked a lot about MPs transitioning into, say, the corporate world, and the difficulty of that. There is not much success the other way. I can think of a number of people who have come in after running big organisations, and they have struggled in here. This is not a criticism of him, but remember Archie Norman; he clearly was not happy, and left to go back to business. I wonder if the reason is that when you have been running a big organisation—a company, trade union, or whatever—you are used to being in control of what happens; you are in control of your destiny. In this place, you are not. The political tide comes in and out, and you just have to go with it.

I wonder if part of the problem—maybe that is not the right word—is that we acquire a slightly fatalistic view of the world. “Well, I’m getting the crap beaten out of me by a certain section of society—such is life.” In most walks of life, you would not see it that way; you would think, “I need to do something to take control.” You cannot in politics. Sometimes, you just have to accept what is happening. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But I wonder if that is a fact.  

Chair: Have the panel got a view on that cri de coeur?

Alex Gordon Shute: I have a bit of a view on it. My experience of individual MPs is that you need to operate much more like small businesses or entrepreneurs than corporate titans to be successful as an MP. You are dealing with a huge amount of information, chaos and relationships around you. There are never enough hours in the day. You only have a very small amount of resource; there is never enough for everything that you want to do. Much of what you get good at is working out where you can play best—where you can solve problems quickly. You understand the process, the people to call and the things to do.

However, I assume that experience at the top of a large corporation, where you are running a huge army of people, is very different experience to what makes an MP successful. That is not to say that you cannot transition between the two, but they are pretty different skillsets.

Chair: I think we will move on. That was right in Alex’s area of expertise.

Q30            Marion Fellows: A lot of what I was going to ask has been covered, but I will try to come at the issue from a different angle. I love the fact, Alex, that you think that MPs are worthwhile, and that businesses think so. If you are south-eastern, it is much easier to be headhunted; there are more opportunities. As a Scottish MP, I wonder whether the three of you think it makes a difference where an MP was MP for. Is it different, and more difficult, placing an MP from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, or north-east England, Alex? For the other two, do you think that has an impact? These MPs tend to live in smaller areas, and that becomes much more intimate when you lose a seat.

Chair: Yes, London is a big place—you are near 10 million people if you are near London. I think you cover this off in your report, Jane. If you are in a small town in north-east England where everybody knows you, it is a different kettle of fish. Do you want to start with that one?

Dame Jane Roberts: As Meg says, you have to be careful, in terms of evidence. I don’t have evidence—numbers—although I deliberately chose MPs scattered across England. I think it works both ways; if you had to resign because of a scandal or personal embarrassment, and you are in a small town, that makes for a lot of difficulty, but the other side of that is that in London there is a lot of competition for the sort of jobs that MPs might want. Alex can say more about that. 

              I know Wales better than Scotland, and my impression—I have no evidence for this; it is speculation entirely—is that MPs and Members of the Senedd might be seen in a better light there. There is evidence in Wales that political engagement is much lower.

Q31            Marion Fellows: In Scotland, political engagement is higher, and has been for quite a long while.

Dame Jane Roberts: It is, yes.

Alex Gordon Shute: I think that is right. In communities across the country outside London, you tend to find a greater sense of kinship tie. The high status that an MP will have had in those communities, and the deeper emotional connection to higher-status players in those places, can be very helpful.

When people reinvent their career and go through a proper career transition, rather than just a job change, you need emotional warmth in the network to will you on to being the new version of you. On the one hand, there could be greater support for people in making that transition outside the south-east. On the other hand, post-covid, for a group of people who are used to being in London three to four days a week, it may well be that some sort of hybrid working environment provides the perfect answer. You can do both these days—be part of a south-east job market, where there is higher pay sometimes, and keep a presence back at home.

Q32            Marion Fellows: I am not saying whether this would work, but in the Scottish Parliament, at the end of every Parliament—and they are fixed-term Parliaments—MSPs have to clear their offices before they go off to fight their seat. I am not a psychologist, but do you think that might be part preparation? Mark said he did that when he really thought he wasn’t going to be back.

Dame Jane Roberts: That is absolutely fascinating. My feeling is that that is very helpful in a sense. Not only would that help from a practical point of view, but it gets parliamentarians into a mindset that this is not necessarily a job for life, and that it would be sensible to plan for your career as an MP—we talked about this earlier—even before you stand, but certainly when you begin the job. I appreciate all the factors militating against that, but it would be sensible to think about how you want to shape your career, and to think that this is not necessarily a job for life.

When I interviewed a number of current MPs, it was striking that with one exception, none had thought about that. They did not want to think about it; it was too difficult. The one exception was someone who had lost their seat in a previous constituency sometime before.

Chair: Thank you for giving evidence. One problem that Members of Parliament have, which you have touched on, is that they are extremely time-poor. It is very difficult to prepare to leave when you are in a marginal seat, because you spend the whole time trying to win that seat. I talked to Jane before the session started and we found an area of disagreement. I said to Jane, “You should be planning for your departure from this place the day you arrive,” and she said, “No, Charles, you’re wrong; you should be planning for it before you arrive.”

May I thank the three of you? That was a fascinating evidence session. We will now move to John, who has experience in the Army, and we will go into closed session. I shall write to the three of you to thank you for your attendance today.