UK Politics

What does an ex-MP do next?

Ed Balls and Andrea Jenkyns Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ed Balls lost his Morley and Outwood seat to Andrea Jenkyns of the Conservatives

As the dust settles after the general election, many men and women who once trod the corridors of power as Members of Parliament are facing up to life after defeat.

No longer able to influence the policies and laws of their country, these former members of the House of Commons now have to find something else to occupy their time.

But what's it like after losing your parliamentary seat? What are the personal and professional implications of being voted out of public office?

Former Labour MP for Watford Claire Ward told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a sense of bereavement at losing her seat in 2010 after 13 years in Westminster.

"Being an MP is very much a way of life," she says. "It's all-consuming, there's no escape from it, no matter what time of the day, where you are, any time of the year.

"From that point of view, you recognise that it's going to be a huge change, not just to your working life but to every aspect of it.

"Something that you feel very strongly about, and is part of you, to lose in that way is very much like a bereavement."

Image caption Claire Ward, seen in her days as Watford's MP, says adjusting to ex-Westminster life is difficult
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Within these ballot papers lies the employment fate of nervous men and women

Ms Ward is now chairman of Pharmacy Voice, the trade association for community pharmacies.

She talks of those failed parliamentary candidates who can't help but wonder whether certain people they see on their constituency's streets, who pledged support, actually voted for them.

She also talks of the "heartbreaking" act of having to give redundancy notices to staff members, whose fortunes are intertwined with that of their boss's.

After finding out that all that knocking on doors, distributing leaflets and promising policies did not generate enough boxes being ticked next to their name, any newly-unemployed former public servant can find a sympathetic ear through the Association of Former Members of Parliament.

Among several activities it organises is an outreach programme for former MPs to speak at universities, academies, schools and voluntary groups, helping to keep them busy - and, surely for some, keep their profile up in the local community should they fancy another go come the next by-election.

Financially, there is help available for those ex-MPs going through this drastic change of fortune.

According to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the expenses watchdog, departing MPs are entitled to a resettlement allowance, equivalent to a month's salary for each year of service, capped at 6 months, or £33,500.

They are also able to claim a winding up allowance of up to £57,000 for former London MPs, and up to £53,000 for those who represented a constituency outside of the capital.

This is for such costs as terminating staff contracts, ending leases on offices, and furniture removals. This allowance is open to all MPs and is not related to length of service.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Newly-unemployed Vince Cable making a speech after losing his Twickenham seat
Image caption Andy Reed has carved out a life for himself at Loughborough University, "among other things"

Andy Reed was Labour MP for Loughborough from 1997 to 2010, and is now programme director of the international sports management MBA at Loughborough University.

He says it was particularly "brutal" losing his seat because politics is "a way of life, not a job".

"You literally walk home from the town hall at four or five o'clock in the morning unemployed, and virtually everything that you knew, your emails, is shut down, locked out.

"You're given a brief opportunity over the weekend to go clear your Westminster office, which is probably the last thing you want to do after a gruelling six-week campaign."

Mr Reed says he has received messages over the last few days, suggesting he put himself forward as the new leader of the Labour party, following Ed Miliband's resignation.

"People do actually genuinely believe you just go into opposition by still being in the constituency. They don't quite understand you are fully unemployed."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption For many, the House of Commons is now just a place where they used to work
Image caption Louise Mensch has urged ex-MPs to look after their mental health after their public service ends

Louise Mensch was Conservative MP for Corby from 2010 until she resigned her post in 2012.

She has written a blog post for those out of a job following this year's election, in which she urges ex-MPs to look after their mental health, saying they may be prone to depression.

"For the first year after resigning I thought I was cracking up.

"No wonder how much I talked to myself, was sensible and got on with life, my subconscious had other ideas; I had a Parliament-related dream almost every night for a year. It was pretty awful."

She suggests a "magic bullet of exercise, fresh air and green spaces" as a way to combat the shock of not having a constituency to run.

"One of the easiest wins, most in your own control, and implementable instantly, is to get on the scales and then go build a better, stronger, healthier body," she says.

So if you see a new face working out down the gym this week, spare a thought - they might once have been your MP.

More on this story