More than 55 MPs have decided they will not stand for election on 12 December.
Compared to the 31 who declined to stand again in the last national vote in 2017, the exodus has already been called a “changing of the guard”.
The latest high-profile politician to quit is Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, who said “the abuse for doing the job of a modern MP” was among the reasons she was leaving Parliament.
Others include Conservative veteren Sir Alan Duncan, who in 2002 became the first openly gay Tory MP, “Father of the House” Ken Clarke, London mayoral hopeful Rory Stewart, Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington, and former home secretary Amber Rudd, who had the Tory whip removed after voting against the government on Brexit.
News of Rudd’s departure caused consternation at senior levels yesterday, after her request to have the party whip reinstated was denied.
“You did not support the approach of the prime minister and did not have confidence in him,” wrote Chief Whip Mark Spencer in his letter of response. “You have failed to provide me with assurances that you will not change your mind once more… receipt of the party whip is an honour, not a right, and as such it cannot be discarded or returned at will if it is to have any meaning.”
Rudd decided that she would not stand as an independent in her Hastings and Rye constituency, a seat she already holds very marginally, having won by only 346 votes in 2017. Despite rumours she may try to stand as an independent in London, she said a break was due. “I’m not finished with politics, I’m just not standing at this election,” she told the London Evening Standard. She had simply hoped to leave after being welcomed back into the Tory fold, she said.
Rudd, who once said Johnson “isn’t the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening”, suggested that Downing Street was not necessarily united in its decision to deny her reacceptance.
Whether the “No 10 source” she was referring to was Dominic Cummings is unclear. “I spoke to the Prime Minister and had a good meeting with him a few days ago,” she revealed. “I’m really confident of my position… I will be leaving the House of Commons on perfectly good terms with the Prime Minister and I want him to succeed.”
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On Tuesday night, Johnson restored the whip to ten of the 21 MPs who voted for legislation that sought to block any chance of a no-deal Brexit and force him to request an extension – known as the Benn Act.
“Publicly parting company with Brexit blockers underlines that Boris Johnson is serious when he says that an intransigent Parliament has forced him into this election,” writes Douglas Carswell, who defected from the Tories to UKIP in 2014, in The Telegraph. “It also allows him to keep the mantle of being ‘Mr Brexit’, a title that one or two others might be keen to claim in the coming election contest.”
Others, such as Rudd herself, disagree, arguing that party harmony should be valued over purity of Leave orthodoxy. “I feel a sense of relief that they have been welcomed back and the party can be what it should be, representing different views on Europe as well as on everything else,” she said.
While many of the MPs standing down are discontented Remain Conservatives, others cite the toil of decades of public service as the reason for their decision.
In a letter to his local newspaper, the Bucks Herald, Aylesbury MP David Lidlington wrote: “Politics imposes a heavy cost on family and private life. That is not a complaint: people who seek elected office do so voluntarily. But I have come to the conclusion that now is the right time for me to give a higher priority in terms of my time and energy, to Helen and my family who have given unstinting support to me during more than a quarter of a century in the House of Commons.”
Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith spoke of “political and personal reasons” in his letter to party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “I write to inform you that, for political and personal reasons, I will not be standing at the forthcoming General Election. It has been an enormous privilege to serve as a Labour MP and I am truly proud to have represented my hometown of Pontypridd over the last decade.”
The Guardian notes that “more MPs have stood down before other elections, with 90 not standing again in 2015, and 149 in 2010”.
However, the New Statesman says the reasons for their departure are different to other years. These are not just retirees and people who fear Brexit will impact on their political prospects, says the magazine, but also our “toxic culture of abuse” that is “actively driving MPs, particularly women, away from public life”.
The MPs leaving so far
Ian C. Lucas
Gloria De Piero