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Paul Vallely: MPs have had enough of Westminster

02 December 2022

What’s behind the rising numbers standing down, asks Paul Vallely


Dehenna Davison is one of the Conservative MPs who has recently announced their intention to stand down

Dehenna Davison is one of the Conservative MPs who has recently announced their intention to stand down

WHAT should we conclude from the steady stream of Conservative MPs announcing their intention to stand down at the next General Election? With the polls predicting the possibility of a Tory wipe-out in 2024, are the leavers merely jumping before they are pushed? After all, pollsters predict that any Tory MP with a 6000 majority will be defeated, and even Jacob Rees-Mogg, Gavin Williamson, and Boris Johnson are all vulnerable to voting swings, demographic changes, and tactical voting. But there is more to it than that.

So far, a dozen MPs have declared their intention to depart, but both The Times and The Independent report that as many as 80 may decide to go. A few, such as the former energy minister Chris Skidmore, 41, are seeing their seat abolished in boundary changes. But even those who will benefit from boundary shifts are going.

The Levelling Up minister Dehenna Davison, aged only 29 and a rising star in the party, has announced that she is standing down. That is disconcerting her fellow MPs, for she epitomises the new generation of Red Wall Tories who captured traditional Labour seats under Mr Johnson.

Her announcement came only a day after both Chloe Smith, 40, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, and William Wragg, 34, who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, announced that they are leaving Parliament. The party’s leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, 39, is quitting Westminster, too.

The relative youth of the leavers suggests that many young Tories see a better future outside politics. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about the direction of the party and many believe it’d be difficult to change it from the backbenches,” one pollster reported. Those even younger, such as Ryan Shorthouse, who founded the Conservative think tank Bright Blue, have given up their plans to become Tory MPs. “Partygate, the continuous plotting, and bad behaviour has made politics seem an even more poisonous profession,” Mr Shorthouse said. The Tory pollster Lord Ashcroft has said that “the Conservative brand is in as bad a state as I have seen in all my years of polling.” It is “exhausted, tainted, and ill-disciplined”.

Good Riddance may be the verdict of those who have lamented the decline of Britain during 12 years of six Tory administrations. Those of a more Aristotelean frame of mind will know that a society comes to the discovery of how we can best live a good life as part of a collective moral enterprise, in which we engage with our fellow citizens to create diversity in community.

Even those who disagreed with Conservatives such as Mr Wragg over Brexit, or his lockdown scepticism, must acknowledge the importance of his principled stand against the unprincipled Mr Johnson, whose resignation he called for, bravely exposing attempts by No 10. to blackmail MPs into keeping the disgraced PM in office. He was as bold with Liz Truss, demanding that she quit after her mini-Budget plunged the economy into turmoil.

We need principled politicians to work through the balance between rights and responsibilities, party and country, and the individual and the common good, in the practical politics of the difficult times to come. That requires an effective and principled Opposition. It is a great shame that someone such as William Wragg will not be joining it.

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