"There's nothing so ex- as an ex-MP", it is often said.
In a major study, a team at the University of Leeds sought to find out whether this is true by asking more than 180 former MPs about aspects of their post-Parliamentary life including how difficult it is to find a job, the support they receive from their political party and how it feels to lose their seat.
The study found some former MPs struggled to find work and many earned less after leaving the House of Commons. Around half of those who did not retire voluntarily from the Commons said it had taken three to six months to find a new job. Just one fifth said they were able to find work immediately or almost immediately. One in seven took over a year to find employment.
The report provides important new evidence about the social and psychological effects and consequences of being defeated in an election or retiring from Parliament. Some 60% of respondents had retired voluntarily while 40% had been defeated at a general election. Two fifths said they were making less money than when in Parliament, with one fifth earning "about the same". One third said they were financially better off after losing their seats or standing down.
Study co-author Professor Kevin Theakston of the School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Leeds said the findings are at odds with public perceptions that MPs are able to walk into lucrative jobs after Parliament.
"There has always been anecdotal evidence of ex-MPs who have suffered nervous breakdowns, marriage break-ups, depression, alcoholism, and serious debts problems," he said.
"But our project is important because there has been virtually no systematic research into these issues - into what happens to former MPs and into the experience of leaving parliament. Politics is a non-commercial career and our report shows that the idea that there are hundreds of ex-MPs walking into cushy and lucrative jobs is rubbish."
The report also found that many had difficulty adapting to life in the outside world, and felt isolated from the political party to which they had devoted much of their lives. Just over a quarter of former MPs said that they were able to return to the career or employment they had had before entering the House of Commons. But a third said they were not able to pick up their former careers or jobs.
One survey respondent said: "New jobs are not easy to come by." Another said: "Many MPs do not appreciate their skills on entering parliament will not be and are not relevant when they leave."
The report, Life after Losing or Leaving: The experience of former members of Parliament, was co-authored by Professor Kevin Theakston, Dr Ed Gouge and Dr Victoria Honeyman of the School of Politics and International Studies.
One third of the MPs who left Parliament as a result of losing an election had not expected to lose, according to the report’s findings. One MP who was defeated in the 2005 election described it as feeling like being "cut off at the knees".
Many former MPs miss not being at the centre of British politics. One said: "I would wake up in the morning, listen to the radio, and form views on the issues of the day and then I realised that no one wanted to know what I thought."
A number of respondents felt that political parties should do more to help defeated MPs in adjusting and finding employment. More than half of the former MPs reported that they were politically active in the local area where they lived now.
Professor Theakston said: "The report will help puncture media and popular myths of the 'political gravy train' variety by showing what the real situation is in terms of former MPs' employment, earnings, pensions and so on."
Notes to editors
A PDF copy of the full report, Life after Losing or Leaving: The Experience of Former Members of Parliament, is available upon request via firstname.lastname@example.org
The School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Leeds is one of the largest academic departments in the field of politics and international studies in the UK with over 600 undergraduate students, over 200 postgraduates, and around 30 core academic staff.
Life after Losing or Leaving was commissioned by the Association of Former Members of Parliament, a cross-party group with a current membership of more than 340, including two former Prime Ministers.
A questionnaire was sent to 343 members of the AFMP in October 2006 and 184 members responded. Of that number, 40% had left the Commons by being defeated in an election, while 60% had retired (or in a number of cases saw their seats disappear in a boundary change). This included a small group (about one in ten of the sample) who chose to leave ‘early’ to move on and start a new career.
For further information, contact:
Professor Kevin Theakston is available for interview. Contact senior press officer Guy Dixon on 0113 343 4031 or G.Dixon@leeds.ac.uk. Professor Theakston is contactable on 07762 606174 or via email K.Theakston@leeds.ac.uk