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How ex-MPs can deal with losing their posts

In the aftermath of a shocking general election result, spare a thought for those suddenly ousted from their jobs

Big names – Ed Balls, Esther McVey, Vince Cable – no longer have high-profile political roles. Many lesser-known figures’ lives have also been turned upside-down. It is a devastatingly turbulent time both for individual candidates and their families. They have been working flat out for many months: they are exhausted, sleepless and now, with defeat, publicly humiliated.

Having conducted a systematic study of the experience of politicians leaving office, I have a clear idea of what those defeated on 7 May are going through, their possible journey over the next few years, and some practical advice.

I talked with former MPs, and where possible their partners, around two years after they left office in 2010. For many of those who had been defeated it was shockingly unexpected. It often only became apparent that the game was up as the votes came in. And in 2015 the polls got it wrong, so the unexpectedness of defeat may have been even greater.

Even by comparison with other jobs, electoral defeat is a remarkably brutal death. Displaced MPs are assailed by a powerful grief. Suddenly they have lost so much that is dear. They are no longer relevant. Nobody is interested. Their deeply cherished values and beliefs, a fundamental part of their identities, seem to have no place. There may even be little acknowledgement of their work over the preceding years.

Former MPs may struggle to reconcile both their acceptance of the democratic deal – that the electorate can and should vote politicians out of office – and the personal experience of rejection in a constituency where they have often developed a strong bond.

What might help?

Defeated MPs could usefully:

  • Make sure that there is an event to mark your leaving – don’t just crawl away. You need a rite of passage;
  • Recognise that you are embarking on a journey, over at least two years, in which you must craft a new narrative of who you are and what you do. You may well feel bewildered and disorientated to begin with;
  • Identify the many skills that you have acquired while in office. Don’t be afraid to seek support with writing a CV or being interviewed;
  • Be flexible and try different avenues. Don’t hold out for just one thing;
  • Don’t be afraid of talking with others who are or who have been in the same predicament. It may help.

Political parties could usefully:

  • Acknowledge – in a timely and personalised manner – the local and party contributions made by the departing politicians and their families;
  • Organise an event to mark their efforts while in office;
  • Put to good use former MPs’ knowledge, experience and skills to energise and build the party at grassroots and to coach less experienced politicians. It will help them and you.

Parliament could usefully:

  • Acknowledge – in a timely and personalised manner – the contribution to parliament made by the departing MP;
  • Signpost former politicians to helpful employment and career advice. It may have been many years since they have needed it.

And we could all usefully:

  • Appreciate and talk openly about the human consequences of defeat after elections. We should normalise the sense of dislocation and understand the need to find a new narrative over time.

Jane Roberts is a visiting fellow at Open University Business School