Where are they now: keeping track of the ex-MPs

In Harold McMillan’s opinion, the only quality needed to be an MP is ‘the ability to write a good letter’. In these harsher times however, our legislators are expected to embrace the portfolio career, accepting with equanimity the judgement of the electorate and swapping the trappings of office for the chill winds of civvy street.

So what does a pre-retirement age ex-MP do back out in the real world?

Naturally, some opt for the metamorphosis from political caterpillar to corporate butterfly.  As secretary of state for education and skills, Ruth Kelly held one of the great jobs in politics. But, still only 42, she gave up her marginal Bolton West seat at the last election. Labour actually went on to hold it. And Kelly went on to a new gaff in west London and a new job as ‘Senior Manager – Strategy for Global Business’ at HSBC. There was a time when former ministers could expect to idle away their afternoons on company boards as adornments. Those days are passed. Ruth will be expected to graft.

Meanwhile, colleague Patricia Hewitt has been promoted to BT’s board, becoming Senior Independent Director’ on 150k a year. Nor has she been slow to embrace the new regime, joining the government’s recent trade delegation to India.

Sometimes it is the character actors rather than the big names who land on their feet. Former Lib Dem MP, Richard Allan, was a relatively low-key, though well-liked, two-termer. Now he is chief Euro-lobbyist for that corporate poster-child de nos jours, Facebook. And then he rolled another double-six when he was enobled as part of the recent Lib Dem infusion into the House of Lords. He seems happy with his lot, titling his blog “Post Political Times”.

Former climate change minster David Kidney has found his ‘third career’ after law and politics as the newly-appointed head of policy for the chartered institute of environmental health.

Maybe one day he will return to government in glory. Like Lib Dem (and ex-SDP) Lord Tom McNally. Once an uber lobbyist, he is now deputising for old corporate operator par excellence, Ken Clarke, as minister of state for justice.

There is life after politics, but these days few ride off into rosy retirement sinecures. Not least aware of this is Charles Clarke. With no hint of schadenfreude, Iain Dale reported last week that the former home secretary and ‘stalking horse’ is unhappy with his post-parliamentary lot. Confiding in Tony Blair’s former muse Anji Hunter, Clarke claimed (according to Dale) to be “skint” and that “no-one’s interested” in him.

Of course, even if you are re-elected, the political conveyor belt never stops. Jack Straw has announced he is quitting the Labour frontbench after thirty years; an omen akin to the ravens leaving the Tower of London.  He plans to keep busy penning a ‘no-kiss-and-tell’ memoir and has a pile of ironing on the go. The vultures are already circling his safe Blackburn constituency.

There are voluntary exiles. Straw’s former next door neighbour in Hyndburn, Greg Pope, is toiling ascetically away for a catholic education charity. Alastair Darling has a croft in Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to keep him occupied.

Others have rolled-up their sleeves and manfully battled on, even outside the chamber. Former Wolverhampton South West MP, Rob Marris, a solicitor, continues to live in the city he represented and recently announced that he plans to run a free legal advice surgery for his ex-constituents. A sterling example of selfless public service from the former Backbencher of the Year.

Yet few can top that powerhouse of Calvinist industry, Gordon Brown, who is apparently close to finishing his magnum opus on the financial crisis. A smart move, rather than to wait on the judgement of his enemies. He remains a member of parliament for now, but his tome could serve as a detailed resume for the role of managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which becomes vacant in 2012.

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