Disillusioned Tory MPs quit in record numbers

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

The Conservative Party is facing its biggest exodus of serving MPs for nearly a quarter of a century, as growing numbers of members opt for retirement or alternative careers rather than the prospect of opposition in an increasingly right-wing party.

An Independent survey of the 52 MPs who have already announced they are standing down shows that while many give age as the reason, there is significant disillusionment about the direction of the Tory party and what some view as a downgrading in the standing and importance of the Westminster system.

Some of the departing MPs have never known opposition, while for others it is only dimly recollected, and none of those prepared to expand on their planned departure suggested that the life and influence of a backbench MP would do anything other than deteriorate.

For centre-ground One Nation Tories, the scale of the departures is provoking concerns that there will be a further shift to the right in the party and an explosion of career politicians principally interested in pursuing ministerial ambitions.

Sir Julian Critchley, who will be replaced as the candidate for Aldershot by the right-wing former MP Gerald Howarth, said: "The retirement of the gentlemanly old guard will leave a party overtaken by careerists, suspicious of foreigners, determined to end the welfare state. The Tories can ill afford to lose so many sensible and experienced members."

Sir John Hunt, the MP for Ravensbourne, who has served in the Commons for 31 years, said: "Parliament has become more abrasive and less agreeable, I have thought for a long time. The party has moved further to the right than I would have wished. I would be much happier if we got back to consensus politics and the sort of the party I joined 50 years ago - the party of Iain MacLeod rather than John Redwood."

Some MPs said they disapproved of the "soundbite" culture of modern politics.

Defiant Tories insisted that the party's standing in the polls was not a factor and that the degree of disillusionment had been exaggerated. Sir Michael Marshall, MP for Arundel, said: "If we were reported properly we would be doing fine."

The 52 MPs, page 6

Leading article, page 12