Fear of defeat fuels Conservative clear-out

Tory exodus: One-Nation members worry about shift to right as more than 50 MPs decide to stand down at next election
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Political Correspondent

The Tory party is hurtling towards the biggest clear-out of serving MPs in the last six parliaments, with retiring Conservative members far outstripping their counterparts in the opposition parties.

With up to 15 months still to go before the next election, the planned exodus of experienced Tories has already passed the half-century, compared to only 24 opposition MPs (21 Labour; three Liberal Democrat).

December saw three senior Tories, including David Howell, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, announce that they would be standing down.

They were joined last week by Tim Eggar, an experienced Department of Trade and Industry minister whose intended exit shook the party. If the current trend continues, the party will lose, at the least, about 65 MPs by the time of a spring 1997 election and probably many more.

Advancing age and the belief that they should give way to younger members is the official reason advanced by many. But the scale of the departures compares starkly with the numbers standing down at the close of previous parliaments - 58 at the 1992 general election, 43 at the 1987 election, 34 in 1983, 24 in 1979 and just 14 in 1974.

Some MPs have not attempted to hide their disillusionment with the Westminster system, the impact of the Nolan committee recommendations on MPs' conduct which are likely to significantly dent their outside earnings, and Government policy. Mr Howell, for example, criticised the Government for allowing British foreign policy to go "off the rails" because of the Tory party obsession with Europe.

The outgoing Ashford MP, Sir Keith Speed, was an outspoken critic of Post Office privatisation. Although he made his decision to retire on age grounds some time ago, he has since warned the Government that rail privatisation will be a vote loser unless it forces the private sector to make clear investment pledges.

Others cannot face the dispiriting task of fighting a marginal or joining the "chicken run" because their seat is disappearing. Last, but quite likely a decisive factor in the minds of many, is the dispiriting prospect of life in opposition.

The prospect of a peerage in John Major's dissolution or resignation honours list, the possible reward for former ministers such as Douglas Hurd, John Biffen, Kenneth Baker, Michael Jopling and Tim Renton, is infinitely more attractive.

Money is also a spur. Steven Norris, the transport minister, survived revelations about his love life only to announce at just 50 that he would be standing down.

"The recession was not kind to my business and at my age I am very keen to rebuild it," he said.

But it is the Nolan constraints on lobbying and consultancy and the rule on disclosure of parliamentary-related outside earnings that have proved the last straw for many.

The wife of one Tory grandee said: "I think Nolan has a lot to do with it ... You feel everything is going to be under scrutiny."

One Nation Tories who fear their party has already lurched to the right are apprehensive that their benches in the next parliament will be filled with careerists and right-wingers.

As Robert Hicks, the outgoing MP for Cornwall South East, put it: "Undoubtedly there is a new type of Member of Parliament on the Conservative side. They are products, if you like, of Thatcherism, more aggressive, and there is also an arrogance which does not appeal to me."

Jack Aspinwall (Wansdyke); aged 63; majority 13,341: "I have been advised to retire [due to illness last year]."

Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley); 60; maj 15,950:

"The time has come to focus more upon developing my non-political interests."

Robert Banks (Harrogate); 58; maj 12,589:

Faced near-certain de- selection and decided not to put forward his name.

John Biffen (Shropshire N); 65; maj 16,211:

"I thought it was better to go 5 minutes too soon instead of 5 years too late."

Michael Alison (Selby); 69; maj 9,508:

"I was round about 65 at the last general election and I thought I'd do one more, so to speak. I'll have done 32 years in total. It doesn't make sense to go on in committed full-time work over the age of 70. It could be a year or 18 months away from a general election so one can't take any definitive view about how it's going to look then. I think the Conservative Party is doing marvellously. It's full of beans and full of optimism and hope having been in power since 1979. It's amazing."

Sir Julian Critchley (Aldershot); 64; maj 19,188:

Retiring through ill health. "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 Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire SW); 70;

maj 19,637:

"I think the Commons as a place is more honest now than it was 30 years ago, but nowadays it has so little importance. The press and television know far more about what is going on than we do. These days it is all soundbites until five o'clock when the cameras stop rolling. Prime Minister's Question Time is pure pantomime.

Robert Hicks (Cornwall SE); 57; maj 7,704:

"At Westminster the atmosphere has been altered, particularly of course by the fact that the Conservatives have been in office now 16 years. Undoubtedly there is a new type of Member of Parliament on the Conservative side. They are products, if you like, of Thatcherism, more aggressive, and there is also an arrogance which does not appeal to me. Mrs Thatcher represented a different strand of Conservatism to what I do and I knew that I was going to be, if you like, marginalised somewhat.

Neville Trotter (Tyne-mouth); 63; maj 597:

"I always said I would retire at 60 and that time has come."

Peter Thurnham (Bolton NE); 57; maj 185:

MP since 1983. Founder of the Conservative Disability Group.

Patrick Thompson (Norwich N); 59; maj 266:

"I have enjoyed my 14 years but it is time to hand over to someone younger."

Sir James Spicer (Dorset W); 70; maj 8,010: "I wish I wasn't retiring - I think the next election is going to be the best fun ... ever."

John Butcher (Coventry SW); 49; maj 1,436:

"I just felt I didn't want to go on until I was 65. I want to go back into industry."

Tim Eggar (Enfield N); 44; maj 9,430:

"I'm leaving because I want to pursue another full-time career."

David Harris (St Ives); 64; maj 1,645:

"The time has come to hand over to a younger person for the election."

Sir Ralph Howell (Norfolk N): 71, maj 12,545

"Although there are things that need changing, that is not [why] I am retiring."

Dame Elaine Kellett- Bowman (Lancaster); 71; maj 2,953:

Interests include: local government, disabled, elderly.

Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest); 66; maj 20,405: " I've been here for 30 years now. I decided to leave a long time ago."

Richard Needham (Wiltshire N); 54; maj 16,388:

"I'm leaving [to become] overseas director of the General Electrical Council."

Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey & Walton); 59; maj 22,819: "[My going] has nothing to do with the government's record."

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey); 64; maj 8,972:

"It is quite right and appropriate to give way to a younger person."

George Walden (Buckingham); 55; maj 19,791:

"I am not prepared to continue sweet-talking the public like infants."

Sir Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln); 54; maj 2,049:

Runs a farm in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Dudley Fishburn (Kensington); 48; maj 3,548:

"There is too little for MPs to do, and too many of them."

Sir Terence Higgins

(Worthing); 67; maj 16,533:

MP since 1964. Chairman of Select Committee on Treasury and Civil Service 1984-92.

Sir John Hunt (Ravensbourne): 65, maj 19,714

"I enjoy it less than I used to ... John Major's standing in the polls is not a factor."

Sir David Knox (Staffordshire Moorlands); 62; maj 7,410: "... It's just like with any other job. You reach the end of the road."

Sir David Mitchell (Hamp-shire NW); 67; maj 17,848:

"Maybe I will start looking around for someone to share my life with."

Steven Norris (Epping Forest); 50; maj 20,188:

"I am leaving for very straightforward financial reasons."

Tim Renton (Mid Sussex); 63; maj 20,528: In the seat for 22 years. "The constituency now needs a younger person."

Roger Sims: (Chiselhurst); 65; maj 15,276:

"The Government's standing is not a factor; I just feel I've done my stint."

John Ward (Poole); 70; maj 12,831: "There are too many professional politicians and research officers producing clones."

Paul Channon (Southend W); 59; maj 11,902:

An MP for 37 years. Chairman of Finance and Transport Select Committees.

Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey NW); 61; maj 28,394:

MP for 26 years and Chairman of Conservative Trade and Industry Committee.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham); 66; maj 25,072:

"I will be sorry to leave indeed. I shall miss the companionship most of all."

Douglas Hurd (Witney); 65; maj 22,568:

"The time will have come to move on. The PM's critics have weakened Britain."

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham Edgbaston); 68; maj 4,307:

"Thirty years is long enough."

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries); 72; maj 6,415:

"I am retiring because of age. I am thoroughly supportive of the Government."

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking); 69; maj 19,842:

"I shall be 70 next year and I think this is an appropriate age to leave."

Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy); 65; maj 995: "I've been [an MP] for 25 years; I'm 65. I decided long ago I would retire at this stage."

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire N); 78;maj 11,618: "I think the Government is getting too enmeshed in Europe."

Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare); 58; maj 5,342: Two predecessors died in office. "I have no wish to maintain that tradition."

Sir Anthony Durant (Reading W); 67; maj 13,298:

"I'm 67 and I think that's long enough for anyone to be in the House."

Sir John Hannam (Exeter); 66; maj 3,045:

"A lot of my work involved the disabled and I would like to continue in that."

David Howell (Guildford); 59; maj 13,404:

"We seem to have lost the confidence to count our own enormous strengths."

Michael Jopling (Westmorland & Lonsdale); 65; maj 16,436:

"Thirty-one years are long enough."

Sir Michael Marshall (Arundel); 65; maj 19,863:

"I want to get back to working in industry. "

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale); 67; maj 16,791: "I just feel that at the age of 70 it is time to stand down."

John Patten (Oxford West & Abingdon); 50; maj 3,539:

"I am standing down entirely for family reasons".

Sir Tim Sainsbury (Hove): 63, maj 12,268

"Unfortunately we only get the opportunity to retire in four or five- year chunks."

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford); 61; maj 17,359: "I have done 29 years. I would rather go when people are supporting me."

Mark Wolfson (Seven-oaks); 61; maj 19,154:

"If I was still in business I would have retired a year ago."