Patten joins the ranks of retiring Tory MPs

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PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

Former Cabinet minister John Patten yesterday became the latest of a string of senior Tories to announce their intention to retire as MPs at the next election.

Mr Patten, 50, who was sacked as Secretary of State for Education by John Major a year ago, said his decision to stand down from his Oxford West & Abingdon constituency was "entirely for family reasons".

For the Oxford-educated gardener's son, it brings to a close a recently much-troubled, and gaffe-prone political career.

He had been promoted after a successful five years as a Home Office minister. But his two years as Secretary of State for Education were plagued by teacher protests over reforms. He was forced to climb down over key aspects of testing, league tables and the national curriculum, and his "Mum's Army" of infant teachers with rudimentary training was ridiculed, and dropped.

A terse letter from Mr Patten when Mr Major sacked him ranked as one of the bitterest in political history. Thereafter he cut an isolated figure in the lobbies at Westminster.

He said yesterday: "I hope in the future to be able to play some part in the life of the nation and of the Conservative Party . . . from outside the House if Commons."

Another Tory with a recently chequered parliamentary career, Sir Jerry Wiggin, 58, also announced yesterday that he would be stepping down as MP for Weston-super-Mare, bringing the total of departing Tories to more than 40.

Sir Jerry was at the centre of a Tory "sleaze" row earlier this year after admitting using the name of a colleague, Sebastian Coe, to promote an amendment to a Bill in which he had a financial interest. The disclosure was acutely embarrassing to the Tory party at a time when MPs were due to debate the Nolan Committee recommendations on standards in public life.

The Nolan clean-up of MPs' outside earnings is likely to have contributed to the relatively high number of Tories exiting from Westminster.

However, Sir Jerry declared to a constituency meeting last night he was "in no doubt that there will be those who will wish to invent some sinister explanation for my decision, but I can assure you that I had made up my mind before the end of last year". He added: "My two immediate predecessors in this constituency died while still sitting members and I have no wish to maintain that tradition."

The Patten gaffes

t Branding representatives of parent-teacher groups, including the National Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations as "neanderthal".

t Treating a news conference on school discipline to a description of the beatings he received from Jesuits at his own school.

t Attacking the clergy, saying Britain could not become civilised again without a revival of the fear of damnation.

t Disclosing details of a train conversation with Labour front bencher Marjorie Mowlam, about whether the Blair family would find the Downing Street flat too small.

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