City cold-shoulders Tories on the margin

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Indy Politics
It's going to be a tough world out there for the Tory MPs who find themselves unseated in the general election.

Defeated backbench MPs who think they will be inundated by offers of lucrative directorships in the City are deluding themselves. As Hugo Summerson, who lost in Walthamstow in 1992, put it, "my phone was stone cold and the days stretched ahead of me completely empty. All this guff about Tory MPs ending up with a clutch of City directorships is absolute balls."

If the Conservatives lose as they did in last month's Wirral by-election, there could be as many as 100 ex-MPs seeking jobs elsewhere. Many, including ministers, have been discreetly contacting headhunters to make themselves available.

The head of one City recruitment agency was dismissive: "The mere fact that they have been an MP does not give them a passport to an executive, or non-executive, position. It does not mean they will necessarily get the sort of position they aspire to."

The headhunter, who did not wish to be named, spoke of one conversation last week with a "middle-ranking" minister, one of half a dozen MPs who had contacted him.

"He had already sent me his CV and rang me up for an appointment. I explained that we were client-driven and that if we found a suitable post we would contact him. He insisted he wanted to see me: 'Do you know who I am?' I had to be polite but firm. Of course I knew who he was, I had his CV in front of me, but I didn't want to waste my time seeing him."

Some MPs will have no difficulty: "If you are someone like Sebastian Coe, or are an ex-Cabinet minister with City contacts, there's no problem, but you won't need my services."

John Hird, of the Albemarle Group management recruitment agency, said MPs who have languished on the backbenches for years lack the specific skills required in modern industry: "Those companies recruiting at that sort of salary level are looking for someone with a good deal of experience and skill in a particular function. Companies are not prepared to wait for somebody to learn about their business."

While one headhunter said ministerial experience would be useful, Mr Hird was not sure. He said unless they were able to secure something through existing connections, former ministers would probably have to accept less well-paid jobs. According to Mr Hird, "anyone who has worked at ministerial level is going to want a higher level of salary than we would be involved in."

Certainly the experience of the 1992 "out-take" is a salutary warning for prospective losers. Mr Summerson said: "As an MP, you are busy every minute of the day. It's very hard to adjust."

Mr Summerson's short career in Parliament cost him his marriage - "the hours are so awful" - and the business he ran before his election: "It was a couple of years before I got back on my feet." He started a training company, Speaker Skills Training, using the public-speaking skills he had acquired as a politician, and he is back in his former trade, in property management.

Chris Butler, an ex-MP, says they are not usually well-qualified: "Prospective employers will think all they will want to do is return to Parliament".

Mr Butler, who was defeated in Warrington South in 1992, said finding a job is not the only problem: "It really is a very great shock. Whatever the opinion polls, most MPs believe that they will hold on. They have been busy working their constituencies for years and feel they can buck the national trend. Therefore, it is a horrible surprise."

Mr Butler, now a lobbyist with Grandfield Public Affairs, says ex-MPs may need help: "Some MPs who have lost their living could certainly do with counselling. It's such a shock that some people never recover." Another ex-MP put it: "Don't expect help from anyone else. They will be sympathetic, but you'll have to make all the effort to get back on track."

Defeat has its compensations. Mr Butler says losing was the best thing that happened to him: "My wife and I could finally go ahead an have a child, and I now work sensible hours. And if I'd won, I would probably have rebelled on Maastricht."

Mr Butler's description of how even MPs in marginal seats believe they can win was borne out by the Independent's attempt to contact potential losers. Out of a dozen spoken to, none would admit to the possibility of defeat and all denied they were jobhunting.

David Shaw MP, contesting Dover, which he won in 1992, with a majority of only 860, was vociferous: "It is absolutely ludicrous to ask me and ludicrous to contemplate, and I certainly haven't done so [look for a new job] - of course not."

Other Tory MPs in marginal seats, such as Philip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) and Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan), denied they were considering other careers. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden) was confident of bucking the trend: "I don't expect to lose my seat. It depends on how much work you do."

If they do lose, they should not expect salvation in another seat next time. Mr Summerson had an interview with the woman in charge of candidates at Central Office. "Don't count on getting back," she said.