They were the future once. The 147 Conservative MPs elected for the first time in 2010 were described as a golden generation, many of whom would rise high up the political ladder.
Now nine of them have decided to spend their best years away from Westminster, cutting short their political careers after only five years. Up to 10 others may follow. Although there are retirements at every general election, it is unusual for so many MPs to depart voluntarily after just one term.
The exodus worries senior Conservatives. All the departing MPs from the 2010 intake are in marginal seats. Their exit will deprive the Tories of the precious “incumbency factor”, which has grown in the past 20 years as MPs have increasingly taken up their constituents’ problems. Their loss could undermine the Tories’ “40-40 strategy” for securing an overall majority next May – holding 40 marginal seats and winning another 40.
Four of the nine MPs are women, which means that a quarter of the new Tory women elected in 2010 may quit, adding to David Cameron’s “women problem.”
The wave of departures also sends a worrying signal – that the MPs and their party is unlikely to win. Although Labour’s lead in the opinion polls has narrowed this year, Ed Miliband’s party is performing more strongly in the marginals.
Ukip’s rise is another possible factor. Some Tory MPs fear that Nigel Farage’s party will cost them victory – not by winning their seats but by taking enough votes from them to allow Labour to overtake them. The defection to Ukip of Douglas Carswell, the former Tory MP for Clacton, has added to the Tory jitters.
The 'golden generation' of 2010 Tory MPs
The 'golden generation' of 2010 Tory MPs
1/9 Louise Mensch Former MP for Corby & East Northamptonshire
Chick-lit author who resigned her Corby seat in August 2012 to be with her rock band manager husband in New York. Labour won the ensuing by-election with a majority of 7,791(AFP)
2/9 Jessica-Lee MP for Erewash
Won her Erewash seat from Labour with a majority of 2,501. Said she was “extremely sad” to take the “really difficult decision not to stand” because of “personal circumstances and responsibilities” (jessicaleemp.com)
3/9 Aidan Burley MP for Cannock Chase
Won biggest swing in country in Cannock Chase with majority of 3,195. Sacked as ministerial aide in 2011 after buying a Nazi uniform for the groom to wear during a trip to a French ski resort. Apologised but later told constituents: “After a difficult time I have decided to announce I will stand down at the next general election" (Wikimedia)
4/9 Mike Weatherly MP for Hove and Portslade
Rock and heavy metal fan who won Hove with majority of 1,868. Told David Cameron he had decided to leave parliament for personal reasons, saying: “Beating cancer two years ago has led me to review what I want for the future” (Rex)
5/9 Chris KellyMP for Dudley South
Won Dudley South with majority of 3,856. Has been wooed by Ukip, which is targeting his seat, but says he will not join the party. Declined to say why he is standing down (Rex)
6/9 Laura Sandys MP Thanet South
Pro-EU MP who held Thanet South with majority of 7,617 in 2010. Said "a wide range of family demands" meant she would be unable to deliver "the level of dedication and service needed" as an MP. Nigel Farage since announced he will fight the seat for Ukip. (Rex)
7/9 Lorraine Fullbrook MP for South Ribble
Gained her South Ribble seat with majority of 5,554. Said she was standing down for personal reasons, adding: “This has not been an easy decision but [is] the right one for me.” (Rex)
8/9 Dan Byles MP for North Warwickshire and Bedworth
Former soldier who seized Warwickshire North with wafer-thin majority of 54. Said: “This has by no means been an easy decision. For myself and my family... I believe it is now time to move on to new challenges.” (Rex)
9/9 Jonathan Evans MP for Cardiff North
Former MEP and minister while previously MP for Brecon and Radnor, who won Cardiff North with majority of 194. Said that serving to 2020 "is a commitment which is I believe is too lengthy for me to make.” (Rex)
Naturally, the MPs who are leaving deny that they are jumping before they – and Mr Cameron - are pushed out by the voters. It is true that some are quitting for personal, family or health reasons.
Chris Kelly, 36, who at university put a £50 bet on himself to become prime minister, will stand down as MP for Dudley South. He has held talks with Ukip and described Mr Carswell as a “superb MP”, wishing him “all the best.” But Mr Kelly insists he will not join Ukip and friends say he may take over the running of his father’s lorry dealership in West Bromwich.
Another factor in the early departures is frustration at the limited opportunities for promotion in a coalition, with ministerial jobs shared with the Liberal Democrats. Mr Cameron’s July reshuffle was the last straw for some Tory backbenchers who missed out.
“I don’t want to spend another five years as lobby fodder and being told what to think,” said one of those who is standing down. Some Tory backbenchers complain that their expertise in specific areas is ignored by ministers and that Mr Cameron does not give them enough “TLC”. One said: “A glass of warm white wine and canapés twice a year is not enough.”
The Conservative Party declined to comment on the exodus. Tory sources believe it signals a new trend that applies to all parties.
“Parliament may no longer be a career for life, but a stage before people move on to something else,” said one. “Some find that being an MP is not what they were expecting.”
There are some success stories from the 2010 intake. Sajid Javid, one of its brightest stars, was first to make it to the Cabinet as Culture Secretary and is tipped as a future Tory leader.
Tories point out that a higher proportion of Labour MPs will stand down next year, prompting Labour fears of a “brain drain”. However, they are mostly experienced MPs: 15 of the 30 have ministerial experience.
Another factor in the departures may be the tougher expenses regime introduced after the 2009 scandal. MPs complain that ending the “second homes” allowance means they have to stay in a hotel or tiny flat in London, keeping them apart from their children. But as Mark Simmonds, the former Foreign Office Minister, found when he blamed the “intolerable” expenses system for his decision to leave parliament, MPs can expect little sympathy from the public.