The gamble for MPs in search of a new seat

Some 78 MPs are intending to stand down at the next election. Already, their houses are appearing on the market.
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The Independent Online
The minister who so famously announced, "Je ne regrette rien," may live to regret his acceptance by Harrogate: property prices there are much higher than in Shropshire. Presently representing Kingston-upon- Thames, Norman Lamont will be fighting Harrogate, which is to be vacated by hunt supporter Robert Banks (who owns a flat in the London Docklands).

The former Chancellor sent his CV to a dozen constituencies, including North Shropshire, Stratford-on-Avon, Kensington and Chelsea, Epping Forest and South Cambridgeshire. A five-bedroom stone-built house with entertaining rooms befitting a man of his stature, five miles from Harrogate, will cost pounds 345,000, says the agents Cluttons. Had he been accepted in Dudley Fishburn's seat in Kensington, on the other hand, he wouldn't have had to move at all.

Sir Jerry Wiggin, the pro-hanging Conservative MP for Weston-Super-Mare who was memorably mentioned in Alan Clark's Diaries for admitting to "blubbing and pleading" when sacked from Government by Margaret Thatcher, loudly refused to comment on whether he'll be moving house.

Successor to the Rt Hon Paul Channon - standing down in Southend West after 37 years - will be David Amess, whose majority in Basildon is a slim 1,480. But will Basildon forgive him for defecting, especially since as recently as 1992 Amess invited John Major to visit "Basildon - the finest and most exciting town in the country". He even instigated the I Love Basildon campaign. But with Southend practically next door, at least he shouldn't have to move house.

Some never move into their constituencies. Greville Janner, Labour MP for Leicester West for 26 years (his father held the seat for 25 before that) has never lived there. "It's only an hour and a half's drive from my home in North London," he says.

Sir John Hannam stands down as Member for Exeter at the next General Election, after 26 years, to the regret of MPs on both sides. He moved into Orchard House, a Grade II listed four-bedroom house at Plymtree, Devon, at the beginning of the 1983 General Election. Unusually, he does not mind talking about his impending house move.

"It was wet and cold and conditions in the house were very primitive. I'd literally moved in with a couple of election helpers," says Sir John, a doughty, if gentlemanly, campaigner for the disabled.

Now restored and extended, it has a drawing room, sitting room, dining room and large study with French doors leading to the half-acre garden. And ancient mounting block stands by the front gates; roses, clematis and jasmine growing over the front of the house, wisteria on the west side. The lawns have a lily pond, a lilac tree, magnolia, flowering cherries, weeping willow, apple and pear trees. Strutt & Parker in Exeter is inviting offers around pounds 200,000.

"It has low beams and an inglenook, a lot of character, and views over open farmland. We moved from a bigger Georgian house across the valley. I'd lived in the area since I was elected in 1971," Sir John says. "A lot of MPs start off with the aim of keeping a main residence in the constituency and a pied a terre in London. It took me 10 years to realise it should be the other way round. One spends most of one's time in London because of the working hours - I certainly shan't miss the 10 o'clock vote! There is a lot of driving as an MP. I once worked out I had spent three years of my life behind the wheel of a car." So the Georgian house was sold, the smaller farmhouse bought, and the main home made in London, in a Victorian house in Clapham. "I have a son studying music at Trinity College and he lives in the soundproof penthouse flat, as he plays seven hours a day! I have two daughters, a stepson and three stepdaughters - one of whom has five children. So we have a family network in London and will stay here for the next few years at least."

Sir John and Lady Vanessa intend to rent a home in the constituency for the remainder of the term of Government. His seat will be fought by a local doctor; Labour has to choose a new candidate, having de-selected John Lloyd because of his alleged involvement in pre-integration South African terrorism.

"I will miss Orchard House, especially as I have worked so hard on the garden," Sir John says. "Gardening is a respite from London political life. I have created a natural spring garden, with lots of blossom and flowers and shrubs. I will miss that very much."