Michael Brown: I know how losing MPs feel... but they will recover

Life after The Commons
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The Independent Online

This week I have "celebrated" two anniversaries pivotal to my life. Twenty-six years ago, I walked into a count at the Drill Hall in Scunthorpe as a fresh-faced 27-year-old Tory candidate for the safe Labour seat of Brigg and Scunthorpe. After three recounts, I found myself elected as the MP with a majority of 486. And just eight years ago I was defeated by Labour's Shona McIsaac, currently seeking re-election for Cleethorpes.

This week I have "celebrated" two anniversaries pivotal to my life. Twenty-six years ago, I walked into a count at the Drill Hall in Scunthorpe as a fresh-faced 27-year-old Tory candidate for the safe Labour seat of Brigg and Scunthorpe. After three recounts, I found myself elected as the MP with a majority of 486. And just eight years ago I was defeated by Labour's Shona McIsaac, currently seeking re-election for Cleethorpes.

I will never forget the look of shock, horror and devastation on the face of the Labour MP, John Ellis, over whom I triumphed in 1979. He was a middle-aged, horny-handed representative of Old Labour toil. Although utterly elated, I could not help a momentary pang of conscience at ruining the political career of a perfectly decent opponent. Although I soon got over it I never forgot the whisper from the Labour agent: "That'll be you in four years' time, lad."

Those words rang in my ears at every subsequent general election. From day one, I assumed my victory was an accident and I would indeed be out four years later. But thanks to the stroke of a boundary commissioner's pen, prior to the 1983 election, my seat morphed into the Brigg and Cleethorpes constituency and I was re-elected with five-figure majorities until the seat was abolished at the 1997 election. I always knew that one day the music would stop.

There are two kinds of defeat. Those that are expected and those that are totally unexpected. John Ellis did not expect to lose in 1979 but, shortly after the 1992 election, the Boundary Commission proposed that my seat be split in two for the subsequent election.

In September the same year, the Tory govern-ment suffered the fall-out from the ERM debacle. From that moment, I knew I was on political death row. So the strain was not the actual defeat when the returning officer read out the result in the early hours of 2 May 1997.

If anything the announcement, in front of the cameras, was a personal relief. I had prepared my concession speech in advance and observed all the niceties, including a fulsome tribute to my Labour successor.

Luckily I had taken out a 10-year life insurance policy in 1987 and, during the 1997 election campaign I received a cheque from the Norwich Union for £35,000. A week after losing I also received my six months redundancy payment of £24,000. So, ironically, I was not actually strapped for cash. I owned outright my London flat but had a mortgage on my constituency property, a five-bedroom Victorian mansion. The "For Sale" board went up within a week. The terse letter from the Serjeant at Arms ordering me to vacate my office, and return my Commons pass and car park permit brought home the finality of my political career.

I had no idea what I would do - or even whether I was employable in the real world. At the age of 45, all I had on my CV was "ex-Tory MP for 18 years". All I had resolved was that I would never seek election to Parliament again. My confidence at my job-seeking prospects were not improved when I read an article analysing the prospects for all the defeated Tory MPs. Michael Portillo, Malcolm Rifkind, William Waldegrave and other senior ministers were assessed as capable of getting lucrative boardroom jobs. They also had the chance of going to the House of Lords. I was assessed as not even capable of being able to sell The Big Issue. The telephone was silent. I could not type and did not even know the meaning of the word "laptop".

A few notable MPs, such as Sir Patrick Cormack and Ann Widdecombe, wrote notes of commiseration. Margaret Thatcher sent a personal handwritten letter, but it took John Major three months to send a cyclo-styled circular letter that also went to other defeated MPs. David Evans, another defeated MP, was a wealthy businessman who owned a contract cleaning business. He invited me, on commission, to drum up business, and I was beginning to make some limited progress as a salesman until The Independent rescued me 10 months later. Since then I have happily clanked my chains from beyond the political grave.

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