Life after Westminster: what ex-MPs do next

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Thursday 20 May 2010 00:00 BST

His love of harmonicas, a soft spot for the Segway human transporter and his unlikely romance with a Cheeky Girl marked out Lembit Opik as one of Westminster's more light-hearted characters. Now, after the surprise of losing his seat at the election, the eccentric former MP has decided to try a career as a stand-up comedian.

The 45-year-old, who suffered a huge swing in losing Montgomeryshire, will make his debut at a small gig in London next month, where he promises his 10-minute routine will boast an "observational" brand of comedy.

"I'm going to give it a go. I enjoy performing," he told The Independent. "I have already done some after-dinner speeches, so am used to that. I have also appeared on Have I Got News For You, which is completely unscripted.

"Life's too short not to take the breaks when they come along," he said. "My humour is observational."

He added: "Obviously I am a little anxious about the audience, as I really want them to have a good time and enjoy themselves."

He will be introduced gently to the intimidating stand-up circuit, on which some of comedy's biggest names have been baptised in a hail of swearwords and warm lager. Opik's first performance will be a short routine in front of a maximum of 70 people at the Backstage Comedy Club, in Leicester Square, on 2 June. It will not be his first foray into live comedy. As an MP, he took part in cabaret-style events with Labour's Stephen Pound and the Tory MP Nigel Evans.

Although his path is unusual, he is one of several former MPs to have already begun adjusting to life after politics. Ruth Kelly, the former transport secretary, is to take up a senior job with HSBC, Britain's biggest bank. She has been given a role within its strategy unit.

She will help the bank cope with reforms to the City as well as with consumer protection. Ms Kelly, who also served in ministerial roles at the Treasury and the education department, had made it clear that she would give up politics for a full-time career in financial services. She worked at the Bank of England and as a journalist before winning a seat in 1997.

She is not the only MP to find a lucrative career path after a stint in Westminster. Patricia Hewitt, the former health secretary who launched an unsuccessful coup to topple Gordon Brown at the start of the year, has also landed on her feet following her decision to stand down. She holds a post with BT as a senior independent director. She has been on the company's board since March 2008.

John Reid, the former Home Secretary, held a high-profile job as chairman of Celtic Football Club before his Commons departure. Celtic's accounts suggest that Dr Reid received £34,066 last year.

Some will go on to use their Westminster contacts to begin careers in the lobbying industry. One of the first to secure a job in public relations is Andrew MacKay, the former Tory MP for Bracknell who stood down following controversy over his use of expenses. Mr MacKay now has a role at Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's biggest PR firms, which boasts HSBC and Danone among its British clients.

He has strong links to senior figures within the Tory Party and was one of David Cameron's closest aides before he left the Commons. He was also a chief whip in John Major's Government and had sat on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

David Howarth, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge who only entered the Commons in 2005, decided to give up politics to return to academia. He is now back at Clare College, Cambridge, teaching law to undergraduates. Other ex-MPs are still considering their options. Mark Oaten, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester, was offered a job in the United States, but turned it down for family reasons.

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