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What does Jessica Lee’s exit say about the Tory party?

21 January 2014

Why has Jessica Lee become the fourth female MP from the 2010 intake to quit? The Erewash MP announced yesterday that she is standing down in 2015, saying ‘I have carefully considered by personal circumstances and responsibilities at this time, before taking this decision’. Friends of the popular Conservative say she is keen to return to her former job as a barrister, which is fair enough: in all walks of life people find that a career change doesn’t suit them as much as they thought. But is there a deeper problem here?

Some are arguing that this is illustrative of a woman problem in the party, and indeed the Conservative benches are not exactly stuffed with female MPs. But is it also that the life of an MP isn’t quite what some people expect, or are led to expect?

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When backbenchers arrive in the Commons at the start of a Parliament, they share committee rooms until the offices are allocated. This means many friendship groups form between those camped in certain rooms, but it also marks the start of a chaotic time for MPs. They are not given advice on how to run a parliamentary office, and, having been promised an exciting career as a ‘turbocharged’ backbencher, and prospects for promotion and influence, find themselves trying to work out how to do their first job as a constituency MP with little more than the help of friendly veteran MPs to guide them. That is the case for MPs from all parties, but there is a mood amongst the new intake that being an MP hasn’t turned out to be all it was cracked up to be when they decided to be a candidate all those years ago. ‘I think a lot of new MPs haven’t enjoyed the role as much as they had hoped,’ one new intake MP remarked to me.

Perhaps more of those MPs would have enjoyed the role more if they felt properly used as backbenchers. There is still a sense that at the heart of the party there is a sizeable knot of MPs who are not confirmed Cameron haters, but neither are they the aggressively loyal Claire Perrys of the Conservative party. They are biddable, but still often left to their own devices. Attempts to keep them busy haven’t worked out as well as hoped: the Number 10 policy board, for instance, seemed like a good idea, but it is becoming clear that this isn’t the influential group it was sold as, and more of a conduit between backbenches and Prime Minister, which is useful in itself but still a mis-labelling. Perhaps the recent outbursts from Nadhim Zahawi and Jesse Norman’s departure were a result of frustration at this discovery.

But then there’s also the gruelling work of fighting in a marginal seat. Marginal Tories don’t go to as many parliamentary party meetings or receptions as their colleagues with cushy majorities because they’re often far busier in their constituencies trying to shore up support. Lee’s majority is only 2,501, and if she wasn’t much enjoying her job anyway, another exhausting fight in 2015 may have just looked like it wasn’t worth it.

Now, as I said, people realising a career change was a mistake isn’t unusual in any walk of life. But it does present a challenge to the Conservatives, who do want to attract and retain talented candidates with a wealth of experience in the world outside Westminster.

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Show comments
  • Bonkim

    Could not stand the heat, and there is more money in the legal profession.

  • Rockin Ron

    What does Jessica Lee’s exit say about the Tory party?
    I don’t know what it says about the Tory party, but what it tells us about Jessica Lee is that she is not up for the fight in a marginal seat next year. It tells us her values are largely self serving and that she is scuttling back to the safety of a cushy job in the law, safe in the knowledge that she won’t want have to face the music. MPs of this low calibre are not needed in Parliament, so it is good for both sides.

    She should leave as soon as possible rather than waiting for the 2015 General Election. Only Parliament allows the luxury of a 14 month goodbye thanks to its ridiculous rules.

  • roger

    As Erewash is certain to go Labour in 2015 this story is not really a big event.
    Politics should not be done by barristers anyway.

  • ablanche

    That there is something very seriously wrong with their candidate selection process.

  • Ringstone

    Lee’s exit might say something about the Tory Party, I suspect it says more about defending a wafer thin majority in the face of accusations about playing fast and loose with expenses [Guido Fawkes et all] – something that, oddly enough, you don’t mention.
    The phrase “jump before she’s pushed” comes to mind.

  • Tom Tom

    Well she has probably boosted her profile at 42 Bedford Row by working for Dominic Grieve and like most barrister MPs will move rapidly to silk. It is ideal career development for lawyers and lousy for businessmen…….

  • andagain

    the fourth female MP from the 2010 intake to quit?

    Did they have the same problem with the 2005 and 2001 intakes? If not, that would suggest a problem with the way the 2010 intake was selected.

  • Lady Magdalene

    Another Cameron “A Lister” who proved to have an inflated grade.

  • Fergus Pickering

    She is following the money.

  • CharlietheChump

    Or she could get some guts and tough it out. Perhaps they were the wrong choice by CCO and imposed with too little knowledge and stardust in their eyes.

  • swatnan

    Just proves that the Tory Party is not a women friendly Party, very much like the Lib Dems, women are not made welcome, and are only there on sufference. But as a lot of them have discovered, there’s no money in politics, unless you get into the top jobs, mostly reserved for the boys. But as has been pointed out, politics should be a vocation and a public service, and not a money earner. You can usually measure the commitment of a politician to public service by the money they accumulate after they have left politics.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Perhaps these women were not much good.

  • Diogenes

    Seems like you’re all reading too much into this.
    They’re politicians so maybe the rock that is their sky-high self-regard met the immovable object that is the minuscule prospect of career advancement within politics. Perhaps being women they came to accept this reality sooner than the fellas, or perhaps even refused to accept and decided to play in a different ball park.

  • Robert_Eve

    The aggressively loyal Claire Perry is one of the reasons I’ll be voting UKIP in Devizes in future.

  • NT86

    Right now I think it tells us nothing about the Tory party. Eyebrows might be raised if something hypothetical like 25 to 33% of new Tory women MPs (from 2010) were to stand dowin next year. It is one of those “let’s wait and see” situations.

    Question is, why is the Conservative party even asking these questions to begin with? At the height Blairism and New Labour, they pushed the “Blair babes” and the execrable all women shortlists ad nauseum. Look at some of ghastly box tickers who emerged from that era (I do have great admiration for Kate Hoey though, who was elected before 1997, for being rebellious and keeping herself away from that North London Blair babe crowd). Was it Cameron’s reaction in the mid-00s to emphasise identity politics hence his adoption of the A-list system?

    Trouble is that the average swing voter has been so utterly disgusted by this PC nonsense (the same ones who Blair, if he was still Labour leader, wouldn’t be able to win over in this era) and are hence turning to UKIP.

  • Mynydd

    Could it be that Mr Cameron is failing to lead his party. Does any know if Ms Jessica Lee signed any of the resent letters sent to Mr Cameron, if so, maybe she doesn’t like her bottom being smacked.

    • Kitty MLB

      Its not actually that he is failing to lead ‘his’ party, he is a Prime Minister
      without a party now.
      The arch-deceivers spiritual home is really with his little
      sandal wearing and tree hugging comrades, the genuine
      Conservative MP’s probably realise they cannot fight for
      a Lib Dem lead coalition at the next election, so have fled the vipers nest.

  • alabenn

    Could it just be that as a barrister she will go back to a job that pays a vastly superior salary, after all follow the money works in more than shady dealings, it is normal for people to go for the higher wage, unless of course you can rely on inheritance or dad.
    Or she might even have realised that she is not cut out for listening to whining constituents of the type who write to MP`s.

  • sfin

    What it says about the tory party is that Blairism is alive and kicking within it.

    Selected by “approved candidate shortlists” (at least new labour were honest enough to call it what it was – gender quotas), some of them were actually canvassed to become MPs and promised all sorts of goodies once at Westminster. But like everything now, with our ‘professional’ political class – it was all just PR (“gotta show we’re a wimmins party as well – they are 50% of the electorate after all”).

    The brighter of ‘Cameron’s cuties’ are realising that just like ‘Blair’s babes’ they are no more than window dressing.

  • Kitty MLB

    What it tells you is today we have a bunch of inexperienced people,
    without any real substance who see being a politician for a while would
    be good on their CV.
    Some of these ‘Cameron Cuties’ are the same as ‘Blair Babes’, all there to tick
    the politically correct boxes regardless of suitability-ie the dreadful Louise Mensch .
    Although Mrs Lee herself was perhaps a genuine Conservative do did not want to wander around within the Camservative Dickensian gloom in quotidian fashion acquiescently producing deceitful balderdash, and felt the battle was fruitless.
    Her exit tells you that the Camservative Party is not the place for genuine,
    loyal , honest and hardworking people such as the great and much missed
    Margaret Thatcher…who not only was a woman, but also a Tory Woman
    perhaps we should not mention the PM part..will upset the Lefties!
    Being a politician is not a career, its a duty, some life experience would also help.

    • Makroon

      I fear you may be closer to the truth than any other “theory” on here.

  • kyalami

    Who are the other three of the “female intake of 2010” and why have they said they are standing down?

    • AB

      Louise Mensch, who has already gone for family reasons. Laura Sandys, ditto family reasons.Lorraine Fullbrook, personal reasons.

      • Makroon

        Oh! so none of them has actually gone to join Nige and his cronies in the saloon bar ? Well, that’s a surprise.

  • TowerOfBabble

    I think it may be a lot simpler. The job just doesn’t pay well enough any more. Salaries — for what is a senior role with plenty of responsibility — are low, especially when compared with other public sector employees. With legitimate claimable expenses hit as hard as those that were abused, there can’t be a great deal left in the pay packet these days. Yes, the pensions and other benefits may be attractive, but that doesn’t pay today’s bills. And with the prospect of future pay rises being quelled, all those other wonderful principles that people have when deciding to stand for election start to lose their lustre. If the system doesn’t change, and the supposed majority are dead against improved remuneration for MPs, then we have only ourselves to blame if Parliament doesn’t have equal access to the most talented people to represent their constituencies and the country as a whole.

    • AB

      Jessica Lee claimed rather a lot of expenses. The Bar is not a secure profession to return to, but I suppose being a backbencher who has to work hard to get re-elected in a marginal makes it impractical to carry on practising at the Bar as a number of barrister MPs in safer seats do.

    • monty61

      Indeed. Most semi-intelligent people can do better than an MP’s salary (and the perks aren’t what they used to be).

      • Fergus Pickering

        I must be stupid. I never earned as much as an MP. But of course I wanted to teach people things.And I did.

    • Alexsandr

      I thought MP’s did it out of a sense of responsibility, not to make a sack of cash. Paying them loads will just attract gold diggers.

    • sfin

      Why encourage politics as a career? We have completely lost sight of the fact that all elected politicians, from the prime minister down, are put in place to serve the public. What we now have is an ‘entitled class of career politicians who have no experience of life outside that sphere. It has given us obfuscation, mendacity, spin (or propaganda as it used to be called) and the grotesque spectacle of a former prime minister making tens of millions of pounds, as a direct result of decisions he made whilst in office – some of those decisions costing hundreds of thousands of lives. How on Earth, after Blair, can we trust a prime minister to be making decisions for the good of the country, and not with an eye on his future earnings?
      My solution? Simple – a minimum age of 50 before you can become an MP and keep the salary as it is.

  • RavenRandom

    The Conservatives have 48 female MPs, 4 of them have or will step down. That’ll be four in five years, slightly less than ten per cent reduction. How out of line is this with male MPs leaving parliament? How out of line is it with job turnover in any industry? At four is the number statistically significant, or just random?
    Of course there might be a problem, but we shouldn’t leap to conclusions.

    • AB

      The significant feature is that the four women leaving, including Louise Mensch, were all first elected in 2010, whereas the men leaving are doing so after longer periods.

      • RavenRandom

        You’re assuming it’s significant, you might be right, but four is a very small number, small enough to reflect personal whims rather than a true overarching narrative or cause.
        How many first timer male and female generally step down? How does marginal or non-marginal constituency play into it? How does profession to return to play into it. On average Labour and Conservative MPs come from slightly different professions, generally Labour has more lower paid ex-state employees and Conservatives more better paid non-state employees.
        How does age distribution play into it. How does current real salary play into it?
        Four is a very small number on which to make assumptions, when so much else might be going on.

        • AB

          I agree – the sample sizes in a population of 650 are likely to make statistically significant points difficult to defend objectively, particularly when there are so many factors which might be relevant. Perhaps the departures are journalistically striking rather than significant.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I think the women expected to make a lot of money and they didn’t.

        • Tom Tom

          How ? she is still working as a Barrister and MP

    • monty61

      Atrition of old or long-standing MPs through infirmity or retirement is one thing, losing high profile youngish, female members of the 2010 intake is quite another.

      • RavenRandom

        Maybe. You cannot be certain of that when the number is that small. Many other factors at work (see reply to AB). Not saying you’re wrong but falling for a narrative is easy and not necessarily correct.

  • WatTylersGhost

    She is probably simply a sincere conservative, and has realised that the Conservative Party and herself hold different values. Many of us have reached this conclusion.

    • HookesLaw

      Nice try but still rubbish

      • WatTylersGhost

        What did I “try”?

        • Wessex Man

          You must remember that in dear old Hook’y world you are a non person because you are not a tired Tory like him!

          • Makroon

            Where did this lady say she had become converted into an Apostle of the sainted Nigel ? I must have missed that.

    • TowerOfBabble

      As a barrister I hardly think she would throw in the towel on these grounds. Surely some of the driving motivations for becoming an MP are to fight for one’s constituency and effect change where you believe it is needed? Hence the outspoken backbenchers in this parliament who do want the Cameroons to sit up and take notice of them and the Tory hinterland.

    • southerner

      Indeed Wat. She thought she was joining a conservative party and has now realised her mistake.

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