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Former Bishop's Stortford MP Mark Prisk condemns 'soul-destroying' parliamentary processes



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Bishop's Stortford's former MP and the man who hoped to be his successor have given evidence to Parliament on the trials and tribulations of leaving the House of Commons.

Conservatives Mark Prisk and Nick de Bois joined Scottish National Party politician Stephen Gethins for the session in front of the administration committee.

Chairman and Broxbourne Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said: "We are starting an inquiry on how the House can better welcome Members of Parliament, but also on how we can assist members of Parliament in being good leavers and, when they leave this place, in having a rewarding and bright future – as bright and rewarding as the one that the three of you have discovered in your new life."

The administration committee (57744362)
The administration committee (57744362)

Of the three, Mr Prisk was the only MP to step down rather than be ousted by the electorate. Now a strategic advisor and executive coach, he announced in 2019: "I have always believed that if you seek election it must be wholehearted and that you should be committed to serve a whole five-year Parliament. I cannot make that commitment."

He was Hertford and Stortford MP for 18 years, first standing for election as the successor to Bowen Wells in 2001. He increased his majority on each of the four occasions he sought re-election, increasing his share from 21,074 votes (44.7%) to 36,184 (60.3%) in 2017.

During his time in Parliament, the keen choral singer served as a business and enterprise minister from May 2010 to September 2012 and then as a housing minister for 13 months until October 2013. In 2007 he had been shadow minister for Cornwall.

Mark Prisk was Hertford and Stortford MP for 18 years
Mark Prisk was Hertford and Stortford MP for 18 years

In 2014, he was appointed Prime Minister David Cameron's trade and investment envoy to the Nordic and Baltic nations and in 2016 also to Brazil. He was also a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

Mr de Bois hoped to succeed Mr Prisk, but after reaching the final four short-listed candidates he lost out to Julie Marson, who retained the seat for the party in December 2019's General Election.

Mr de Bois is now a political pundit, host on talkRADIO, author and chairman of the VisitEngland advisory board and a member of the British Tourist Authority board since 2020. He first contested the Enfield North seat for the Tories in 2001, coming second to Labour's Joan Ryan. His second General Election campaign, in 2005, also ended in defeat, but in 2010 he unseated his socialist rival and headed to the House of Commons for a single term, losing twice more to Ryan in 2015 and 2017.

Mr Gethins won North East Fife at the 2015 General Election and was defeated by Liberal Democrat Wendy Chamberlain in 2019. He is now professor of practice and international relations at the University of St Andrews.

Former SNP MP Stephen Gethins (57744356)
Former SNP MP Stephen Gethins (57744356)

All three agreed that leaving the Commons was a tough experience which also had a dramatic impact on staff, who lose their jobs when the MP leaves.

Mr Prisk said: "For staff, who are effectively being made redundant, it is a really difficult time. They are being asked to pack the boxes quickly, but also to think about their future. One of the important issues here is making sure that we do not lose sight of their needs and their concerns.

"I was slightly torn. I had made my decision to leave and I was looking forward to going, but I was sorry to be going in another sense. I found it difficult to juggle what staff needed to know, what I was allowed to say, when I was allowed to say it and who I was allowed to say it to."

Ex-Enfield North MP Nick de Bois, who lives in Bishop's Stortford, gives evidence (57744358)
Ex-Enfield North MP Nick de Bois, who lives in Bishop's Stortford, gives evidence (57744358)

Mr de Bois said: "From a personal point of view, I was very realistic about what might happen. I prepared for that possibility without accepting that it was going to happen.

"However, looking back, my principal concerns are – perhaps I am less forgiving than others – that the way we manage staff in the process is shameful, to the point that I do not believe that any credible private company would have such a lack of processes and support services for staff who are rather brutally made redundant overnight. It is just not acceptable.

"There are a lot of human beings here; they are not just a process and an inconvenience to be dealt with quickly so that you can get on to the next Parliament.

Administration committee chairman and Broxbourne MP Sir Charles Walker (57744353)
Administration committee chairman and Broxbourne MP Sir Charles Walker (57744353)

The committee was also concerned with careers advice for ousted MPs. Mr de Bois, who founded and was managing director of Ware-based event management company Rapiergroup before entering the House, said: "I found myself offering support and time to other members of my party who had lost their seats and who were on their knees. They were absolutely shaken by the experience and found that there was no one to turn to.

"That is a huge gap that I feel the party needs to address. It is perverse: it spends a fortune in time investing in us as MP candidates. To cut you adrift like that, although not everyone will need the support, is frankly rubbing salt into the wound.

"Make no mistake: when you leave the House of Commons, you are leaving a team. The difference is that you are cut off overnight. Your phone stops ringing pretty quickly. Friends are there, but there is not the support that some colleagues need."

Mark Prisk, Cllr Alexander Curtis and Julie Marson MP (57744385)
Mark Prisk, Cllr Alexander Curtis and Julie Marson MP (57744385)

Mr Prisk added: "The House is quite good at dealing with the administration side of things, and that is it. That might be three months or six months. There is a failure – be it of the House or the political parties – to think about the person and the shift and transition in their life, which is quite significant."

He likened the situation to leaving the military but said the services have developed much stronger transition support.

"For me, the focus is on thinking about the people – the impact on them and the mental health issues that come from that – and ensuring that there is a support mechanism. Then the focus should be on ensuring that for at least a year after people have left, there is somebody who they can turn to in confidence and have a genuine conversation with."

Mr de Bois was candid: "MPs are not actually very attractive to employ. The brand of an MP is not in a good place – wrongly, in my opinion. There is that added burden when you are trying to look for work."

Nick de Bois
Nick de Bois

The situation was particularly brutal for MPs who were elected in 2017 and who lost their seats in 2019, shortly before Covid-19 struck, and this compounded their efforts to find new jobs.

Mr de Bois said: "Sensitivity is lacking in the whole process." He said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority created an artificial tension by imposing conditions and a timetable as MPs struggled to wind up their offices and that simple changes could help politicians and their staff without adding stress and financial hardship.

Committee member Marion Fellows, the SNP MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, asked: "How long do the scars last for? Do they last? We cannot go on doing this to former MPs."

Stephen Gethins, Mark Prisk and Nick de Bois before the committee (57744360)
Stephen Gethins, Mark Prisk and Nick de Bois before the committee (57744360)

Mr de Bois said: "For me, the glass is definitely half-full. I genuinely still think this is the best Parliament in the world. It is taking a lot of hits, but I do not come here with anything but a sense of 'we can do better'."

He said writing his first book, Confessions of a Recovering MP, about his time in Parliament, had been "cathartic".

Mr Prisk said: "It leaves a bitter taste because if the next generation say, 'I'm thinking of going into Parliament – what do you think?', you want to be able to be enthusiastic. I am, but I know that some of the processes can be soul-destroying and people's mental health here is often not something we address as we should."

As he closed the public session before talking privately to the former MPs, Sir Charles said: "You all said the word 'better' quite a few times, so perhaps the takeaway from this is that if you want better MPs, you have to treat MPs better."



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