Thursday, April 28, 2016

The health effects of losing a political career

What happens to MPs who lose their seats?

Yesterday I blogged about a paper by Dr Peter Bull on Jeremy Corbyn and prime minister's questions. A second paper in the symposium looked at the effects of electoral defeat.

Dame Jane Roberts from the Open University, a psychiatrist and former Labour leader of Camden, and the psychologist Dr Ashley Weinberg from the University of Salford, set out to answer this question.

After each of the last three general elections Dr Weinberg has asked MPs from the previous parliament to complete a standard questionnaire about their psychological wellbeing. Out of 88 respondents, 16 of those MPs had chosen to retire, 12 had been defeated and 60 had held their seats.

Analysing the questionnaire results Dr Weinberg found higher levels of psychological strain amongst the MPs who had either won or been defeated and the lowest among those who had chosen to retire. The former MPs expressed mixed responses to leaving the Commons, some finding it very difficult and other acknowledging the benefits for their health.

An in-depth qualitative study by Dame Jane Roberts involved interviews with 30 politicians, including MPs and council leaders who had chosen to stand down, been defeated at an election or continued serving. Where possible, she also spoke to the partners of the former politicians.

The interviews showed council leaders were consistently positive about their experience of the role while MPs held mixed views. Whether the exit was voluntary or involuntary accounted for some difference in the experience of the transition from office, but the picture was more complicated than this distinction alone.

Some MPs reported relief from the chains of office and the media glare, but many acknowledged a deep sense of loss and dislocation, while their partners attested to the impact of the transition on home life.

The researchers said:

"Our findings suggest that the health effects of losing a political career should be taken more seriously. It was striking that the defeated MPs reported that so little advice was available about handling career transition.

"This is about not about politicians having special treatment – quite the reverse. It’s about the political world catching up with the rest of the working world and politicians being afforded similar consideration as others who are made redundant or retire.”

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