The Westminster rumour mill has been rumbling for some time that a huge number of MPs are planning to leave Parliament at the next election. Already some from all parties have announced their “retirement” as a result of the expenses scandal but the word is that a huge number of Labour MPs are preparing to join them.
One of the great advantages that any MP has in a tight contest is the incumbency factor. The MP will have helped many hundreds or thousands of people in his or her constituency. In addition they now have a £10,000 per year Communications Allowance which allows them to publish information telling their constituents what a great job they are doing for them. They will have therefore built up a degree of personal support that transcends the usual party boundaries. All of this is lost when an MP retires and a new candidate is selected. There is also the risk that the new candidate fails to measure up against a challenging candidate from another party who will probably have been in place for some time.
The news that around a third of the Parliamentary Labour Party (or 120 Labour MPs)is to retire is a body blow to Labour. I have no doubt that as a result they will lose seats that they might otherwise have held, adding to the likely crushing defeat at the next General Election.
The fact that so many MPs are to retire will have other consequences as well. Discipline will be harder to maintain over MPs who have decided that they have no future in the Parliamentary party. The power of the Whips rests largely in the ability to offer or withhold advancement as a Minister or for plum committee posts. I would expect more Commons rebellions, more Government defeats and possibly some MPs deciding to cross the floor to make their protest against Gordon Brown’s lack of leadership. The whole situation becomes a vicious cycle as was learned by the Conservatives in the run up to 1997.
Since a percentage of the MPs retiring will probably be in “safe” seats in the North and Scotland, that may also help the Lib Dems and SNP. However, the Conservatives are likely to gain the most as they are the challengers in a swathe of marginal seats in the Midlands and South of England.
I would suggest that anyone that bets on these things reduces the number of likely Labour seats and increases the consequent Conservative majority in their betting.