James Forsyth James Forsyth

Why Tories are taking early retirement

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Conservative party strategists face nervous days ahead as they wait to see how many Tory MPs will announce they are standing down at the next election. The last two general elections – 2017 and 2019 – were called unexpectedly in the middle of parliament, meaning MPs had next to no time to decide whether or not they were going to stand. This time, with no real prospect of a snap election before 2024, a dozen Tory MPs have already said they won’t fight the next general election. It would be a surprise if more didn’t join them in the coming days, although the mass departures that were predicted a few weeks ago have not yet come to pass ahead of Monday’s deadline.  

The MPs who choose not to stand in 2024 will cause a headache for Conservative Campaign Headquarters because the party will have less of an incumbency advantage in these seats. A popular local MP can be worth a few thousand votes, which can be vital in a tight election. In 2015, the Tories particularly benefitted from the name recognition and job approval of those elected for the first time in 2010. It also means that, for the next two years, the MPs who have announced they are standing down will be more difficult to whip. 

One of the striking things about the Tory retirees is how young some of them are. Their average age is below 50, which is 20 years younger than their Labour equivalents. Chloe Smith, the former welfare secretary, was just 27 when she won her seat in a by-election in 2009, which made her the youngest MP in the House at the time. She is retiring, having fought the seat five times, had children during her time as an MP, survived breast cancer and served in five ministerial jobs.

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