Senior Tories fear mass exodus from parliament as dozens of MPs set to quit

<span>Photograph: Imageplotter/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Imageplotter/Alamy

Senior ministers are expecting a “total clearout” of Tory MPs ahead of the next election, as party sources cited the experience of Boris Johnson’s premiership, the increasing stresses of the job and a continuing slump in the polls as reasons for a forthcoming bumper crop of departures.

More than 40 Conservative MPs have already announced they will step down at the next election – the most for a ruling party since the exodus of 100 Labour MPs ahead of the 2010 election in the wake of the expenses scandal and 13 years in government.

A senior party source said they were expecting “lots more” of the 352 Tory MPs to announce they were leaving as the election approaches. Insiders said the political chaos of recent years meant many had stayed in parliament much longer than they had intended. “There are loads more to come, there will be a total clearout,” said a senior party figure. “There are some who expected to go before now but held on because 2017 was a snap election and 2019 was exciting. This is the moment many will go.”

A mixture of new and long-serving MPs, as well as some who have held high office, are among those to have already announced their departures. They include former cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock, red wall MP Dehenna Davison and Eurosceptic veteran Bill Cash.

Departing Tory MPs who spoke to the Observer cited a whole range of reasons for deciding to leave Westminster. “You shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which being an MP has become not particularly pleasant,” said one. “The amount of abuse that’s thrown at us has increased, the conditions have become worse.”

Major changes in seat boundaries have persuaded many that now is the right time to step down. “If your seat changes by 50%, it’s a bit like starting again,” said one of the 41 Tory MPs set to stand down. One said colleagues had left because the Johnson administration had been “too much”. Another said that it was important to decide to leave well before the election to avoid the “glut of former MPs” all competing for similar jobs.

“It actually is harder for former colleagues to transition into the world of work, because the world of work has persuaded itself that MPs have some sort of separate and unique skill set that can’t be applied easily elsewhere,” said one. “There is a career penalty for entering parliament for many people.”

Another said there was simply a huge amount of exhaustion among MPs. “It’s been quite a demanding few years,” they said. “That will have accelerated some people’s decision in regards to when to leave. It’s been pretty full on since the referendum of 2016, the general election of 2017, the very difficult two years around Brexit and then obviously there was that moment of relief in 2019.

“But that lasted about 10 weeks and we went into the Covid pandemic – then the cost of living issues and Ukraine. I think people are exhausted.”

Some admitted that electoral gloom has been a factor. “There hasn’t been a huge amount of good news for the past few years, and things are difficult,” said a departing MP. “Part of it is the political cycle.” Another said: “Things probably just got a bit harder over the last few weeks, but I’ve been an optimist about the election. I certainly think it’s possible that we can win. But one has still got to accept that there is a significant possibility, or probability, that we won’t win. And while it might be that Labour doesn’t win an overall majority, opposition isn’t a very appealing thought.”

The pace of Westminster life has been so high in recent years that some MPs suggested they were simply ready for a new challenge.

Stephen McPartland, the departing MP for Stevenage, said: “I have had an amazing career in parliament, won four elections, served under five prime ministers – been part of a coalition, minority and majority governments, served as chairman of a select committee.

“After more than 13 years, I want to pursue a new career for the next 10 to 15 years and move back into the business, financial and consultancy world. I am excited about new challenges and delivering results in a different way.”