Advice to Ex-MPs

My sympathies to every MP who lost their seat, except George Galloway, over whose loss I rejoice with all my heart.

When I resigned my seat, for reasons I will never be able to be wholly forthcoming about, the Labour supporter and rugby legend Brian Moore reached out to me on Twitter and advised me to get counseling for the traumatic loss. He compared it to the effect on athletes after their careers finish, after they win, or lose, an Olympic medal say, and then life reverts to normal.

For all MPs, Westminster is a high-stress, high-octane environment. It is full of hard work and excitement. Life there is lived on the edge. You devote your life to public service, the public detest you, and then you lose your seat and for many, a great chunk of your life’s significance in the public eye. In that way, this post could be for anybody who loses a big job, a sports career, or other professional role. [Edited to add – the same applies to MPs staff who lose their jobs, to councillors and several police officers and servicemen/women have tweeted to say it applies to them too – even losing candidates who are no longer PPCs].

For the first year after resigning I thought I was cracking up*. No wonder how much I talked to myself, was sensible and got on with life, my subconscious had other ideas; I had a Parliament-related dream almost every night for a year. It was pretty awful.

In the end, the way I put it behind me was twofold. Firstly, and most importantly, I was able to replace Parliament with another job that is hugely significant to me and which has a component of mission. That’s the single biggest lesson. Secondly, I rededicated myself to political and Conservative activism, on Twitter, with opinion columns, and with this blog which, in the case of Mr. Galloway, I believe has had some impact. I truly flung myself at the campaign and targeted effort on Bradford West (as a feminist and principled case) and South Thanet. If you are Labour or a Tory or a LibDem you are likely a true believer. Remain a true believer and get to work.

However there are also short-term things you can do, and here’s what I think ex-colleagues ought to do for themselves now, in order.

1. Acknowledge that the full impact of this loss will not hit you for several months.

2. Firstly, get the tasks out of the way that need doing – write to your team and thank them all.

3. If possible, take a short break away with friends or a loved one.

4. Do not ruminate. You get more of what you focus on. Ask yourself constantly ‘What’s next for me?’ and have several answers. It will be a long five years til the next election. Do not think in terms now of another seat, but a different job and role. [Adding – psychologically, fixating on a new seat, or other identical role to the one you just lost, is really an attempt to wind back the clock and “fix” what just happened – that cannot be done, so a new role at least for a year or so is wise].

5. Acknowledge you will be prone to depression. The way to combat this is to spend a lot of time outside, especially as the summer comes up. Take up meditation, I recommend the app “Simply Being” here. The effects of meditation, which is 20 minutes clearing the mind of thoughts, are medically proven. Go for walks in green spaces; the countryside, and parks. There are benefits to losing your seat. You have time for yourself, your family, your friends.

6. Take up an exercise programme however moderate. Exercise diminishes stress and produces endorphins not just in the moment, but long-term. It is clinically effective for mild to moderate depression and is a preventative of depression. As you may develop depression it is VERY important to start this at once. Go for a brisk walk or a jog tomorrow and repeat every day, if physically able to do so. You will lose weight, look better and your self-esteem will improve and this will have a knock-on effect of further moderating any sadness.

7. Alcohol is a depressant. Stay away from cheap joy. Try very hard to go for a dry May-June while you regroup. [Adding – as you will be sad you will be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse – that will stop you exercising and being in the sunlight – stay well clear for a month or so] See a therapist if you need to, too.

8. See a lot of comedies. Go to museums, enjoy yourself.

9. Reinvention of the physical self must however be matched with the sensible realization that you will never get over it until you have something as good or better in your life. Look for a job, a charity, a role, that  can replace the adrenaline and octane of Parliament. We are all Type A. Don’t kid yourselves on that one.

10. Tell yourself the truth – you did something important in your life and the only ones who never suffer a defeat are those who never join the field of battle. You should be proud of your public service, and whether you stand again or not in the future, these summer days will not come your way again, nor these fallow years. Do not waste them – go and build a new world and climb a new mountain. We are more than what we do. Be more than your job; be a person and tie your self-esteem to your efforts, not the results of your efforts. You can control the former, not the latter.

PS – I was deadly serious about the magic bullet of exercise, fresh air and green spaces. One of the easiest wins, most in your own control, and implementable instantly, is to get on the scales and then go build a better, stronger, healthier body. New achievements are the antidote to ruminating and looking back. I might add that while you pursue a big new job, which takes time, you can also usefully add other achievements such as learning a language which is an immediate challenge and gives you something to pursue. I loved learning German and Italian with Pimsleur, which are half hour a day audio lessons on iTunes that test you as you listen. Walk in the park while learning French – it gives you a sense of power and achievement right away; after one big role you need new challenges and goals while you try to land the next one.

 

* “cracking up” here relates to my persistent dreams rather than my mental health in general. I was able to stave off depression by flinging myself into exercise and fitness in New York as I advise in this blog. Once you have become depressed it is hard to get out and exercise, so the key thing is to get going before it hits.

24 comments

  1. Roger Witte · May 10, 2015

    Gosh that all sounds like good advice. I have never been an MP but I have experienced a couple of surprise job losses for reasons beyond my control. I would add one more : Network. You know lots of people. You know “how things work”. These are resources you can and should use to find the next challenge/

    • louisemensch · May 10, 2015

      Yes I completely agree. You should be ambitious. It will take a while to settle on a new role though and in the interim you should get out there to the park and jog, and be as often as you can in green spaces. the photo on this blog I took yesterday morning at my parents’ in Sussex. Britain is stunning right now, get out to enjoy it, don’t sit around 🙂

  2. William Mills · May 10, 2015

    Really good advice. Sounds like it comes from the heart. I agree with the exercise bit.

  3. Rachel Lucas · May 10, 2015

    Great advice for anyone facing or coping with a major life change, Louise…thrilled about the Galloway result here too!!

  4. Anne Wareham (@AnneWareham) · May 10, 2015

    Yes – it is very hard. I lost a career due to illness and that can and did limit the possibilities for replacing the much loved job. Hard to suddenly become no-one, which was an effect exaggerated by moving. I don’t know what I’d add except to emphasise some feeling of sympathy for yourself, which is not self pity and know that you are not alone with the difficulties and pain. Then do what you can to find a way back into something worth while and challenging.

    • louisemensch · May 10, 2015

      I agree Anne. I should perhaps have said don’t kid yourself by saying foolish things like “best thing that ever happened to me” and suchlike that convince nobody, yourself included. It is as you say, OK to be sad and mourn. The task of the fighter is to reflect, regroup and reinvent, so natural sadness does not become depression.

  5. Ian Seed · May 10, 2015

    Also take a paid job with Rupert Murdoch having given him SUCH A HARD TIME on the select committe

    • nigelpwsmith · May 10, 2015

      Low blow Ian. Louise did not work directly for Mr Murdoch. She’s a columnist for a paper, or an ex-politician the media can refer to. Louise has never compromised her beliefs and given anyone a hard time if they deserved it. Did you not see the Channel 4 programme on Election night?! I was howling with laughter at Louise’s honest appraisal of her former colleagues and equally sad that some very fine MPs lost their seat. I do hope that they come back to the House as they have a lot to offer the nation.

      • Curly_Kit_Kat · May 13, 2015

        I agree with you Ian.

    • Anonymous · May 10, 2015

      I certainly did give him a hard time, that was my job. There was not a shred of evidence to tie Mr. Murdoch to any wrongdoing and that was the finding of every Conservative on the committee. He is a great entrepreneur and businessman and I couldn’t be prouder to work at News Corporation.

      • Ian Seed · May 11, 2015

        That’s funny. All I remember was you trying to divert the blame on to Piers Morgan in the middle of your extremely long winded “questions” (not that I disapprove of him getting dragged in to be fair – but it was hardly appropritae seeing he wasn’t there).

        Funny that all the Conservative MPs would say Murdoch was blameless isn’t it? And do you maintain there was no evidence linking JAMES Murdoch to the scandal? Let me guess your answer to that.

  6. Enjoyed the article Louise great advice not just for Ex MP’s but all who find themselves at a loose end after a focused and challenging career.

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  9. the1beard · May 11, 2015

    I would MASSIVELY advise everyone should read .. Eckhart Tolle “A new Earth” will give balance and help the possibility of depression.

  10. the1beard · May 11, 2015
  11. Stuart Smith · May 11, 2015

    I do hope they suffer, suffer in the way I / we did in the way when they passed laws that destroyed our lives, mainly the labour dross of society, the hypocrites of the counrty.
    I do hope it hurts for years.

  12. groundlevelscam · May 11, 2015

    According to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the expenses watchdog, departing MPs are entitled to a resettlement allowance, capped at £33,500, so long as they have been an MP for at least six years.
    They are also able to claim a winding up allowance of up to £57,000 for former London MPs, and up to £53,000 for those who represented a constituency outside of the capital.

    So up-to £90,500….not once have I left a job been given such a nice ‘goodbye’ packet…. some nurses might make that in a decade. MP’s have it very good.. simples.

    • louisemensch · May 11, 2015

      the winding-up allowance isn’t for the MPs. It’s for doing things like paying your staff salaries for their statutory notice period, paying office costs. Anything left goes back to the treasury. As to the resettlement allowance, no MP elected in 2010 will receive it – six years minimum.

      So your figures are not correct.

      • groundlevelscam · May 11, 2015

        Thanks for the response – you do realise I got these figures directly from the BBC?!? So it isn’t MY figures but I suggest you complain to the BBC as I surprisingly don’t have the remit to find the sensitive data for myself.

        P.S If an MP was elected before 2010 (which a lot have) then they would receive this resettlement allowance – is this correct?

        P.P.S I love the dress

    • SJR · May 12, 2015

      Spare a thought then for departing PPCs in marginal seats who have spent years fighting for what they believe in with no pay, at a huge cost in terms of personal finances, time with family and career progression, who get no severance pay at all. Many had to give up jobs in the final weeks and months and are now unemployed and feeling as though 2-3 years of their life has just been wasted.

      I would not wish that on anyone from any party (except perhaps, as Louise says, Galloway)

  13. Big Matt · May 11, 2015

    Jolly good advice, not just in terms of parliamentary loss, but loss in general. I would suggest that, from a psychiatric viewpoint, that it is not Depression per se, but depressive symptoms arising from adjustment. Symptoms of a depressive nature are very common at times of loss and negative life events, to the point where it is ‘normal’, and resolution, in line with what you have helpfully suggested as well as other psychological boosters and ultimate ‘acceptance’ (adjustment). Depression, on the other hand, is not generally experienced as a response to negative life events. Depressive symptoms resulting from adjustment are unlikely to respond favourably to anti-depressants, either.

    I apologise if that was long winded, and somewhat pedantic.

    I would like to say, FINALLY, that I very much doubt many have given thought to adjustment difficulties experienced by those who have lost their seat, and particularly of those who may not have been most respected – I imagine their negative experience is only just beginning.

  14. Big Matt · May 11, 2015

    Just a figure that caught my eye: £90500 – some nurses might make that in a decade. That would be £9050 per year. I’m sure even nurses working part-time would make more than this. I believe starting wage in the NHS for band 5 (newly qualified) is £21000ish full-time, with annual increments. I know nurses (who work incredibly hard in unforgiving, stressful and physically and emotionally draining environments, and work a ridiculous number of hours) who earn £90500+ per year.

    • groundlevelscam · May 11, 2015

      My girlfriend is a part-time nurse….. she doesn’t earn this.

      P.S Send me links to the £90k roles.. the lazy cow can apply for one of them Nursing roles!

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