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Former work and pensions secretary Chloe Smith and William Wragg, who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, have both announced they will not stand at the next general election.
The Conservative Party’s campaign headquarters has given sitting MPs up until Dec. 5 to announce if they will be standing again and it has been reported that up to 80 might quit, seeking better prospects and job security in the private sector.
The latest opinion poll on YouGov has the Conservatives on 25 percent, a long way behind Labour on 48 percent which, if an election were to be held this week, would result in a landslide victory for the opposition.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could wait until January 2025 at the latest to hold an election, but with the country in recession, many Tory MPs privately fear they will lose their seats.
Smith, who was appointed to the work and pensions secretary role by former Prime Minister Liz Truss in September but lost her Cabinet job last month, has been MP for Norwich North since 2009.
She had a majority of 4,738 but could easily lose the seat if Labour perform strongly at the next election.
Smith, who is only 40, wrote on Twitter: “I hope I’ve been able to make a difference, locally and nationally. In 2024, after 15 years of service, it will be the right time to step back, for me and my young family.”
Smith was praised as “straightforward and honest” by Labour MP Rosie Cooper with whom she worked on getting a British Sign Language Act on the statute books.
Wragg has held the Hazel Grove constituency, in the affluent suburbs of Greater Manchester, since 2015 and has a majority of 4,423, but the Liberal Democrats are expected to make it one of their top targets at the next election.
Wragg wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “It is a privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Hazel Grove. I have made the decision not to stand at the next election. I shall continue to represent constituents to the best of my ability in the meantime and thank everyone for their wonderful support over the years.”
Political journalist and author, Michael Crick, wrote on Twitter: “Amazing. Wragg is only 34 and he’s quitting Parliament when he’s already chair of the Public Affairs Select Cttee & a vice-chair of the 1922 committee.”
Wragg submitted a letter of no confidence in former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and called his position “untenable” back in January. He also demanded Truss resign after her mini-budget triggered turmoil on the financial markets.
The Conservative Party’s credibility has been battered by a summer and autumn of political and economic chaos with two prime ministers resigning, four chancellors of the Exchequer, and rising mortgage rates, which have added to a worsening cost-of-living crisis.
Sunak Facing Backbench Revolt Over Housing Plans
When Sunak became prime minister he promised “stability and unity” but his position within the party remains week and he is thought to have pulled a vote on the government’s house-building plans on Monday amid fears of a backbench revolt.
The government wants to pledge to build 300,000 homes a year but 50 backbenchers, including former Cabinet ministers, have signed an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill which would ban councils from taking house-building targets into account when deciding on planning applications.
Sunak warned his Cabinet on Tuesday that rising inflation, strikes, and growing NHS waiting lists pose a “challenging” winter for the government.
It remains to be seen whether it will rival the infamous “winter of discontent” in 1978/1979, which led to the defeat of Jim Callaghan’s Labour government.
The Tories won a landslide victory under Johnson in December 2019 as the “Get Brexit Done” slogan appealed to many Labour supporters in the so-called “red wall” constituencies who were frustrated by Parliament’s inability to approve a Brexit deal following the 2016 referendum vote.
But now that Brexit has been delivered many Tory MPs in those red wall seats fear being turfed out at the next election.
Those MPs include people like Alex Stafford in Rother Valley and others who were “paper candidates” given little or no chance of winning even by their own party machine.
Stafford wrote an article in the Catholic Herald recently about the demise of his alma mater at Oxford University, an issue that may not be a priority for many of the voters in his South Yorkshire constituency.
It remains to be seen whether Stafford and other red wall Tory MPs, such as Antony Higginbotham in Burnley, Holly Mumby-Croft in Scunthorpe, and Ian Levy in Blyth Valley, will fight the next election or try to find themselves more secure jobs.
One MP has already taken the plunge and switched sides. Christian Wakeford, who was elected as the Tory MP for Bury South in 2019, crossed the floor earlier this year and will fight the seat for Labour at the next election.
The Tories are also defending a number of their own “blue wall” seats in the southeast of England, which are vulnerable to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
In June 2021 the Liberal Democrats won one such seat, Chesham and Amersham, in a huge by-election shock.
PA Media contributed to this report.