It’s hard being an MP, but it’s even harder when you have to stop being one.” So says Elizabeth Peacock, chair of the Association of Former Members of Parliament. She served as an MP for the West Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen between 1983 and 1997, and, when it was all over, was at a total loss about what to do. So she formed an association.
‘Well, actually, I was sort of recruited;’ she tells Mace. “I was at a gathering at the Speaker’s house, and someone was saying, very loudly: We need a woman from the north who’s a Conservative; and his companion said: Well, there aren’t any:” Peacock overheard and piped up: ‘Well, sir, yes there are – I am one:’
She has been spearheading the association, which now has a membership of over 400 – including three former prime ministers – ever since. It takes a special type of person to want to be an MP, and these ex-politicos make up a colourful crowd. Here are some examples of the characters you might find at one of their quarterly gatherings:
1. Jonathan Aitken
Convicted of perjury after telling a lie under oath in a libel action case, Jonathan Aitken’s 23 years as an MP – and three years as a cabinet minister – came to an abrupt end in 1999. Aitken found God during his seven months in prison, where he began reading the Bible. Upon his release, he studied theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. Aitken is now a part-time prison chaplain at HMP Pentonville. He describes his career as “decades of climbing downwards and falling upwards”.
2. Lembit Öpik
Former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Lembit Öpik is one of only a handful of British figures recognised in both D-list celebrity culture and politics. After losing his seat in 2010 – a fiasco that Öpik describes as going “from financial hero to zero” – he became a contestant on !TV’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, a place he was no doubt offered as a result of his high-profile relationship with Gabriela Irimia, one half of pop duo The Cheeky Girls.
Öpik became director of communications and public affairs for the Motorcycle Action Group in 2013. In June 2017, he celebrated the birth of his daughter with girlfriend Sabina Vankova and made headlines when Vankova ended their relationship via Twitter less than six months later. The couple appeared to reconcile, but speaking to the Daily Mail in April 2020, Vankova confirmed that they were separating for good.
In 2018, Öpik was elected as chairman of Asgardia’s parliament, a micronation formed by a group of people who have collectively launched a satellite named Asgardia-1 into orbit with a view to eventually settling on the moon. Elsewhere, Öpik has been sporadically presenting the BBC Radio Kent mid-morning show since April 2015.
3. Luciana Berger
For someone under the age of 40, Luciana Berger has had a long and varied career in public life. She first came to attention in 2005, when she was a National Union of Students officer and rumoured to be dating Euan Blair while his father was prime minister. She was selected as Labour’s candidate for Liverpool Wavertree in 2010.
Berger was one of the seven Labour MPs who left the party in February 2019 over dissatisfaction with leadership, anti-Semitism and Labour’s management of EU withdrawal. With four former Conservative MPs, they formed The Independent Group, which later became Change UK. In September 2019, Berger joined the Liberal Democrats and ran as their candidate in Finchley and Golders Green in the 2019 general election, finishing second.
In July 2020, Berger announced she was joining Edelman UK, a communications firm, as managing director of advocacy and public affairs. She tweeted her satisfaction, writing: “I have a fantastic team and I get to campaign all day long:’ Her appointment as chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance was announced in September 2020.