‘I had to be confident I’d find a job’: What happens next for defeated MPs

Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid
Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid have already repositioned themselves for life after Westminster

Of all the turbulent job markets in the world, MPs seeking employment after leaving the House of Commons this summer must be right up there. Browsing the LinkedIn profiles of the staggering number of senior MPs not seeking re-election in July is an eye-opening exercise in just how quickly they’re positioning themselves for life after politics. “Dominic Raab: Senior Strategic Adviser on Global Affairs at Appian Capital Advisory LLP” is one example. “Sajid Javid is currently a senior adviser to Centricus Partners LP” is another.

Indeed, with 158 MPs deciding to retire from front-line politics at this election, there’s a sense that many have been trying to get ahead of their soon-to-be ousted peers for months by leveraging any remaining power, authority or expertise they still have to snap up potentially lucrative roles, rather than waiting for the electorate to force the issue.

One Westminster insider described this new job market as “extremely tough”. Headhunters and corporate recruitment agencies are being approached by MPs and companies alike to build relationships and find roles that suit both parties.

“The way to think about any recruitment process – whether it’s concerning a politician or otherwise – is that they have to position themselves in a way that demonstrates commercial value to the client,” says Kadeem Houson from Kea Consultants, a boutique search firm operating in the alternative investment space who partner with both clients and candidates.

To protect their privacy, Houson is not about to tell The Telegraph exactly which politicians they’ve worked with. “It’s fair to say there’s a few at the moment, but it’s tended to be opportunistic rather than proactive,” he says.

According to the former MP (and now Telegraph columnist) Tom Harris being proactive isn’t necessarily the best strategy for job-seeking MPs. Harris lost his seat in 2015, and admits he really should have been panicking given he was potentially going to have to fill not just his salary, but that of his entire family given his wife worked in his office.

“I’d already logically prepared for that, because I knew we were going to lose for six months,” he remembers. “So I’d spoken to a lot of people who were giving me encouraging noises about future job prospects. I had gone to a couple of headhunters and given them my CV.

“But actually, it was a friend in the SNP who gave me some really good support and advice. To just take a pause and see what was out there. That there would be opportunities and to be confident that one would come up that would suit. But I didn’t feel entitled, far from it.”

‘There’s often a lot of sensitivity’

So what commercial value do soon to be ex-politicians have? There are several different ways that MPs on the job hunt can structure their CVs, says Houson. But the talents that most people suppose they’re hired for – lobbying and opening doors – isn’t, in his experience, their biggest asset.

“Actually, there’s often quite a lot of sensitivity from our clients around being associated with anyone of a political persuasion,” he says. “That can be a positive or negative reputationally, and some don’t want to be at the mercy of that.

“So what you do find is that it is less about how these people can open doors, and more about their skills in understanding what’s behind the doors once they are open – and advising what to do next. It’s about knowing the geopolitics or the economies in different industries.

“If one of my clients tried to cover a certain area or a certain geography, having someone who gets the general political system and even just the ‘done things’ in these places can be of real commercial value. That’s a skillset that can be assessed regardless of political persuasion.”

And that is an important point. Harris says what really worked for him was the cross-party relationships he’d built up in Parliament. After all, this is a Labour MP who ended up advising the Conservative Party on Scottish issues. “People did me favours and went the extra mile for me, and I remain so grateful for that,” he says. “But it helps if you can develop these personal relationships across the political spectrum – and certainly if you want to work in any kind of lobbying or public affairs field, you have to be able to convince these companies that there’s not going to be any hostility to you.”

‘Career politicians are less desirable’

The language companies are using in their high-profile decisions to hire MPs certainly speaks to a more collegiate set of work skills. It is telling how some parliamentarians are looking to add to the second, third or sometimes even fourth jobs they took on while in office. Whatever the view on whether second jobs for MPs should be permitted at all – and Harris says it’s “deeply illiberal” to restrict them – the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests makes for fascinating reading when it comes to what corporate entities think they can gain from MPs’ expertise.

Take Sir Brandon Lewis, the former justice secretary and Conservative Party chairman, as well as the soon to be ex-MP for Great Yarmouth. Last year, he held advisory roles at Thakeham Homes and the transportation infrastructure company FM Conway, alongside a consultancy job at Civitas Investment Management. He is also the chairman of the private equity firm LetterOne. All in all, says the register, £400,000 of income in one year.

All within the rules – for now – and plenty of MPs argue that allowing for second jobs brings a greater diversity of people, expertise and insight into the House of Commons. It is also worth reflecting that many MPs did have strong careers in the commercial world before entering politics. Javid worked at Deutsche Bank before entering Parliament; Raab was a lawyer in the City. “I would always say to someone at the start of their political career that being a lawyer first is a very good safety net,” laughs Harris.

Brandon Lewis
Sir Brandon Lewis currently earns £400,000 a year, including income outside Parliament - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

“On balance, the less desirable candidates are the people who haven’t done anything else except politics,” agrees Houson. “Someone who’s got a grounding in another area, whether it be pre, during or post-politics will have broader analytical skills and a background that can easily be repurposed or leveraged from their deep understanding of how the government and public sector operates.”

Talking of less desirable candidates, could the very public nature of their political roles become an issue at the interview stage? Another recruitment consultant speaking on condition of anonymity says someone like Matt Hancock might have to work harder than most to convince.

“There’s actually quite a lot of value in his CV,” she says. “His previous role as an economist at the Bank of England is one thing. For all the controversies and admitted failings, his experience at the heart of the pandemic response would be unrivalled, too.

“We talk theoretically about crisis management a lot of the time; here’s someone who lived and learned through the biggest crisis of all. It’s whether clients could get over the CCTV [the leaked footage of him kissing his now partner Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office] and the I’m A Celebrity stuff.”

Houson says prior reputation all depends on the risk appetite of the client hiring. “Any client naturally will have questions about the people they’re hiring, but that will be the case for anyone filling a very senior role, whether they’re a politician or not; they’re likely to have some kind of public profile and have commanded a higher level of scrutiny.”

Which often means politicians who want to make a success of this transition into the corporate world have to leave their public face behind. A public face that they may have actually rather enjoyed. That’s why some find public speaking a short-term fix while they work out what they want to do next.

Famously, Boris Johnson has earned millions of pounds since leaving office, essentially by being the most entertaining and charismatic version of himself at private events. You can book “the champion of democracy, freedom and free market capitalism” quite easily via the Harry Walker Agency.

But while one might expect Johnson to be good – or at least in demand – for this stuff, it was quite the revelation earlier this year that Theresa May’s eponymous company had also made millions from speaking engagements. Rehabilitating her image into a thoughtful commentator on the importance of public service and democracy as opposed to populism and power in politics has literally paid dividends.

Not everyone can say they were a “former prime minister”, though. The rest will have to call on all their CV building powers in the months to come. And talking of CVs, it was one line from Tom Harris’s early career that may have been instrumental in his post-parliamentary journey. He was a trained journalist who cut his teeth on Scottish regional newspapers before moving into political press office duties.

The Daily Telegraph were one of the first to offer me some work because there were so many interesting things happening in the Labour Party at that time,” he remembers. “And at around the same time, Dominic Cummings asked me to be the Scottish Director of Vote Leave – which meant I had some good relationships with most government ministers after that. And there have been non-executive jobs since then.”

And that pause after Parliament that Harris is so keen to recommend for any soon to be ex-MPs will be slightly easier this summer, too. This parliamentary session saw the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority doubling the paid “winding up” period for MPs leaving office to four months. It applies whether they’ve lost their seats or chosen not to stand.

“In any case, what you’d have to say is that politicians are very adept in dealing with change,” says Houson.

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