No difficulty deciding what to write about this week. In the few days since I announced my decision that I wouldn’t stand for re-election in May it’s felt a bit like reading my own obituary!
It could never be an easy decision. I’ve loved being Horsham’s MP. The area has been my family home for nearly 20 years, and is where my children have grown up. I’ve seen so many changes. There have been significant housing developments, around Horsham, Southwater, Billingshurst and many other villages. We’ve seen Sun Alliance, previously the biggest employer in the area, merge and its head office move away. We’ve seen Novartis close down their Horsham operations.
But the town is more vibrant today than at any time I can remember. We have high employment. The town centre buzzes with activity and trade, and the new John Lewis development can only spur that on. For all the uncertainty that new development brings I’d rather we were an area that people were queuing up to come to rather than a backwater struggling to attract anyone at all.
So why retire from the House of Commons now? Well, I was first elected 32 years ago, when I was not quite 30. At the next election, in 2020, I’ll be nearly 67. I still feel full of energy and drive and enthusiasm; and I’d rather finish while that’s still the case, when people are saying ‘Must you go?’ rather than risking becoming tired and jaded and people saying ‘How much longer is he going to hang on?’
I said in my letter to the local Conservative chairman, Brad Watson, public service still exercises a strong appeal. I’m always uplifted by the way in which we’ve been able to attract into the Civil Service very talented and experienced people from the business world, willing to come and work for the public for a much lower salary than they could command in the private sector.
So what is that allure? Some of it is that you can get things done on a big scale – in central government we’re driving reform and change on a truly historic scale. Much of it is that people are patriotic, want their country to be successful and are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel to support that success.
For a minister in government both those factors matter.
But public service for an MP? As a senior minister you can come straight from taking really big decisions on a national scale to your constituency surgery dealing with individual citizens’ problems that can seem small by comparison.
But they may be huge for that person and that family. And being able to help resolve that problem can be the biggest thing you do as an MP.
It’s a privilege to be able to carry out that public service, and it’s what I’ll miss most.