Westminster never felt like home - former Norwich MP Simon Wright reflects on life after politics
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Former Norwich South MP Simon Wright was one of many Liberal Democrats to lose their seats at the General Election. He talked to Annabelle Dickson about life after politics
Many adjectives have been used to describe the early hours of May 8.
Simon Wright, one of the many MPs whose political careers came to an abrupt halt, makes no pretence of how he felt; it was a night of 'unmitigated despair'.
While national and local polls had consistently suggested he would have to find another job after May, he still believed until the result was declared, as dawn broke over Norwich, that he had a chance.
It was not to be.
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Practicalities dictate that you cannot just run away, however much you would like to.
Defeated MPs have to be out of their offices almost immediately.
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There are years of files to sort and destroy (the new MP does not just take over the office), and, most painfully, loyal staff to make redundant and constituency casework to try to wind up amid the fog of despair.
Simon Wright was always one of the more measured members of Parliament.
And he is not bitter about his rejection at the hands of the voters of Norwich.
'A lot of people on a personal level may not have held a personal grudge against me, but could not bring themselves to support the Liberal Democrat party in 2015,' he said.
He is even charitable towards the Conservatives who so ruthlessly destroyed their junior coalition partner.
Some of moments he most looked forward to in Parliament were the cross-party select committees, and he was always pleased to work with other Norfolk MPs on local projects, he said.
His stint in Parliament was comparatively short, but as a small ruling party, he probably experienced things that longer servers would only dream of.
As aide to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, he sat in Cabinet, which he said were 'quite formal occasions'.
But he also enjoyed seeing how individual characters reacted –although, ever discreet, he would not dish the dirt.
He also saw the downside to the reality of the 'Westminster bubble'.
'The biggest shock for me is that in London you walk into the Palace of Westminster first thing and stay there until late at night. You are in a very particular environment with a very particular group of people
'The interaction while down there is with other MPs, researchers, lobbyists and journalists. They tend to come from similar backgrounds and have similar interests and similar perspectives of the wider world, and there are inherent risks to that.
'It is so important the MPs focus all their attention in getting out and meeting people outside the Westminster bubble, to get a rounded view of the world and not just a Westminster perspective,' he warned.
'When I was MP, I always enjoyed my Norfolk-based part of the week the most. I felt most at home in Norwich and Norfolk. However grandiose Westminster might seem at times, whatever opportunities there are provided by being part of the House of Commons in terms of bringing issues to national attention, it never felt like home in the way that Norfolk does.'
Which is why his new job at the helm of children's bereavement charity Nelson's Journey has been the perfect job.
The former teacher chose not to return to the challenges of the classroom, even though he never experienced behaviour there as bad as that of MPs at PMQs.
'After the first week of sorting things out, I thought I must really think about what to do next. I had all sorts of wise heads telling me to take a break for a few weeks, but I'm quite an impatient person and I knew I wanted to do something else.
'I wanted to do something relating to either young people or education, as it was my policy interest in Parliament.
'But I wanted to be in a community-facing role.
One of the best things about being an MP was working with people who were passionate about their own calling in their own communities. I wanted to be in an outside-facing position.
'When I started looking, I saw the Nelson's Journey vacancy.
'It was a charity I had dealings with as an MP. I knew they were doing fantastic work and I think it is the duty of society to help young people overcome their barriers, whatever form they may take.
'Bereavement is just one, but has a very severe impact on a child.'
Unlike the big beasts of the Liberal Democrats slain in the May blood-bath – the likes of Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and Bob Russell – he had age on his side.
'I have had some contact with some of my former colleagues. It is interesting to see the journey that others are going through.
'I do feel that I am in quite a fortunate position in the sense that I have had to look at another career change in life at a time when I am young enough to be able to do that.
'I have not spent so many years in Parliament as to be defined by that experience.' `
But will a return to frontline politics ever beckon?
At 35, he will never say never to anything, but he is clear on the issue at present: 'At the moment, that is a long way from my thinking.'