‘Aggression, division and fears of a bleak future’ – Sir Norman Lamb reveals his reasons for quitting
PUBLISHED: 15:12 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:41 12 November 2019
Former North Norfolk MP Sir Norman Lamb has revealed the reasons behind him quitting after almost 19 years in parliament – and his fears for the future.
Sir Norman, who was knighted for his campaigning work on mental health issues, said: "I had a totally invigorating time at the Department of Health - a real sense of momentum, really driven and then suddenly it is gone. Coming out of government is really difficult.
"You are back on the outside just shouting. We also had a decimated parliamentary party, friends were gone, I had a failed leadership bid ... and then the referendum.
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"I am pro-European but I was uncomfortable with the party's position. We have become so polarised and everyone seems to be engaged in combat. With all those things together and my health issues I felt I needed to rediscover my mojo.
"I am very proud of the fact I have been an MP and particularly proud I have been an MP for North Norfolk. I feel I built up a special bond with the people of North Norfolk there has been a immense amount of kindness.
"I have been overwhelmed with the responses I have got since I said I was standing down."
But Sir Norman - who suffered a stroke last year and has also recently had a pacemaker fitted - says he is very concerned about the future of British politics which he thinks is getting "more aggressive".
"At the moment it feels so polarised and nasty and social media has had a lot to do with it. It plays into how politicians behave. So you can speak in the House of Commons and then look to clip something you said to share online. And you know the harder and stronger the language used the more likes you will get - so all of the incentives are to be more aggressive.
"It drives bad behaviour by politicians. And then other people also engage in aggressive behaviour. I am fortunate that I don't get at lot of abuse like some politicians do.
"The behaviour of some people on social media frightens some MPs. That then impacts on their willingness to take a stand on things."
And he fears things could get even worse: "Is this a cycle? Will we go back to a kinder, gentler and more rational politics or is this a continuing trend?
"I hope I am wrong but my worry is that this will continue. I don't see any reason why it will go back. I hope this is not the case but it may be that something awful shocks people into realising this is not a direction of travel we want to go down. I fear that for the foreseeable future we are likely to have more of this and then it impacts the type of people that want to stand as politicians.
"I am not speaking for myself as I will let others judge, but there are a lot of good people standing down this time. A lot of MPs really don't want to suffer the abuse.
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"They have young families and it has a big impact on your family. Imagine if you have children at school and you are getting death threats ... that must be terrifying if you are a child or a teenager, I am tempted to say 'who in their right mind would go in to this now?'
"Politics is going to attract people who like a fight. People who are tribal. That is what I don't like, I have never felt tribal.
"Brexit has broken and divided families - it should not have done that. It is like people cannot disagree with each other in a civilised way anymore."
But Sir Norman is determined not to retire from the work he is most proud of even though he will no longer be in parliament. Instead he plans to continue to fight to raise the profile of mental health issues and improve care.
"The work I did as mental health minister is what I am most proud of," he said. "I go to collect my knighthood in February and the citation is about the work I did on mental health.
"People have been generous in recognising I have raised the profile of mental health but there were some particular initiatives we took - we introduced the first waiting times standard in mental health. That is making a difference on the ground across the country. I felt there was a real momentum building with mental health - that has somewhat slipped. But I will keep on fighting."
"All those people who don't have the money, who don't have the voice - they drive me on. A big element of my work as an MP has been trying to give a voice to the voiceless."
To find out more about the Sir Norman Lamb Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund click here