Stephen Dorrell MP will stand down after 35 years. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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Tory MP and former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell to stand down after 35 years

The MP for Charnwood Stephen Dorell has announced that he will stand down as an MP at the general election, after accepting a role with accountancy firm KPMG as a health policy consultant.

The Tory MP for Charnwood and former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell has announced that he will stand down as an MP next May. He has been an MP since 1979, so will have served 35 years in parliament by the general election. He will take a job as a health policy consultant with KPMG, a bit accountancy and consultancy firm.

Dorrell stood down from his position as Health Select Committee chair in June, saying he wanted to approach the healthcare debate from a "less overtly political position". He had chaired the committee since 2010, and was respected among MPs as an authentic scrutinising voice, and someone who knew the health brief very well.

I heard from an MP close to Dorrell at the time that this "less overtly political position" was "code for helping to shape policy". And indeed there were rumours in Westminster that Dorrell was gearing up for being made Health Secretary in the next government reshuffle. After all, he had already served in this position under John Major. However, it turns out he's now taking his desire for influence over health policy out of parliament altogether.

PoliticsHome quotes his resignation letter, in which he refers to his decision as a "bitter sweet moment":

Although I have been a strong supporter of the Coalition, I strongly believe that a majority Conservative Government offers our country the best prospect of building on the achievements of the Coalition during this Parliament.

I interviewed him back in March last year, and asked him his assessment of where David Cameron and his party were, electorally and ideologically. His reply remains poignant:

It was said to me recently that the Conservative Party has spent the last few years fighting UKIP and losing to the Liberals. I think that’s a proposition that we’d do well to reflect on.

It's worth noting that Dorrell is another in a line of the high-profile modern-day equivalent of Tory "wets" (he describes himself as a “a liberal in the 19th-century sense of the word”) to be leaving come the election. Others include David Willetts, Ken Clarke and Greg Barker.


Update 14.01

Here is his resignation letter, reported in the Leicester Mercury:

I am writing to inform you that I have, with considerable regret, decided that my name should not go forward as the Conservative Party Candidate for the Charnwood constituency in next year’s General Election.

As you know, I was very grateful to the association for readopting me as its prospective candidate earlier this year and I do therefore regret that I have since changed my mind.

I have done so primarily because I have been offered the opportunity to work with KPMG in a senior role supporting their Health and Public Service consultancy practice both in the UK and overseas.

I have decided in consultation with my family that this role represents a great opportunity to carry forward the commitment to improve public services which has been a major part of my life in politics.

Unfortunately, I have also concluded that it is incompatible with seeking re-election to the House of Commons.

I shall of course continue to serve as the MP for Charnwood for the remainder of this Parliament, and I shall continue to campaign for the return of a majority Conservative Government, with David Cameron as Prime Minister, in the General Election.

Although I have been a strong supporter of the Coalition, I strongly believe that a majority Conservative Government offers our country the best prospect of building on the achievements of the Coalition during this Parliament.

This is a bitter sweet moment.

While I look forward to working with KPMG, it has been an enormous privilege to serve in Parliament since May 1979, first as the MP for Loughborough and more recently as the MP for Charnwood. I shall always remain deeply grateful for the support I have received; I have formed many friendships which are very important to me and which I shall hope to maintain long after leaving the House of Commons.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser