What happens to politicians who have lost political office or to those who left voluntarily? In the last elections in the Cayman Islands, there were nineteen winners, but many more ‘losers.’ In the May 10, 2017 Bahamian elections, the ruling party, the Progressive Liberal Party, only managed to win four seats to the Free National Movement’s thirty-five. Former Prime Minister Perry Christie even lost his own seat that he had held for forty years. He lost to a young newcomer to politics. In the May 24, 2018 elections in Barbados, Mia Mottley, leader of the Barbados Labour Party, won all thirty seats in the House of Assembly. In the elections held in the British Virgin Islands on July 25 this year, the Virgin Islands Party won eight of the thirteen seats. It was reported that the ruling National Democratic Party won only three. The leader of this party, Myron Walwyn lost his seat. As much as I can imagine the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat must be quite a challenge for those who loose.
In the Jamaican elections of February 25, 2016, then seventy year old Prime Minister Portia Simpson of the ruling People’s National Party, lost to the Jamaica Labour Party which won thirty-two of the sixty-three seats. This later increased to thirty-three in a by-election held on October 30, 2017. After serving as a member of Parliament for a continuous forty-one years, the former Prime Minister seemed to have struggled to reach the decision to move on, handing leadership to her colleague, Dr. Peter Phillip.
When those in politics loose, how do they deal with their sense of loss? Does it matter to anyone other than those immediately affected?
We certainly expect our political leaders to be completely dedicated to the concerns of their people and that they must be continually thinking about improving the conditions of citizens. We expect our elected politicians to be always ‘switched on’ and to feel the responsibility for their electorate day and night.
However, how do they cope when they lose political office? What impact can this have on them and their families?
Research on this subject, published by The Open University Business School (OUBS) reveals that MPs and council leaders in Britain, who were leaving political office, faced personal and professional conflicts.
The report, ‘Losing Political Office’ drew on interviews with current and former MPs and council leaders from the UK. The former politicians included both those who had chosen to leave office and those who had been electorally defeated.
The study says that most legislators who were leaving office had profound difficulties adjusting to their new situation. For some, there was a sense of ‘dislocation and grief at the loss of office.’ One MP described it thus: ‘It was like bereavement, and it was, but there was no funeral.’ Another, ‘I felt as though I was losing part of myself.’
Others felt as if they were being avoided like ‘rotting fish.’
For others though, leaving political office brought much relief – especially the thought of no longer being in parliament.
A similar study, ‘ Life after Losing or Leaving: The experience of former members of Parliament, co-authored by Professor Kevin Theakston, Dr Ed. Gouge and Dr Victoria Honeyman of the School of Politics and International Studies, ‘Found some former MPs struggled to find work and many earned less after leaving the House of Commons. Around half of those who did not retire voluntarily from the Commons said it had taken three to six months to find a new job. Just one fifth said they were able to find work immediately or almost immediately. One in seven took over a year to find employment.’
The researchers explain that ‘The report provides important new evidence about the social and psychological effects and consequences of being defeated in an election or retiring from Parliament. Some 60% of respondents had retired voluntarily while 40% had been defeated at a general election. Two fifths said they were making less money than when in Parliament, with one fifth earning "about the same". One third said they were financially better off after losing their seats or standing down.’
‘The report also found that many had difficulty adapting to life in the outside world, and felt isolated from the political party to which they had devoted much of their lives. Just over a quarter of former MPs said that they were able to return to the career or employment they had before entering the House of Commons. But a third said they were not able to pick up their former careers or jobs.’
The researchers report that ,’ One third of the MPs who left Parliament as a result of losing an election had not expected to lose, according to the report's findings. One MP who was defeated in the 2005 election described it as feeling like being "cut off at the knees".
‘Many former MPs miss not being at the centre of British politics. One said: "I would wake up in the morning, listen to the radio, and form views on the issues of the day and then I realized that no one wanted to know what I thought".’
Life after Politics - how Veteran ex-politicians can continue with Nation-Building
In Caribbean democracies, as elsewhere, some members of the legislature leave politics after being defeated in an election, while some retire, or in a number of cases saw their seats disappear in a boundary change. A minority chose to leave 'early' to move on and start a new career.
Understandably, many former politicians, younger or otherwise, leave and return to a professional career outside of political office. This is especially in cases when they entered politics having already had a professional career.
But the question often posed by observers is, why do some who have spent a lifetime in the political arena, making significant contributions to national development, in the twilight of their lives, desire to re-enter mainstream politics?
There is something extraordinary, no doubt about political office that make many who leave, even after decades at the highest levels of power, want to return after a some years out of the political limelight.
Take the example of John Campton, former Prime Minister of St. Lucia and founder of the St. Lucia National Labour Union. It was Campton who took St. Lucia into independence in 1979. After being central to St. Lucian politics for some forty years, he passed leadership to Vaughan Lewis, former Director of the Organization of Easter Caribbean States (OECS). Lewis lost the 1997 elections in St. Lucia winning only one seat in the seventeen seat St. Lucia parliament.
Not content to play a different role, at 82, Sir John Campton re-entered the political fray and his UWP won the 2006 elections, winning 11 to 6.
Shortly after being in power, he suffered a series of mild strokes and died in September 2007.
Many ways to build a Nation
An unpopular truth is that after a full and long life in politics, it may be better not to renter.
For one, the former politician, after some many years out, may be underestimating how much things have changed.
But she should also ask herself the question: Do I have the physical energy to do the kind of work necessary to win a seat, or having won, the kind of hard work needed to make a difference at that level? On most occasions, the answer should be NO.
The desire by the political veteran to re-enter electoral politics may be because he or she does not fully appreciate the valuable contribution that he or she can make to nation building outside of the political arena.
The truth is that there are many ways to build a nation.
An underestimated but valuable contribution is writing. Writing a book on reflecting on one’s life, contribution, thoughts, and ideas can have a lasting impact on generations to come. Unfortunately, we have not fully become the reading society that values these things, but this activity by former politicians would help to change this.
There are always opportunities to nurture and advice young people who want to enter politics and to do many other things. Here, the advice and wisdom of veteran politicians can be invaluable.
For those academically qualified, opportunities for teaching, especially at the tertiary level, are an ideal way to impact the next generations. Imagine how insightful lectures can be when they are immersed with real life experiences given by persons who have been at the top of the political game. They know first-hand the challenges of governance and the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction when policies work for the progress of the society and the reasons why, sometimes, the opposite happens.
There is the option to begin a think tank or being part of one or starting or leading community projects.
There are multiple ways, many not mentioned here, in which the talents and skills of former politicians can be used to benefit and assist in nation-building.
Re-entering politics is not always the best idea.