Tomorrow’s Observer carries an interview with Sarah Teather in which she says that she will not defend her Brent Central seat in 2015, citing concerns about immigration policy.
In a blow to Clegg a week before his party gathers for its annual conference in Glasgow, Teather said his tougher approach to immigration – including a plan for some immigrants to pay a £1,000 deposit when applying for visas – left her feeling so “desolate” and “catastrophically depressed” that she was unable even to confront him over the issue. “It was an absolutely black moment. I couldn’t even move from my seat when I read it. I was so depressed I couldn’t even be angry. I was utterly desolate,” she says.
Announcing her decision to turn her back on frontline politics in an interview with the Observer, she adds that “something broke” in her when the Lib Dems responded to public concern about the cost of welfare by backing a government cap on benefits.
She also added that she had been upset by the way in which the vote on Syria had been handled.
Teather attracted much criticism for voting against same sex marriage earlier this year. On the other hand, she has been a powerful advocate for those caught up in the immigration and asylum system.
She has represented her Brent seat since a spectacular by-election win in the wake of the Iraq war in 2003.
We will update this post if there are any developments this evening.
This is Sarah’s statement which has appeared on her website:
In just over a week’s time, I shall reach the tenth anniversary of my election to Parliament in the Brent East by-election. I took some time off this summer and found myself reflecting a great deal on the last ten years.
It has been an enormous privilege to serve as an MP in Brent. Indeed, for me personally, so much of the last decade has been both rich and surprising. I am not sure that I would ever have expected to be elected so young, and I certainly never expected that I would have had the opportunity to serve in Government.
The greatest privilege of my work both as a constituency MP and as a Minister has been the gift of being able to share in the private joys and struggles of so many people’s lives – many different from one another and very different from my own. I shall always be inspired by the profound courage and dignity I have witnessed in people I have worked with, often in the face of the most extraordinary difficulties.
Of all my parliamentary work, the campaign I remain most proud of is the campaign to get my constituent released from Guantanamo Bay. I shall always count the moment my constituent walked back in through his own front door and picked up his five year-old daughter for the first time in her life as one of the most precious of my life.
In Government, the moment I count as my proudest is the one where I listened to Nick Clegg announce our intention to end the routine detention of children in the immigration system – something I worked hard to deliver, in what, at times, felt an almost insurmountable battle with the Home Office. I feel humbled too to have been able to play my part in delivering the pupil premium to schools and to extend free early education to two year olds, and perhaps the work dearest to my heart, that of reforming the system of support for children with special educational needs.
There have been so many rewards to this work — too many to list here. But having taken the summer to reflect on the future, I feel now that at the General Election, the right time will be right for me to step aside. I wanted to explain why I have decided not to seek re-election in 2015.
I first joined the party almost exactly twenty years ago, during fresher’s week at university. It was then — and still is now – absolutely inconceivable that I could ever join any other political party. As with most party members, there have always been a few issues where I have disagreed with party policy. But over the last three years, what has been difficult is that policy has moved in some of the issues that ground my own personal sense of political vocation – that of working with and serving the most vulnerable members of society. I have disagreed with both Government and official party lines on a whole range of welfare and immigration policies, and those differences have been getting larger rather than smaller. Disagreements with the party on other areas of policy I have always felt could be managed, but these things are just core to my own sense of calling to politics. I have tried hard to balance my own desire to truthfully fight for what I believe on these issues with the very real loyalty and friendship I feel to party colleagues, but that has created intense pressure, and at times left me very tired. I don’t think it is sustainable for me personally to continue to try and do that in the long term.
I want to reassure people in Brent that I shall continue to work very hard to represent them over the next 18 months until the next General Election. My constituency office will remain open five days a week, just as it has always been. I shall be out campaigning for the local elections with my local LibDem team over the forthcoming months and will campaign to get my Liberal Democrat successor elected to Parliament in the General Election. In Parliament I shall continue with my work as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and will carry on making the case for a fair and humane immigration system as Parliament considers a new immigration bill in the coming months.
I hope that I have been able to support and represent the people of Brent well as their MP, but I feel rich beyond measure to have been able to do this work here. I shall always count myself indebted to those who gave me this opportunity to serve – to the thousands of constituents who voted for me and to the many Liberal Democrat supporters and members who campaigned and walked the streets for me over three elections. I hope that, over the last 10 years, I have at least gone some way in repaying the faith that so many have shown in me.
I have had a bit of time to get used to the idea of a Commons without Malcolm Bruce’s wisdom and experience. Losing such a significant voice for the most vulnerable in our society in Sarah is another blow. We are losing too many of our best people.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings