Sarah Olney on returning to normal life

The New Statesman is running an article titled “I’m very much out on my ear”: what it’s like becoming an ex-MP. It interviews a number of people who lost their seats, but the focus is heavily on Sarah Olney.

Apparently, Theresa May apologised to Tory MPs who lost in the debacle that was the June General Election.

While May was referring to her Conservative peers, losing a seat is an experience also familiar to Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. The former MP for Richmond Park made headlines by overturning Zac Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority in the December 2016 by-election – only to lose the seat by 45 votes six months later.

“I don’t get any money at all,” she says. “I got paid up to 8 June and then nothing. I don’t qualify for loss of office allowance or statutory redundancy because I wasn’t there for long enough. You have to have been there for at least two years.”

Olney, who intends to look for a new job after the summer holidays, describes herself as a “little bit cheated” by the snap election. “I was expecting – especially when we had a Fixed-term Parliaments Act – that parliament was going to last until 2020. So to suddenly find that it’s changed means that you don’t qualify for anything.”

There’s more about the difficulties in finding employment, but she also acknowledges the knock-on effect on the careers of the people she employed.

She describes the “frustration” of having to lay off her newly appointed staff. “I think one of the things I didn’t realise – and I wonder if most people don’t realise about being an MP – is you’re pretty much almost like a sole trader, and you have to set up everything from scratch,” she says. “You have to hire your own staff and you have to find your own office premises. There’s a lot of work involved in doing all of that, and I was only just getting to the end of that set-up phase.

“And then all of a sudden, a general election comes along and having just hired all these staff, the next thing I’m doing is sending them all redundancy letters.

So, will she stand again?

When asked if it was in her plans to re-stand for election, Olney was emphatic. “Yes. Yes, absolutely it is. It definitely is.” Referring to Goldsmith, she says: “He had a majority of 23,000 two years ago and now he’s got a majority of 45. That’s just the momentum that we’ve got going on here locally and I don’t want to spoil that, I want to get over the line next time.

You can read the full article here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Jul '17 - 12:27pm

    Thank you Mary and Sarah !!

    She is a very likeable and able person, who because of the lack of interest in a real progressive alliance , from Labour, is replaced by the Tory again !

    She must continue as a force for good in the party, speak her own mind, and stand for president, which should have a basic salary, after Sal, or we are only to ever get peers or mps , unfair as it is the voice the party needs as a whole !

  • Such a shame that the Fixed Term Parliament Act – written to stop a PM from “cutting and running” – collapsed due to a weak opposition (our MPs also voted for the override but we only had 9). Opposition MPs should show more backbone next time

  • Surely Sarah will be employed by the Lib Dems and use her skills to our advantage. Admire her so much. I don’t see this Parliament lasting 5 years anyway – Tories already at war internally.

  • Such a shame that the Fixed Term Parliament Act – written to stop a PM from “cutting and running” – collapsed due to a weak opposition

    Surely they didn’t have any choice? An opposition is supposed to be a government-in-waiting, champing at the bit to get into office because the current lot are doing such a ruinous job.

    How could any opposition vote against an election, which would give them the chance to get into office, and retain their credibility with the electorate?

    The opposition must logically always vote for a general election, which will always give the required two-thirds majority, and therefore the Fixed Term Parliament Act is a nonsense that should have had a sunset clause so it ended with the Coalition that was its only reason for existence.

  • Andrew McCaig 31st Jul '17 - 3:06pm

    That is what politicians think. But as we have just seen, the voters don’t like elections much and can punish Parties that call them early.

    At the time I thought Labour could have gained a huge advantage by voting against the motion and immediately calling a vote of no confidence in the government. That would have forced Tories to accept that there was no confidence in the government and the whole strong and stable thing was rubbish. As it happens Theresa was able to demonstrate that all by herself..

  • But as we have just seen, the voters don’t like elections much and can punish Parties that call them early

    True; but would they really vote two or three years later for an opposition which had effectively said that it didn’t think it was up to the task of winning an election? That’s the sort of thing that sticks in the mind.

    I thought Labour could have gained a huge advantage by voting against the motion and immediately calling a vote of no confidence in the government

    This, on the other hand, I can’t see having much cut-through. The public would have heard May call for an election; there’d have been some parliamentary shenanigans of the type normal people (the kind who can identify maybe two cabinet members, if that, and couldn’t tell you exactly what PM’s questions is about) pay no attention to, and then there’d have been an election campaign. Sure, Labour would keep bleating about there being ‘no confidence in the government and [that] the whole strong and stable thing was rubbish’… but then that’s exactly what they did anyway.

  • Andrew Toye 31st Jul ’17 – 12:57pm
    Such a shame that the Fixed Term Parliament Act – written to stop a PM from “cutting and running” – collapsed due to a weak opposition (our MPs also voted for the override but we only had 9). Opposition MPs should show more backbone next time….

    Dear, oh dear….It’s raining here as I write and I’m sure it’s all Labour’s fault…If your excuse for our supporting the call was that we only had 9 MPs, how would we have voted if we had 19, 29, etc.?…

    BTW…The government had a majority and, had Labour voted against it, they would have looked weak and lost anyway…

  • I too hope we see a lot more of Sarah. It was one of the low lights of election night for me, when the TV cameras caught the awful sight of Goldsmith grinning with his people over the recount result.

  • Does make you wonder what we were doing in, for example, Vauxhall – where we had an excellent candidate, it must be said – when Richmond was bound to be close.

  • Instead of sending money to the party much of which they have wasted on 370 lost deposits, £180K, I instead suggest we have a wip round for Sarah to help her through this difficult period.

  • This piece draws attention to the problems faced by new MPs after a by-election, particularly where a seat changes party. There really should be a more efficient way of helping new MPs get their office up and running, if not for the sake of the MP, but their constituents.

    I’m pleased to see Sarah still keen to remain the parliamentary candidate, and echo thoughts of others that I hope she can do something useful in the party. As a qualified accountant, she won’t struggle to find useful employment, but we can’t afford to lose that experience, so let’s hope it’s not quite full-time, and who knows when the next snap election is going to be?

    The full piece explains some of the problems faced by other former MPs, and I can see it being much tougher if your constituency is away from London, or you don’t have a specific qualification.

  • theakes

    If you think “the Party” have been paying for lost deposits you must live in a different place from me!

  • But perhaps theakes you think we should not have stood in all the seats we were likely to lose our deposit?

  • Richard Fagence 1st Aug '17 - 9:55am

    So pleased to see Sarah’s intention to stand again. She is a real talent and would be a grievous loss to the party if she simply walked away. I spent a number of days with colleagues working for the by-election last year and was thrilled when we took the seat from the appalling Goldsmith. But nobody has yet explained to my satisfaction why all the appeals for help in the run-up to polling day that we received in East Berkshire were for Twickenham where, apparently, it was “too close to call” and “highly marginal”. The result? Vince back in with a majority of 9,762! And from Richmond Park? Nothing at all until 4.36 pm on polling day when our local party chair received an ‘urgent’ e-mail (!) requesting ‘cars and drivers’. The only phone bank request he received was at 6.10 pm and, having logged in at once, got no reply until 9.00 pm – an hour before the polls closed – and that was for Sheffield Hallam! Overall, the impression I have is of a highly disorganised approach that may well have cost us Richmond Park and who knows how many other seats? Unless somebody out there cares to offer me evidence to the contrary, I remained convinced that there was little centralised control in the run-up to June 8th and during the day itself. So am I right or am I wrong?

  • David Pocock 1st Aug '17 - 10:36am

    I’m sorry Sarah lost I fear that is politics. I can’t support the public paying for parashoot payments and such like, no one has a right to be there and it is a civic duty.

    I totally support Sarah standing again and beating that toad once and for all!

  • Phil Beesley 1st Aug '17 - 12:19pm

    There is a humorous story about Labour ex-MP Alf Dubs who lost his seat in Battersea in 1987. Allegedly when signing on at the Job Centre, he had to complete a form question “reason for leaving last job”. Answer: “not enough votes”.

    Best wishes to all admin staff and researchers who lost their jobs when a defending MP failed to get enough votes.

  • Barry Fleet 1st Aug '17 - 12:25pm

    Rebecca Taylor is right – Parliament mustn’t be the preserve of the rich [ e.g. Z Goldsmith ! ] .
    We need and deserve a diverse chamber of gender, sex, ethnicity & assets.

  • Phil Beesley 1st Aug '17 - 1:32pm

    @Barry Fleet: “We need and deserve a diverse chamber of gender, sex, ethnicity & assets.”

    For Lib Dem candidates in winnable seats (irony noted), it ain’t going to happen often that a different one gets a chance. If we assume continuous availability to local media and continuous knowledge of local issues, and continual campaigning, there’s not a lot of time for a candidate to earn a living. People who can commit to almost full time campaigning are likely to have access to a few bob or are willing to sacrifice comforts.

    I appreciate that all major parties extend their selection processes in an attempt to include minorities. But it is really difficult to tackle “not enough money” without giving money.

    Is it time for a “Liberal Representation Committee” (LRC) to fund candidates? Or do we just pretend that parliamentary candidates pursue politics as a hobby?

  • Like many others i feel a personal involvement having spent alot of time in the by-election and snap election in Richmond ….. Sooooo, i am DELIGHTED Sarah is going to run again.
    PLEASE Richmond organisors, make sure we are all kept in the loop on campaigning from now going forward 🙂

  • Having canvassed extensively for Sarah in November & May/June I can inform Andrew Bailey that the reason we won in the by-election & came within 45 votes this time was because of our pro-European stance. Goldsmith had a 23,000 majority, but Tory remainers voted for Sarah. They were appalled by Goldsmith’s support for Brexit.
    The reason we lost so narrowly in June was because we put too much effort into Twickenham. I was directed to Twickenham, but went to Richmond Park as it was obvious that Vince was going to win.
    If we had won just 300 more votes we would have doubled our number of MPs. Tim’s strategy was spot on. May lost her majority because remainers voted for whichever party was most likely to beat the Tory. In most seats this was Labour.
    However Corbyn is pro-Brexit. Once remainers realise this they will turn to us as the only national party with a rational policy on Europe.

  • Bitter-sweet feedback Alan. It’s good to know that there is scope for more campaigning next time around, but tough to think about how a modest change in our tactics could have altered the result. As ever, hindsight is 20/20, and hopefully this is something we’ll learn from.

    I really cannot understand how there isn’t two months of redundancy payments for MPs who lose their seats after a short term, unless of course they’ve done a Zac and called an unnecessary by-election. I’m guessing the theory is that the notice of the election counts as notice of redundancy, but if an MP is standing again, they aren’t using that time to find a new job. Instead, they are, hopefully, working around the clock to keep the one they already had.

    The challenges of campaigning are tougher for a candidate with a different day job, and gives a clear advantage to people from certain backgrounds, whether it’s independently wealthy, or at the very least a very understanding employer. Being able to afford some unpaid leave is one thing, being allowed it is another. I wouldn’t be averse to supporting a fund specifically designed to open up candidacy to those from under-represented backgrounds, but I reckon this is one of those concepts that’s easier to dream up than it is to implement.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '17 - 6:02pm

    Maybe our MPs were too young to give good advice to Sarah. Maybe more maturity would be good.
    Consider the SNP MPs who moved a motion against the Labour government in 1979, usually described as ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. They disapproved of the Callaghan government not doing as much as they wanted about Scottish devolution. A consequence of their action was that the leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, took the unusual step of tabling a motion of no confidence in the government, which fell by one vote, causing a general election, which provided the Tories with an overall majority. There were tales of woe from the individual SNP former MPs, who found themselves lacking employment options.
    Some history of the Liberal Party is also relevant. Clement Freud won a bye-election, looked at the history of bye-election winners getting re-elected and decided to do everything he could to ensure that he would, including writing individual letters to many constituents who had not contacted him, but were pleased to receive the letters. He was re-elected. The recipients thanked him on Saturday mornings in the market place and he learned to say “That was the least I could do”.
    Those who lived through the crisis general election of 1974 have written books about it. When debated at conference Simon Hughes MP said “Which general election of 1974?” because there was another one in the autumn, also close. Humorous stories are told of canvassing bored voters who said “What you again?” or something similar, because the policies and personalities were very similar.

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