So this is it - my last article for the West Sussex County Times as the Member of Parliament for Horsham.
As I write this I’m preparing for my last ever appearance at the Commons despatch box, answering questions in my role as Minister for the Cabinet Office before the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the Parliament.
It’s been a bit of a bumper week for me in the Commons, delivering oral statements on both Monday and Tuesday, on efficiency savings and cyber security respectively – the most drawn out swansong in history!
Regrets? Not many. I’ve had 27 years there in total. For 21 of those years I’ve been a front-bencher so I’ve made relatively few speeches or interventions except from the despatch box, on one side or the other.
How has it changed since I first went there in 1983? MPs today are much better served in terms of accommodation, staff and facilities. When I arrived I shared an office with nine others, including my good friend and now Parliamentary neighbour Nicholas Soames. My staff consisted of a secretary working three days a week. It’s far different today.
The hours are different. The House regularly sat till ten from Monday to Thursday, and often well beyond. Not family friendly but it meant MPs ate together more, definitely drank together more, which made it more collegiate and comradely.
There were friendships across the political divide then as there are now. One of the things that has touched me this week has been the warmth of my Labour counterparts. It’s helped by the fact that most of what I do as a minister has been non-partisan; efficiency savings and Civil Service reform have been strongly supported across the House.
So – few regrets, but definitely a pang. As I stood in the chamber on Monday night between votes on the Budget, I looked around, thinking: this is after all the British House of Commons. There is no other Parliament or chamber like it. It was the first, is the longest standing and has been the most influential across the span of history. Some of the towering greats of history have aspired to its membership, and have shaped history by what they said and did there. And this week is the last time I can be there as a Member of Parliament, with the authority that flows from being elected by my fellow citizens.
And that takes me back to Horsham. For the last 18 years I’ve gone to Westminster only because you, the electors of Horsham, sent me there. I’ve probably annoyed plenty of you, certainly disappointed some, but I hope I’ve helped many more. I’ve always known that it’s the greatest honour a British citizen can attain, to win enough of the trust of his fellow citizens to be sent to Westminster to represent their interests. Thank you for that. Whatever the future holds for me, these will have been the best years of my life, and I owe that to you.