General Election 2024: Analysis of resigning MPs reveals upcoming demographic shift in parliament

A flurry of general elections since 2015 has brought an unprecedented churn in our parliamentary representatives. This year, two in five MPs aren't seeking re-election and the picture for the Conservatives is record-breakingly grim.

An unparalleled total of 23% of Conservative MPs are calling it a day in 2024, more than the previous high of 22% of Tories who quit in 1997, another year of boundary changes.

In contrast, only 15% of Labour MPs are resigning.

There are many reasons MPs quit: from retirement, family commitments and health concerns to career change, abolished constituencies, and the prospect of defeat.

But their decision to depart can reveal much about life in Westminster and have a significant impact on parliament's mix of experience, demographics, and the direction of political parties.

Early retirement

Considering all 132 MPs not seeking re-election, age has been a crucial factor. Perhaps unsurprisingly those leaving are on average seven years older than those seeking re-election.

But look a little closer and there's a striking difference between the parties: resigning Conservative MPs are, on average, 10 years younger than their Labour counterparts, at 56 and 66 years old, respectively.

This suggests that while Labour may be experiencing a routine turnover, the Conservatives might be facing a different kind of renewal, driven by political disenchantment and the prospect of heavy seat losses.

So, the next parliament could see a significant influx of Conservative MPs with minimal parliamentary experience, potentially reshaping the party's dynamics as it ponders new leadership and where it stands on policy.

Veteran MPs standing down

Age isn't the only sign of experience. It is just as important to consider when an MP was first elected. Notably, 38% of resigning MPs first entered the Commons between 1974 and 2005. The departure of these MPs raises questions about the development of collective experience.

Interestingly, an almost equal proportion of resigning MPs (30%) have spent less than 10 years in parliament. This mix of long-serving and relatively new MPs stepping down suggests that the life of an MP may be becoming increasingly challenging.

Whether due to the demands of the job, political disenchantment, harassment, or other factors, this highlights the pressures faced by MPs and could signal a significant generational shift.

Both Dehanna Davison and Mahri Black have spoken about the challenges of working as Members of Parliament. Ms Davison quoted in her letter of resignation that her chronic migraines make it difficult to plan work ahead and that she was afraid to be perceived as weak if she had to cancel events due to migraine episodes. Ms Black cited safety concerns, social media abuse and unsociable hours as she explained her decision to step down.

Their stories also indicate the difficulties faced by women MPs specifically.

While a smaller proportion of women MPs (15%) than men (23%) are resigning in 2024, more than half of them (52%) have spent less than 10 years in the job, compared with 23% for men.

Recent research has found that prominent young women MPs are more likely to attract abuse, harassment and intimidation. This, together with the higher structural barriers faced by women to participate in electoral politics may be driving the turnaround.

While a record number of women stand for election, also a significant number of women resign.

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An analysis of Democracy Club's most recent dataset of candidates for the 2024 general election suggests that the proportion of women selected to stand for parliament remains relatively stable - around a third (34% in 2019 and 32% in 2024).

Among the major parties, 31% of Conservative candidates are women, while Labour boasts a higher figure at 47%.

Although Labour's current percentage represents a slight decline from 2019, when 53% of their candidates were women, it is still a strong showing.

So, we will likely see a significant proportion of women elected on 4 July. Notably, if Labour secures victory, it will mark the first time a substantial number of women would be in government, reflecting a shift towards greater gender representation in UK politics.

Since 21% of them are standing for the first time, let's hope that more experienced incumbent MPs will make them feel welcomed in politics.

Dr Sofia Collignon is an associate professor in Comparative Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and an expert in the study of candidates, elections and parties and gendered violence against political elites.