Nick Harvey: ‘We’re down but not out’

Former North Devon MP Nick Harvey has been reflecting on his turbulent exit at the polls last week.

Former North Devon MP Nick Harvey has been reflecting on his turbulent exit at the polls last week. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

Ousted North Devon MP talks about his 23 years in parliament, a difficult seven days and an uncertain future.

Nick Harvey speaking at last week's declaration in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy Keeble

Nick Harvey speaking at last week's declaration in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

Former North Devon MP Nick Harvey has been reflecting on his turbulent exit at the polls last week.

The Liberal Democrat veteran, who held the seat for 23 years until being ousted by Conservative Peter Heaton-Jones, spoke to the Gazette at his constituency office on Friday morning.

He said he’d spent a ‘difficult’ few days packing up his office in Westminster – a base he has occupied for more than two decades but was given just seven days to vacate.

“It’s been hard work; I’ve had an office in the Houses of Commons for 23 years and built up an extensive archive over that time.

Conservative Peter Heaton-Jones won the North Devon seat by a 7,000 vote majority. Picture: Andy Kee

Conservative Peter Heaton-Jones won the North Devon seat by a 7,000 vote majority. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant


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“I thought I’d been pretty ruthless but the car was still loaded up to the springs with casework and various things I’ve been involved with over the years.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it all; I suspect I’ll keep a minimal amount but a lot of it will go through the shredder.”

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Mr Harvey said many fellow Lib Dem MPs who also lost seats had found it ‘too difficult’ to return to Westminster to clear their office after the election.

Still sinking in

For his own part, he said the election outcome was still sinking in, although he felt a palpable release of pressure from the demands of parliament.

“I’m still taking it all in and adjusting but it’s quite liberating in a way because of the work load and responsibilities,” he said.

“It was always interesting – no two days were ever the same. In my defence role, I went all over the world meeting different people, and here too in North Devon, I have met an interesting cross-section of society. You really do see everything.

“But I shan’t miss working a 75-80-hour week. I don’t think anyone quite realises how hard MPs actually work. It’s a very demanding role.”

The future

Mr Harvey said he didn’t know what he’d do next but would be weighing up options over the coming weeks and months.

“I am fortunate that I still have a few months’ pay so there is no immediate crisis,” he said.

“But it’s a delicate balance; on one hand do you take the first thing that comes up and regret it or take too much time out and get stuck in a rut. I’ve heard of many former MPs who have failed to find any work after parliament.

“I’ve had a discussion with an ex-head hunter type to see what advice he had but I’ve really no idea what the future holds.

“Having been involved with defence work over the last nine-or-so years, that’s probably the best area in which I have a chance of finding a future role.

“I will certainly be staying in North Devon for the immediate future but who knows. It’d be very nice if I could find a job here but if something comes up in say New York or Singapore, you just don’t know.

“I watch with interest the process that George Osborne has started to devolve real power to cities. In my mind, if that’s right for big cities, it’s right for the counties and regions too.

“And if that did start to happen I would not rule out getting involved in some sort of new tier of government.

“I certainly intend to stay involved in politics but it’s early days; the party will need every help it can get to pick itself up from the what I can only describe as tsunami, in recent weeks.”

Family life

But while Mr Harvey said his long term future was uncertain, decisions about the immediate future were far more straightforward.

He said he was looking forward to spending more time with his family, wife Kate and children, Olivia, 12, Freddie 10, and golden retriever Crumpet at their home in Horwood, near Barnstaple.

“All their lives I’ve been working 75-hour weeks and inevitably have had to miss many of the things they are doing. And Crumpet will be pleased as she always gets in a grump whenever she sees me put on a dark suit and head off to London.”

Liberal revival

Mr Harvey said he was confident of a liberal revival in North Devon, and that dozens had already joined the local group in the wake of last week’s election.

“We still have a reasonable local government base and the Lib Dems will be a force to be reckoned with – we’re down but not out,” he said.

“The party won the vote in Barnstaple so they still have a base to work from.

“The Conservatives have nowhere to hide; if they don’t deliver and visit more cuts on the area they will suffer in the fullness of time.”

The election result has also meant redundancy for Mr Harvey’s two full-time and three part-time caseworkers and researchers. The constituency office in Castle Street office will be wound up and closed down in the coming weeks.

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