Long-serving Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley announces he won’t be contesting seat at General Election

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley has revealed he is stepping down and will not contest the Gene

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley has revealed he is stepping down and will not contest the General Election on June 8. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley has revealed he will not stand in the forthcoming General Election.

The long-serving parliamentarian announced this morning he will not be running for re-election in the snap poll on June 8.

Mr Lilley – who has a Conservative majority of 20,055 – has represented the seat since it was created by boundary changes in 1997.

The 73-year-old said: “With some sadness I have decided not to seek re-election for Hitchin and Harpenden.

“It has been an immense privilege over the last 34 years to represent the people of Hitchin and Harpenden and, before the boundary changes, the people of St Albans.

“It has been a particular pleasure to work with an association which has been so supportive. They have my gratitude for their unfailing support.

“As a result of their hard work, we have seen the Conservative vote, share of vote and majority increase in every general election – first in St Albans and then in Hitchin and Harpenden.

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“Now we have in Theresa May an outstanding Prime Minister in whom I have great confidence.

“I profoundly hope she will be returned with a strong mandate to complete the process of leaving the EU and to seize the opportunities which regaining control of our laws, border, money and trade will give our country.

“She, and whoever the people of Hitchin and Harpenden elect to succeed me, will have my full support.

“Hitchin and Harpenden is a very special community where we are fortunate to have so many people who serve with such dedication in our councils, schools, churches, local NHS, businesses, charities and voluntary organisations.

“My wife Gail and I have made many friends both in the Conservative Party and the local community whose friendship we will cherish in the years to come.”

In wake of the news, we’ve taken a look back at Mr Lilley’s career.

Peter Bruce Lilley was born in Kent in 1943, the distant descendant of Dutch immigrants to England three centuries ago. He was educated at Dulwich College where he came out as a Conservative after saying he found his left-wing classmates ‘negative’.

At Clare College, Cambridge, he read economics and spent the first six years after graduating in 1966 as an economic adviser to developing countries.

He earned a reputation as a Tory intellectual although doubts were raised over him ever becoming an MP due to his anti-hanging stance and his – at the time – revolutionary support of Friedmanite economics, whose monetarist ideas were to be the prevailing economic principles Margaret Thatcher employed in changing the nature of Britain from 1979.

That year he married Gail Ansell, a dress designer turned painter.

Mr Lilley, who has been a Conservative MP since 1983, was a cabinet minister in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, serving as Trade and Industry Secretary from July 1990 to April 1992, and as Social Security Secretary from April 1992 to May 1997.

He was elected as MP for St Albans in 1983, aged 40, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Nigel Lawson before joining the cabinet as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Although known as a Thatcher loyalist, he will go down in history as one of the members of her cabinet who told her privately her career as PM was finished, saying in November 1990 ‘the game is up’. Shortly afterwards he urged her eventual successor, John Major, to stand.

In her diaries she wrote of the meeting: “Coming from such a source it upset me more than I can say.”

On becoming Secretary of State in 1992 he lampooned those on benefits at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, but a few months later Mr Lilley – whose father worked for the BBC – was pelted with eggs and flour while lunching with young Tory students at the London School of Economics.

In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool he mocked Europeans by pretending to read an imaginary phrasebook. He told members: “European community rules have opened up a new abuse. Benefit tourism. People travelling round Europe looking for work.”

He went on to pose a question in French: ‘Ou est le bureau de change?’. The punchline was his deliberately incorrect translation of the answer to be: ‘Where do I cash my benefit cheque?’

As jokes go it was a poor one, albeit one that found favour with his audience, but instructively it was a precursor to his staunch ‘Leave’ stance two decades later – during last summer’s fractious EU referendum campaign.

In 2012 he attracted criticism as he was one of only three MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act – but it was his strongly-held views on Britain leaving the EU last summer that once again propelled him into the headlines.

He said at the time: “Quitting the European Union is the best way the UK can take back control over our laws, our money, and our borders.”

However, with nearly four decades as an MP under his belt he has decided to call it a day.

One issue Mr Lilley has always campaigned for is the legalisation of cannabis, calling for a drop-in centre in Hitchin where people could purchase hemp legally.

He argued people who partake in the herb could avoid the dangers of being exposed to harder drugs, telling this paper: “I have never tried it, which is why I have a clear head on the matter.”

And it is with a clear head that Mr Lilley has decided to stand down, four decades after first entering politics.

The Conservatives – along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats – have yet to announce who will fight the seat.