Retiring Tory MPs likely to be offered peerages

Yesterday the MP for Hampshire North East, James Arbuthnot, became the first Conservative MP to announce he will retire at the next election. It is a pretty early announcement, given that the next election is not due for another four years, in 2015.

As a former Conservative Chief Whip, and now Chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Mr Arbuthnot is pretty much guaranteed a place in the Lords - assuming the Lords is not reformed by 2015 (and I know nobody in politics who really thinks it will be).

However, I suspect that many other Conservative MPs will be a lot less quick than Mr Arbuthnot in announcing their retirements during this Parliament.

They will know that the Tory high command is set on managing the selection process and coping with the reduction in the number of Conservative seats.

The analysis in yesterday's Guardian suggests they could lose as many as 16 seats, though that report is disputed by the Tory boundary expert Rob Hayward.

The Conservative reselection managers will be keen to find lots of MPs willing to retire so as to ease the process, so any MP thinking of doing so will have a strong bargaining position, and a good case for elevation to the Lords.

An MP with any sense will not announce he is going until he gets a cast-iron promise of a place in the upper house.

Indeed, as I revealed here a few weeks ago, the party already envisages that people like Bill Cash, Roger Gale and Alan Haselhurst will create space, and help the Tory reselection management process, by taking peerages.

As for James Arbuthnot, he today spoke of taking on "new challenges". Those "new challenges" will no doubt include a job or two in the defence industry.

And as a former defence minister, and defence committee chairman for ten years (by 2015), he will no doubt be considered well-qualified.