Where Are They Now? Neil Carmichael
(Illustration | Tracy Worrall)
4 min read
Neil Carmichael Conservative MP for Stroud 2010 – 2017
Neil Carmichael is no longer a member of any political party.
Disillusioned with the Tories who brought him to power and not seeing an alternative in Labour or the Liberal Democrats, the ex-MP is now focused on his own mission: “looking for a solution to this country's greatest problem”.
And for Carmichael, that problem is Brexit. “It was a mistake to have the referendum to leave the European Union. It was a mistake to decide to leave. It was a mistake to ratchet it up,” he says.
With views flying far from those of the current Tory leadership, it did not come as surprise to some when in 2019 Carmichael announced he had left the Conservatives to join the newly formed and now-defunct Change UK party. Though no longer a parliamentarian, having lost his seat in 2017, his defection was a statement of intent, and to this day the former MP continues campaigning to keep the United Kingdom as close to the European Union as possible.
“We’re not going to rejoin the EU, but what we should be doing is getting the next best thing – a really good relationship,” he says.
Carmichael believes Keir Starmer’s Labour Party currently risks being too “mealy mouthed” over Brexit.
“It’s not saying it should be reversed, it’s not saying that it shouldn’t be welcomed,” he complains.
On the other hand, the self-described “moderate centrist” believes the Conservative Party, and politics more widely, has taken a “populist route” following the 2016 referendum.
“I think that’s a danger,” he says. “Popular slogans and popular solutions will not actually satisfy everybody long term.”
Beyond Brexit, Carmichael keeps “very busy” in a multitude of roles. He is the CEO of the United Kingdom-China Education Corporation (UCC), which works to provide early years education across East Asia. Carmichael is also Chair of the Association of Dental Groups.
“We need more dentists in this country,” he says. “I represent groups that are all wanting to provide more dentistry but are being effectively prevented from all that they want to do because they can't recruit the dentists and hygienist and therapists.”
By and large, the only thing I failed to do is get me elected in 2017
Carmichael says Brexit is partly to blame. Many of the UK’s dentists came from EU states and now the industry is having to look further afield for other countries to fill the gaps. He believes caps on the number of students permitted to study dentistry should be lifted to help ease recruitment pressures.
The former MP enjoys his two current roles because they a share a focus on public service and education, areas he has always been passionate about. For almost three years he served as chair of the Education Select Committee, and his work on the committee constitutes some of his proudest moments in Parliament.
“Even now people remind me of what I did,” Carmichael says. “In my time I was really keen to press the case for education. I wanted to see more evidence-based policymaking and I want to see more long-term policy outcomes.”
The 61-year-old, who lost the 2019 election by just over 500 votes to his 2010 predecessor, Labour’s David Drew, says he would not rule out a return to Parliament. “You can see I have a clear direction of travel as to what this country needs”. However, he refrains from answering which party, if any, he would join, were he to do so. “There won’t be an election for two years because you can see from the look of government that there’s no clear likely winner.”
For now, Carmichael is perfectly content continuing to serve the public through his current roles. He remains friends with a multitude of MPs from his time in Parliament and takes great interest in voluntary work, as well as being as an honorary professor at two universities.
“By and large, the only thing I failed to do is get me elected in 2017,” he says.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.