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Ousted former MP says he is proud of what he did for veterans

Tuesday, 9 July 2024 09:08

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Johnny Mercer (middle back) and Fred Thomas (front) tentatively wait for the declaration at Plymouth\\'s Life Centre

Johnny Mercer lost to Labour in Plymouth Moor View

Ousted former Plymouth Tory MP Johnny Mercer says he is proud of the work he and his party did for veterans as he spoke for the first time since Labour swept to victory in the general election.

Mr Mercer, the former veterans’ minister who represented Plymouth Moor View, lost his seat to Labour’s Fred Thomas and left the election count at Plymouth’s Life Centre as soon as declaration was over without speaking to journalists.

He said in a social media post on Sunday that as “the smoke clears” he wanted to thank everyone who supported him over the last 10 years.

He said becoming a public figure had not been natural for him but he wanted to “fight politically for all those of his generation who desperately needed it after a war in Afghanistan which casts shadows to this day”.

Mr Mercer served as an army officer, undertaking three tours of Afghanistan.

“I am proud of what we have done,” he said. “We have dragged veterans affairs in the United Kingdom from a sympathy-driven, charity-led, well-intended but often fatally competitive and disorganised effort, into a more professional, collaborative, veteran-focused government supported system, which I know – because I have the letters – saves and changes the lives of those special souls who have sacrificed for the nation, precisely who I came into public life to help.”

He said his successes were in veterans’ rights, mental healthcare, rough sleeping, prosthetics and protecting Northern Ireland veterans, but there were areas in which he felt he did not do enough.

“Some issues remained outside my control, like Vets UK and compensation. I wear all the criticism. I did my best and often felt broken myself in the process. I am comfortable I could not have done more in the time and political space that I had. The opportunity for others to step up is always there.

“I felt enormous imposter syndrome daily, but always thought I owed it to those who never made it back from those Afghanistan years, and those for whom life had become a daily struggle, to press ahead – whatever the cost. Those of us who survived unscarred are lucky – nothing more; I thought that every day I went to work.

“I do want veterans to remember that we are not victims. We are privileged – we enjoy that ‘flavour of life because we have fought for it, that the protected shall never know’.”

“It is a privilege to try and emulate our predecessors from battlefields past, but it ultimately is not an entitlement, and veterans must not become too hard to help.”

Mr Mercer said the new Labour government must act to change the lives of those people serving in the military and in the veterans’ community.

He praised his wife and supporters and said he had “fought hard” for Plymouth, a city that had shaped him since he was a teenager, and it would always be his home port.

The Moor View seat, which Mr Mercer won in 2019 with a near 13,000 majority, switched to Labour with a 5,600 majority.

New MP Fred Thomas,  a former royal marine, said it is “the privilege of a lifetime” to be elected. Plymouth will be now be served by two Labour MPs after Luke Pollard was re-elected in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport.

Six other seats in Devon went from Conservative to Liberal Democrat on Thursday night.

Rebecca Smith retained the South West Devon seat for the Conservatives, one of four that remain blue in the county, and this includes Plympton and Plymstock, Ivybridge and parts of West Devon and the South Hams.

Mr Pollard said the three would “work together” for the good of Plymouth and urged all politicians across to the country to do the same and not be divisive.

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