David Ruffley’s decision to stand down at next year’s general election – more than a month after it was revealed he received a police caution for assaulting his former partner – has been met with an outpouring of relief and sadness.
The Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP announced he would quit this week – saying the ‘protracted media debate’ over his private life would not serve the wider interests of the Conservative Party in the region.
His departure follows a mounting furore locally and nationally over his position after he accepted a caution for the assault in March. Nearly 48,000 people signed a petition, by domestic abuse group Ending Victimisation and Blame, calling for him to go.
Community leaders have since expressed relief and sorrow over the move – arguing his future was ‘untenable’ while paying tribute to the ‘hard working’ MP who served his constituency for 17 years.
Speculation will now mount as to who will take his place as the Tory candidate in May. The Bury Conservative Association was expected to begin the process to choose a candidate yesterday.
Leaders across the political spectrum gave a mixed reaction to Mr Ruffley’s announcement.
Mark Bee, Conservative leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “It’s a shame to see such a hardworking, committed and long-serving Member of Parliament step down. However, we do not condone domestic violence in any form.”
Tim Passmore, Conservative Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I’m glad the matter is now resolved and I think it is the right decision. Having said that, David has been a very hard-working MP for many years and that should not be forgotten.”
Jane Basham, Labour parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk, said: “He should go now, not wait until the next election.” On his exit statement, she said: “It tells me he doesn’t understand or take responsibility for his actions. The local Conservative Party should go ahead and try to secure a ballot for a vote of no confidence in him.”
Cllr Mark Ereira-Guyer, leader of the Suffolk Greens, who has known Mr Ruffley for 20 years and fought him in several general elections as a Labour candidate, said: “How is it credible for him to remain a Member of Parliament?
“I think he should stand down now and there should be a by-election.”
The issue of domestic violence dominated the saga and reached a head when the Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral The Very Rev Frances Ward called for Mr Ruffley to stand down in a letter leaked to the media.
On his exit as an MP, she said his position had been ‘untenable’ and his decision ‘brings resolution to the serious concern of many people across Suffolk about his role in parliament’.
Conservative county councillor Jenny Antill, who is chairman of the Suffolk Domestic Abuse Partnership, said: “He’s done the right thing in standing down. He might have been able perhaps to weather the storm had he been open right at the start but silence always leads to speculation –the temperature mounted as time went on.”
A spokeswoman for women’s rights group the Bury Fawcett Society felt while his exit was ‘a result of sorts’, there was ‘abdicated responsibility for anybody having to address what he did’. She said: “The focus has come further on the media intrusion so the local Conservatives haven’t had to address the issue, the national party hasn’t had to address the issue.” She questioned his presence as an MP until May.
She added: “What kind of public engagements can he actually do? Everytime he turns up at something, someone will bring this up.”
As the Bury St Edmunds Conservative Association was informed of Mr Ruffley’s decision, chairman Andrew Speed said: “We would like to thank David for his service as our MP since 1997, and we will continue to support him in that role until next May. Thereafter we wish him every success in his future career.”
The Chief Whip Michael Gove said Mr Ruffley had ‘given a huge amount to Parliament’ on the opposition front bench and as an ‘outstanding’ member of Treasury Select Committee. He said: “I’m sorry he will be standing down at the general election, but fully respect his reasons.”
County councillor Joanna Spicer thanked him for his ‘hard work’ as an MP. She said: “He’s held in considerable affection by people in his constituency. We’ve all admired the way he dealt with his health problems. His decision to step down was inevitable given the debate it raised around domestic abuse.”
County councillor Sarah Stamp expressed sadness that his political career had ended in such a way.
She said: “However, as an elected representative you must accept you are publically accountable and as such are expected to lead by example and answer to those who elect you. Therefore, I think his decision to stand down is the right one.”
Cllr Stamp added: “I am only sorry that our beautiful town has hit the national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“I am also very angry at some of the derogatory, patronising and unacceptable public comments about domestic violence and women’s groups made by so called ‘top Tories’ in the last few days – they certainly do not reflect my views as a Bury St Edmunds constituency member, nor do I believe they reflect the views of most true Conservative supporters.
“My main concern now is to ensure that we field a strong candidate to fight the next election to ensure that Bury St Edmunds once again has a hardworking, representative MP of whom we can be proud.”