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Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 16:02 UK
Salisbury's MP leaves parliament
Robert Key
Robert Key was Salisbury MP for 27 years

After 27 years as a Wiltshire MP, Robert Key has relinquished his post.

The 55-year-old, who lives in Salisbury with his wife Sue, was first elected as MP for the city back in 1983.

Earlier this year he announced he would not be standing in the May elections, that eventually saw David Cameron take the job of Prime Minister, because of ill health.

He has osteoarthritis which leaves him in a lot of pain.

"I'm just me again, I've re-joined the planet and it's utterly wonderful," he told BBC Wiltshire.

"I'm allowed to be a complete free thinker."

Mr Key didn't get involved in politics until he was 29. He'd studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, where his student days were free of politics, before going on to teach economics.

But it was in a teaching position at Harrow that he came very close, on a daily basis, to the political world.

"I was teaching a lot of children of politicians there.

"My mark book every morning included people like Thatcher, Hestletine, Churchill... I hadn't got a chance of not getting interested in politics."

'Anger is what fired me up'

It was also, at this time, that he joined a trade union and by 1974 Mr Key really considered himself involved in politics - it was the year there were two general elections.

"I wasn't standing, but those were the first elections where I was a political activist.

"It was anger. That's what fired me up - that's what got me into politics.

"I was so angry with what was happening to the country with the way the government of the day was going, with the way it was tied down on one hand by the unions and on the other by the lack of the ability to govern because it was a hung parliament.

"In 1979 I stood for Parliament for the first time, against Frank Dobson in Camden, and I learnt a huge amount."

Aged 38, he was voted in as Salisbury's MP, having beaten 255 other people who'd applied to be the Conservative candidate in the city.

Robert Key and Margaret Thatcher
Robert met Margaret Thatcher in 1977 at a candidates conference

And for the next 27 years he held onto the seat.

"More than anything else I wanted to be MP for my home city. I think that's absolutely natural and it's been a huge advantage to me that I've known Salisbury for virtually all my life.

"But it was a very popular seat then, as it is now. I've loved every minute of it."

'Poll Tax Minister'

The first position given to My Key as a minister, by the former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was for Local Government Finance.

"I remember thinking it sounded extremely challenging but then I thought, 'hang on that means I'm Poll Tax Minister'.

"I can tell you why it was so unpopular and why it failed.

"A decision was taken to try it in Scotland first. Well that was red rag to a bull.

"That was the first mistake. The second mistake was the Treasury got their hands on it.

"I think it was meant to come in at about £140 per head a year. In fact, after the Treasury got hold of it, it came in at over £400 per head a year. So no wonder there was rioting on the streets."

He also remembers the poll tax being scrapped.

"We re-invented local taxation on one tiny computer. We came up with this half-property, half-personal proposition which still stands.

"We produced the Council tax.

Key role

Mr Key went on to become Ted Heath's Private Parliamentary Secretary.

"I had some wonderful years with Ted Heath. I was his PPS for nearly two years during which time I found him his house in Salisbury and brought him down here which he absolutely adored.

"It was the first house he'd owned in his life.

"I also had the experience of finding out what it was that motivated that man.

Music will continue to be absolutely fundamental to my soul - I think I'd just shrivel up and die without music
Robert Key

"It was wonderful hearing what he was doing when he was my age and younger, going off to Germany to see the Hitler rallies to see what was brewing.

"Then he had a distinguished war career, came out and went into politics - absolutely determined that Britain should not go to war again."

So what now for a man who has spent so much of his life involved in politics?

A member of Wessex Archaeology, Mr Key will be continuing his work to improve ancient heritage sites - most notably Stonehenge.

"I'll be doing stuff with the Cathedral and the Diocese. I'll be involved in the selection of a new Bishop.

"Music will continue to be absolutely fundamental to my soul - I think I'd just shrivel up and die without music.

And he says he will leave politics alone now.

"I will not seek to interfere in politics, certainly not with the new MP for Salisbury."

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