LABOUR's Andrew Smith paid tribute to the 'fantastic' people in his constituency as he bowed out after almost 30 years as Oxford East's MP.
The 66-year-old politician, who was previously a councillor for more than 10 years as well, yesterday revealed he would not run in June 8's General Election.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail, he said serving local people in Parliament had been 'the most enormous privilege' but added: "It is hard to give up the job you love, but the time does come and no one can do this forever."
His decision was announced in an email to Labour Party members in Oxford, with Mr Smith saying it was 'now time for someone else to take over' as the area's MP.
Mr Smith said his decision had 'nothing to do with' the party's performance under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.
Insiders said Anneliese Dodds, a Labour MEP for the South East who lives in Rose Hill, was a potential front runner to replace him.
Revealing that he had reached his 'difficult decision' to stand down yesterday morning, Mr Smith said: "It was a very hard choice to make.
Andrew Smith at the Pegasus School polling station in Blackbird Leys to cast his vote in the Referendum last year
"But by the end of the next Parliament I would be older than 71 and so I felt that now was the right time to step aside.
"I have had lots of messages from constituents and party members and it will be difficult to go.
"It has been the most enormous privilege to represent this area and its fantastic people for so long and I hope I have been able to help them.
"Throughout that time I have been sustained, supported and helped by my constituents in a way I have really appreciated.
"They have been a source of inspiration and ideas – and at times criticism – and I would like to thank each and every one of them."
Mr Smith was already planning to step down before the planned 2020 election, but his decision to go sooner came after Prime Minister Theresa May's call for an early poll.
He said he planned to carry on living at his home in Blackbird Leys and would be 'looking at ways to remain useful' locally.
Paying tribute to his long service, Ed Turner, deputy leader of Labour-run Oxford City Council, said Mr Smith had been 'an inspiration'.
He added: "Andrew has been an amazing MP and is a man of great integrity. He will be sorely missed by the party.
"To be frank, the news has not even started to sink in."
Supporters celebrate Andrew Smith's victory in 1987
And Tom Hayes, a Labour city councillor, said: "I'm gutted to see Andrew step down. I've lost count of the number of people all over the constituency who've told me they're 'Andrew Smith Labour' when I knocked on their doors.
"On a personal note, Andrew's also been a boss when I was one of his caseworkers, a mentor encouraging me to stand for the council, and a friend. He's helped so many people and Oxford will be sad to see him go."
It is not yet clear who will stand to succeed Mr Smith as Labour's candidate for Oxford East, but they are likely to be chosen by a regional panel.
An email sent to party bosses yesterday – seen by the Oxford Mail – said the national executive committee had decided to 'directly select' candidates so they would be in place quickly enough for a May 11 deadline.
It added: "It is with the greatest regret that local party members will not be able to select parliamentary candidates.
"This process is necessary and it is only due to the exceptional snap general election circumstances."
Andrew Smith and his wife Val celebrate his 1987 victory in the General Election
Andrew Smith's political career
Mr Smith's life as an MP began in 1987 when he defeated sitting Conservative MP Steve Norris, having already served as a city councillor for Blackbird Leys since 1976. He went on to be appointed as Tony Blair's Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1999.
He then became Work and Pensions Secretary but resigned in 2004 so that he could spend more time in his constituency.
After the unpopular decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003, which he supported, Mr Smith realised that the 2005 General Election would be tight.
He was right, but managed to hang on to his seat with a majority of just 963 and extended this to 4,581 in 2010.
In 2015 his majority was more than 15,000, making Oxford East a comfortable win for Labour.
Mr Smith also made headlines that year when his nomination for Jeremy Corbyn as a potential Labour leader helped get the North London MP over the line and into the contest.
Although he ended up voting for a rival candidate in the final ballot, and Mr Corbyn stormed to a shock victory, Mr Smith later said he did not regret his decision.
Mr Smith's wife, Val Smith, was also involved in local politics and served as a city councillor for Blackbird Leys. She died in May 2015.