THE MP for Southampton Itchen has said he is "going out on top” as he announces his decision to stand down at the next General Election.

The 59-year-old - who was born in Southampton and has served as an MP for the city since 2015, told the Echo of his career in politics that has lasted for 23 years.

He said: “I was born into a working-class family on a council estate in Harefield.

"When I was younger, I was told that people like me couldn’t go to college or university, but I was always really interested in politics and took inspiration from the likes of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who identified the problems that people were facing.”

Having worked as an engineer for the RAF for 10 years before transitioning into the role of aeronautical engineer for British Airways for a further 16 years, Mr Smith was elected as councillor for the Harefield ward – where he was born – in 2000.

He said: “I remember early on I was at a council meeting somebody got up and shouted at me ‘why should we vote for you?’ and I said, ‘because I’m just like you.’

"It transpired I’d grown up just a few doors down from where the gentleman lived, and I feel from that point on I’ve had a connection with the people of Southampton.

“Southampton means a lot to me and I’m disappointed that I won’t be the most famous politician from Southampton anymore."

Mr Smith became leader of Southampton City Council in 2010, a post he held until 2012.

READ MORE: MP for Southampton Itchen set to step down

It was in 2011 when onboard HMS Astute docked in the city that Mr Smith tackled gunman Able Seaman Ryan Donovan who fatally shot Lieutenant commander Ian Molyneux.

Mr Smith had wrestled the gun from the naval rating - fearing he himself had been shot.

Reflecting on the tragedy, Mr Smith said: “I don’t know if I believe in fate how other people do, but I stood in the 2010 election and didn’t get voted in as an MP which meant I stayed with the council.

“Had I have become an MP at that point, I wouldn’t have been there.

"But life turned out that way and I just happened to be there at that time. It was definitely a tragedy, but somebody later said to me – ‘had you not have been there, the situation might have been even worse'.”

Mr Smith announced his departure from politics on Friday. After the next General Election he will spend more time with his family and friends after a career of travelling and several years as an MP.

He added: “I’d just like to spend more time with my wife and daughter. I won’t go away and do nothing.

"I like cooking and I’ve been doing some cooking courses in Winchester Road. I do all the cooking in the house now, I’m not quite sure how that happened!

“Ultimately, I think if I go now, I’m going out on top which is the way I’d like it.”

Asked if he had any advice for his replacement, Mr Smith said: “Get to know your constituents.

“Really get to know them. People often come to the right decision on politicians and for me the main reward has always been getting pleasure from helping people.”