The general election brought surprise victories and shock defeats for MPs across the UK. Former politicians who failed to win the vote have shared how it feels to lose their seat in the House of Commons.
Hours after losing his seat in Bury North by 105 votes, former MP James Frith said it was “too soon” to say what the “full impact” of the defeat would be on him and his family.
However, he said he did feel “a degree of release” from the weeks of intense campaigning.
Mr Frith was one of the 60 Labour candidates to lose out in the general election, and one of 54 to see their seat turned over to the Conservatives. Although, in Bury North, this was more like a return to the Conservatives, after Mr Frith ousted David Nuttall in 2017.
“I’m still processing it, the grieving is at the ‘stunned’ stage,” the former rock band front-man said. “We had a re-count where the results changed twice, but I conceded on the third re-count, congratulated my opponent and went home.
“I stayed up the rest of the night, and in the morning I spent time with the children explaining it to them, one of my sons got very upset, but the younger two didn’t really understand.”
When Parliament dissolved, Mr Frith said he understood running in a marginal seat meant losing was “a possibility”, but added he felt the impact of being “inches from winning”.
Asked about the future, he said he’d like to be involved in “rebuilding the party”, but said for now he was going to take some “well deserved time off for Christmas”.
‘Sobbing in the kitchen’
Ben Howlett became the Conservative MP for Bath in 2015 and lost his seat in the 2017 general election. “I was back home after the count taking the washing out of the machine when Mrs May phoned to say sorry which was a bit surreal,” he said.
The 33-year-old described his defeat as “a bit like losing a close relative”.
“You don’t do it as a nine to five Monday to Friday job – it’s basically your life,” he said. “The people you work with become your family, you’ve got your team and the hundreds of people you’ve been helping.
“Suddenly you have that ability to help people taken away. I got emotionally attached to some of the people I was trying to help with immigration cases and I had to hand them over to my successor.”
Mr Howlett said he felt emotionally drained by the end of the count and had been living off adrenalin and coffee. “I went out with my family for a Sunday dinner and it dawned on me that I had to close down my constituency office on Monday,” he said.
“Everyone else goes back to work and you’re on your own for the first time in months or years. You’re physically on your own and you’re emotionally on your own. I remember sobbing on my own in my kitchen. You need a lot of support and people to turn to.”
Mr Howlett now owns a policy advisory and development organisation in the health, care and local government sectors. “I know MPs who carry on acting as MPs because that’s all they’ve known and their families never get them back,” he said.
Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and was Conservative MP for Twickenham between 2015 and 2017.
“Losing your seat is disappointing but it’s not as bad as the worst night in hospital or in a conflict zone – nobody died,” she said. “At first I wasn’t telling colleagues that because I felt it was downplaying how people were feeling. But my politician friends who are doctors understood.”
Dr Mathias now works as an ophthalmology doctor and has continued to campaign for the Conservative Party.
She is a volunteer medical doctor with the charity Freedom from Torture and has led workshops in Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina and Sierra Leone for people standing in elections for the first time.
“I tried my best and I wanted every single vote but when you lose you think ‘hey I’m part of democracy’ and you’re really, really proud of that. The voters had their say and there was no violence so I’m happy.
“[The murder of MP] Jo Cox puts everything into perspective. Every good conversation, every honest conversation is worth it. We have to keep this basic thing of being able to knock on a stranger’s door and have that discussion about what you believe in.
“If you’ve managed to put your message across and used every single minute of the day and night to communicate with your voters then be happy.”
‘The most public sacking imaginable’
Simon Wright was the Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South between 2010 and 2015. “I once heard losing your seat described as the most public sacking imaginable and there’s no escaping from that,” he said.
“By the time the results came in we had a fair sense of how things were going. So when the declaration came, it was more a sense of accepting what had increasingly become inevitable.
“You always fight an election campaign as you want to win it so it will always come as a crushing blow and a bitter shock. But in the weeks that followed I took heart in the positive words and kind support from my former constituents and even my rivals.”
Mr Wright said he felt “very fortunate” to find a new position as chief executive officer of children’s bereavement charity Nelson’s Journey within a matter of weeks.
He married wife Anna Thorpe in April 2019 and 100 friends joined them at Parkrun at Catton Park in Norwich on the morning of their wedding.
“Circumstances lined up and I was able to find a new job that I really wanted to do and that I was really enthusiastic and passionate about,” he said.
“The time and emotional energy that goes into being an MP is very significant and you’re pulled in lots of different directions. I’ve had more time for family, friends and hobbies and the running community has become a really big part of my life.
“There is life after parliament so that doesn’t have to be what defines your future.”
‘I knew I was heading for defeat’
Matthew Green was the Liberal Democrat MP for Ludlow between 2001 and 2005.
“I was aware that I was going to lose from the weekend before because I did the number crunching,” he said. “But I didn’t tell anyone in my team because I wanted to keep campaigning up to the end.
“I had a few days of this surreal situation where I knew I was heading for defeat but I couldn’t tell anyone. But when it came to it, it’s a gut-wrenching thing. It’s comparable to what I envisage would be a fairly sudden sacking or a company going bust.
“It’s a very uncertain time, you’ve still got a mortgage to pay. You’ve lost your job and you’ve got to close down your operation and make your team redundant, it’s not pleasant.”
Mr Green said he applied for jobs before creating a planning and architecture consultancy “almost by accident”.