Blair's Britain: A walk in the wilderness

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The lost leaders of the Tories have spent the weekend contemplating the cold reality of life without political power.

Some Cabinet members who lost their seats had aspirations of leading their party and the country - hopes which would have to be either abandoned or put on hold. They also have to watch from the sidelines while their rivals in the Commons fight it out to be John Major's successor.

The flip side of this disappointment, they say, is that they can now relax away from the pressure of public life - read, travel, spend more time with their family, and generally "have a life".

Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary who lost his Edinburgh Pentland seat, intends to take his wife Edith on a belated 25th anniversary trip to Florence. "This is something we had planned for a while," he said. "We ... wanted to go there for our anniversary. But something happened in Bosnia and we had to cancel.

"I am of course disappointed by the election result. But ... there is a tremendous feeling of being more relaxed. I have been in ministerial positions without a break since l979, and there have been plenty of long, hard days."

Mr Rifkind, an advocate of the Scottish Bar, added: "I suppose I will be looking around for business opportunities. I would not be going back to the Bar, it is 20 years since I practised law, and I would not want to have me as my lawyer.

"Obviously I remain totally committed to the future of the Conservative party, but I do not have a direct involvement in the leadership elections".

Norman Lamont, who thought he had found a safe haven in Harrogate after his Kingston-Upon-Thames seat disappeared in the boundary changes, but who still lost, has no illusions about his access to power outside Parliament.

"A man not in the Commons is a dead man," he said. "You see a lot of dead men, but they really cannot influence much when it comes to choosing the next party leader.

"I already have a number of business interests, and I shall be concentrating on those. I am keeping an open mind on whether I get back to politics or not." He added: "Despite their majority I think this Labour Government may well go after one term."

Unlike Mr Rifkind, Mr Lamont believes Europe remains a central issue, and a future leader ignores it at his peril.

Michael Portillo, the most prominent leadership front-runner to get the electoral chop, has said he was considering a future outside politics, at least for a while, either in broadcasting or in business. He said he had almost forgotten how to do everyday things like relax and read a book, or simply arrange to have lunch. His wife, Carolyn Eadie, is a high-earning City headhunter.

He said: "I really feel I am not an MP, I've left the field ... I might be back one day, but I don't know."

But John Whittingdale, a Tory MP and one of Mr Portillo's closest allies, said: "He is a senior figure in the party and he can have a lot of influence even now. A time will come, perhaps through a by-election, for him to get back in the Commons."

William Waldegrave, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is a fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and could opt for an academic career. Last year he was talked of as a future Master of Eton College. He could also be a candidate for any vacant masterships of the Oxford colleges.

Major John Thomas, the agent for Jonathan Aitken, said the former Thanet South MP planned a lengthy summer holiday with his family before deciding his future. He said that Mr Aitken, a former journalist, may take up writing full time.