Election '97: . . . and goodbye to all that for the ranks of the vanquished

Hard times ahead for ousted MPs who never thought they could lose
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The Independent Online
Today, dozens of defeated MPs are waking up to the realisation that it is all over. Years of hectic schedules, weeks on the hustings, a night of high anxiety and then - bang. Nothing.

Those election-night scenes, played out again last night, are familiar. The candidates ranged nervously around the returning officer, the huge cheer as the victor is announced, the magnanimous, choking speech of congratulation from the vanquished one.

Many will have been expecting this, of course. But among the hardest- hit will be those who never believed they could lose. For some, there will be the added humiliation of watching the chauffeur drive the ministerial car away for the last time.

Most will pick themselves up quickly and a few will be back on the national stage in new roles within months. Others will feel bereaved for years.

One of those in the first category in 1992 was Rosie Barnes, the SDP MP for Greenwich in south London, who suffered a 1,000-vote defeat at the hands of Labour's Nick Raynsford. Within two days, though, she was on the road to a new life as the director of Birthright - now Wellbeing - an obstetrics charity.

While some struggle to keep smiles on their faces, Ms Barnes did not mind letting her disappointment show. After the count, she went to bed for a couple of sleepless hours and then got up, put on her make-up and set out for a round of pre-arranged interviews.

"When I came home, early afternoon on Friday, that was it. There was nothing left to be done," she said. "I felt sadness combined with relief."

She had prepared herself for the possibility of defeat, but the next day she felt tired and deflated. On the Sunday, her husband suggested a walk and a drink in a country pub. Flicking through the newspaper, she spotted an advertisement for the Birthright job. And that was it, she says. Back on course. No regrets. She has now left party politics completely.

Anthony Beaumont-Dark, the Tory MP who lost his Birmingham Selly Oak seat to Labour's Lynne Jones in 1992, is equally at ease with his loss. He seems to bear no resentment towards the constituents he represented for 13 years, although many who backed him in public voted against him in the privacy of the polling booth.

"One day I met a woman who told me what a marvellous MP I had been and how I would certainly get her vote. Two days later I was canvassing her road and there were Labour posters in her windows," he said.

He knew he was going to lose, he says, despite all the encouragement he received. Boundary changes had turned his seat into a winner for Labour. A former stockbroker, he now works three or four days a week as chairman of an investment trust, lecturer and deputy chairman of a property company.

"It's worse for ministers. Some of them are not only losing their seat but their jobs and their chauffeur-driven cars. Suddenly they are not important," he said.

While MPs with other interests bounce back easily, some do not. Clement Freud, the former Liberal MP who lost his Cambridgeshire North East seat in 1987, said yesterday that he could not cross Westminster Bridge for years because he felt so upset.

Come Monday, a number of embarrassed headhunters will be taking calls from seatless former MPs. They will spend much of the day trying to explain that those highly paid city directorships are simply not there for the picking.

"If you have got no other qualification except being an MP, you are 45 to 50 and you have youngsters to educate, you've got real problems," Mr Beaumont-Dark said.