The laggards left behind by Labour's gleaming machine

One said he had not been spoken to like that since he was 14. Another said it was the worst moment of his political career.

These are not the Tories who lost their seats on 1 May. These are Labour MPs who won, and then suffered a humiliating defeat. After years of hard graft, of giving their all on Labour's front bench, of awaiting the great day when they would receive their ministerial red boxes, they took a call from Downing Street, and were told they were not wanted.

Some may never recover from the shock. Joan Ruddock, widely thought to have been on the fast-track to high office, is going nowhere and is said by friends to be devastated. Lewis Moonie, a frontbench fixture since 1991, is said to be baffled. Rhodri Morgan, once Labour's ebullient Welsh spokesman, is said not to know what he has done wrong.

The list goes on. Stuart Bell, Kevin Barron, Tom Pendry, Malcolm Wicks, Keith Vaz have been consigned to the cold. In all, 18 frontbenchers who expected a congratulatory call from Tony Blair have either been shunted out or demoted.

In addition, several backbenchers who not unreasonably fancied their chances of joining the ministerial ladder have nothing to look forward to but the endless tedium of the back benches.

Giles Radice, once a minister and latterly a distinguished advocate of civil service reform, will now not get the chance to put his ideas into practice. Tony Wright, thinker and moderniser, has found his thoughts are not wanted. Kate Hoey and Margaret Hodge are others whose efforts were in vain.

Since returning to Westminster, the losers have sought each other out, desperate to share their experience, to hear what happened to others, to feel they are not alone. They discuss how so and so upset Peter Mandelson, he fell foul of Gordon Brown, she made a gaffe and has never been allowed to forget it. If there is a pattern, claimed one loser, trying to console himself, it is that the centre has wanted absolute control. For that to happen, he said, the periphery has to be weak, so frontbenchers on top of their briefs have been moved around or out altogether.

The thought of spending the next five or 10 years as backbenchers under a huge Labour majority fills them with dread. "It will be boring beyond belief," said an ex-frontbencher. "There will be nothing for us to do - God knows when we will even get a chance to speak. We can't be seen to be asking awkward questions of our own side. It is just going to be awful."

While the fresh-faced newcomers rushed around the Commons last week, for some older hands, the euphoria of election night already seems a long time ago.

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