Sacked by the voters: how to bounce back from defeat

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Indy Politics

Shirley Williams got over it by singing in the bath. Michael Portillo immersed himself in poetry and history. And Denis Healey advised fallen colleagues to develop their "hinterland".

As the final tellers left draughty school halls and the empty ballot boxes were removed from sports centres in the early hours of today, a fresh crop of ex-MPs - and maybe even ex-ministers - were left contemplating an immediate future devoid of parliamentary politics.

Shirley Williams, who lost her Labour seat and job as Education Secretary in 1979, said that her growing disillusionment with her party and the pressures of her job allowed her to feel a sense of relief at her unemployed status.

She said: "I had some great friends with me and they were very worried and thought I might take it very hard and cry all night. I remember I had a bath in the morning, after about three hours' sleep, and I suddenly thought, 'Freedom'. I began to sing in the bath."

Others have likened the feelings at the loss of their seat to a sense of grief. David Porter, who saw his 4,000-vote Conservative majority in the Suffolk seat of Waveney wiped out in 2001, said: "The hardest thing was the first few weeks. It felt like bereavement, as if somebody had died. As if I had died." The former MP returned to his profession of teaching, first as a supply teacher and then as head of drama at a secondary school.

When the Liberal Democrat Jackie Ballard was voted out of her Taunton seat in 2001, she bemoaned the apathy of voters. She wrote: "It's time somebody blamed the voters ... There is a hell of a lot of things wrong in this country but if you just sit at home moaning about it you will get the government and the politicians you deserve."

For a lucky few, defeat on election night will do little to impede a glittering career. Within three months of being dumped as MP for Bath in 1992, Chris Patten became the last governor of Hong Kong, then a European commissioner and now chancellor of Oxford University.