Parliament has bid farewell to some of its greatest membersby Josh Lowe, Dipo Faloyin / May 8, 2015 / Leave a comment
This remarkable election has seen the end of several legendary parliamentary careers, and the disappointment of some key challengers. Harsh, brutal and surprising—that’s politics, eh?
Here are five top figures who’ve had to say goodbye to the commons:
A few short weeks ago, Danny Alexander was one of the four most powerful men in the country—part of the “quad” at the heart of the coalition along with George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Now, he’s just another highlander, doomed to wander the fens until he finds a lucrative gig at a think tank or international charity. Alexander began his parliamentary career in 2005 and was instantly marked out as a rising star, taking a Work and Pensions brief in Charles Kennedy’s administration. A former Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg, Alexander has been one of the leader’s closest confidants. As a key architect of the coalition, he has played a huge role in shaping recent history and the fate of his party. Unseated by the SNP’s Drew Hendry, Alexander was a victim both of the SNP surge and the Lib Dem collapse, caught in the crossfire of this election’s two big trends.
Ed Balls is a divisive figure; while he has won plaudits for his economic literacy and wealth of experience (he more or less co-ran the Treasury as an advisor to Brown for much of the last Labour government), he has also been called abrasive, and has failed to persuade voters that they can trust him with the economy. That point will be seen as a key reason for Labour’s defeat within the party. The recount was a stay of execution, a chance for his final meal to settle before he faced the press firing squad. His concession speech was somber, heartfelt, and gracious, at times the moment threatened to overwhelm him. Conservative candidate Andreas Jenkins made very little attempt to hide her joy, even before her 422 majority was announced. It is safe to say, she wasn’t the only Tory in Britain smiling.
In one of the election’s most compelling stories, Douglas Alexander, the former Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South was unseated by Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old SNP candidate who now becomes Britain’s youngest MP since 1667. Just a day ago, Alexander had a reasonable chance of becoming foreign secretary. Now he is unemployed. Perhaps more than anyone else, Alexander’s fall sums up the sea change in Scottish politics; his seat was at one stage thought to be among the safest in the country, and Alexander began his Scottish political career in 1990 as a researcher for that other celtic titan, Gordon Brown.
The haughty features of the former Lib Dem MP for Twickenham have peered down from the House of Commons benches since 1997. Cable has spent the last five years in government as Business Secretary, carving his own path—often at odds with his Coalition partners—to focus on key Lib Dem issues like apprenticeships. It wasn’t enough to save him, however, with voters putting him three points behind his Conservative rival, who looked stunned at her victory earlier this morning. Cable had spent the past few days positioning himself as a potential leader of Coalition negotiations, but he’s now doomed to watch this parliament from the sidelines.
It was by the slimmest of margins—just 417 votes—that Esther McVey lost her Merseyside seat to Labour candidate, and former NHS campaigner Margaret Greenwood. The large local turnout reflected the interest in the race. As employment minister, she was at the forefront of unpopular policies, such as the introduction of the bedroom tax, and welfare reform. Despite her divisive reputation, and the very spirited campaign to dethrone her, she has never lacked self-confidence and ambition. In a recent interview with ITV, when asked whether she wanted to be prime minister, she replied: “If I had to do a yes or no, I’ll be honest, I’ll say yes”. There is time for her to achieve her ambition, just not in the next five years.
The Liberal Democrats’ only female minister was close to tears as she lost the seat she had held since 2005, to her SNP rival John Nicolson. Once tipped as a future leader of the Liberal Democrats, she was the first MP born in the 1980s to be elected to parliament. But, by 2010, her majority had almost halved, so she should not have been under any illusions as to the difficulty of the task at hand this time around. As Equalities Minister in the Coalition, she was responsible for bringing in shared parental leave and campaigned for more women to be elected to Parliament. Unlike others at the end of their careers, I would be surprised if this is the last we hear from Swinson.
The signs were there, especially towards the end of the election, that Labour could turn the constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark in their favour for the first time in three decades. A nine percent swing to local councillor Neil Coyle is nothing to shy at. Simon Hughes’ 32 year tenure has seen it all: leadership bids; stints as deputy leader, and party president; and, since 2013, a position in the cabinet as Minister of State for Justice. Despite the high profile he has enjoyed nationally, he was known locally as a committed MP, dedicated to his constituency, but his unpopularity grew over the coalition years, and in the end, he couldn’t fight Labour’s growing grip on London.