Opinion: On being beaten

After hours of counting on the morning on Friday 7th May 2010 it was announced for the world to see that Glenda Jackson was re-elected elected as the Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn.  Hidden beneath this was my own result where I lost by 842.  A close result, except that I was in third place – in 2010 the best placed third placed loser in Britain I’m told.

In most of the accounts of the 2010 General Election H&K as it was dubbed, is listed as the seat the LD’s hoped to win – Nick Clegg had launch his campaign there.  I was cited as a close friend (one paper even said I was his best man – I wasn’t!).

Indeed I remember at the count when the Conservative candidate went back to his team – he said “She’s won”. One of his campaign asked hastily – “and Fordham?” – “he’s third came the reply” – “Yes” they cheered.

But for me as I walked home and for the days afterwards it was more than losing.  I’m a Liberal Democrat – I’m used to losing counts.  But losing as a candidate it is highly personal.

I often say to candidates whom I have mentored or trained since that night – “I have a political partner, a councillor, someone who has highly supportive, who went canvassing with me, who held me when the lights went out.  I could not have asked for more from him.  Yet despite all of this I found being the candidate in a target seat one of the loneliest things I have ever done.”

So watching the results last week broke my heart.  It wasn’t the losing that upset me – it was thinking of the time when the lights went out on Friday and Saturday as they lay in bed after those results that I thought most of my friends – former Members of Parliament.  As the dark closes in, then the loneliness arrives – it keeps you awake, haunts you.

And people say time is a healer – it’s only half true.  I was out for Lynne Featherstone last week and a voter emerged and decided to give me both barrels – he was over the top, rude, aggressive – and as he launched his anger at me he clearly caught something in my face – he stopped dead and said “sorry, you aren’t the candidate are you”.  I took his apology and walked on delivering my leaflets.  But inside I was having a mini-panic attack as I remembered all the same style encounters from 2010. After a few paces, I hid round a corner, close to Gladstone Road, near Manor House tube, and wept quietly.  I’m embarrassed to admit that my own trauma of losing five years ago still dogs me.

For each time you think of those voters, you think of the answers they selectively gave you, you think of the what-might-have happened votes, you think of things you might have done differently, you think of the guilt you carry for your team.

On election night this time I realised I like a triumph – but I loathe triumphalism – one of the reasons I found Lucy Powell (a Labour MP) tweets so offensive.

But as we crawl over the results, as we pick over what might have happened – think of our candidates – all of them.

As I sat in chapel on Sunday morning – the chapel in which I was married to my same sex partner – I reflected on my friends – Alistair Carmichael and Nick Clegg who scraped home, Stephen Williams and David Laws who did not.  None of it is fair, none of it is just.  But for our candidates the weight of responsibility, win or lose is very high, perhaps too high.

I’m grateful to all of them – and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I hope they bounce back quicker than I did – it has taken me a long time – I still love my party, elections still fascinate me, I still respect the public (just about), but the pain of losing and the loneliness – I hate that too.

To all those who stood in 2015 for the liberal cause – thank you.

* Ed Fordham is a councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council and runs Brockwell Books of Chesterfield, selling many thanks, not least ephemera he bought from Liber Books over the last 25 years.

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  • Very moving piece Ed. And what you’re saying has to be said. Even for candidates who lose in ‘hopeless’ seats, its hard not to take it as a personal rejection. I really hate it when I hear people sneer at politicians. Whether media hacks or just the complacent, sneering ‘you’re all the same’ crowd. The sidelines is such an easy place to be. Without people willing to be candidates there would be no elections, no democracy. Yes, some politicians are awful. But given the choice between Russell Brand and someone who stands up for their beliefs and puts their neck on the line… well you see where I’m going. 8)

  • A really honest account from Ed of the impact of losing especially in a target seat. The expectations are enormous as are the impacts on family, finances and career. You are left with a huge void that no else can really understand as well as a huge debt to go with it. As Ed suggests, this can last for months if not years. I sincerely hope the pastoral care provided by the party is better now than when I stood.

  • Ed, I found this article really touching and I thank you for sharing it with us

  • A really moving account, and I echo the other comments. I’m mainly an observer of the political process, but the approach of some members of the public seems increasingly unacceptable. Are these people who shout at their candidate the same individuals who scream at their GP, rant at their child’s teacher and so on. The demonisation of public servants has a corrosive effect, and I do think more people should call it out when we see it happening – to whatever party. I promise I will…

  • Ian Nicholson 15th May '15 - 12:53am

    Glenda Jackson was a very fine MP who stood up for the most vulnerable in our society. I find that very touching rather than the self serving and frankly maudlin epitaph for a Liberal Democrat Party that betrayed those very people. Your personal rejection is as nothing compared to the penury and sometimes death that your support of Coalition welfare “reform” visited upon the disabled.

  • Julian Tisi 15th May '15 - 9:12am

    @Ian Nicholson
    …welfare reforms made necessary by the decisions of the last labour government. It’s one thing having the right intentions but if you screw up the economy you end up hurting the very people you intend to help. This is something the left still doesn’t get. In their parallel universe cuts were some Tory plot to hurt the poorest aided by the Lib Dems. It’s a lovely idea but it rather ignores the fact that Labour – anyone indeed – would have faced the same circumstances in 2010 as we did. At least our rule of thumb was a good one – if cuts were to be made we would start at the top and work down – for example, capping benefits to average wages. It’s interesting how it was the cuts at the top that were the most contraversial. I’m not saying everything the government did was right – it wasn’t. But the left never came up with a credible alternative. Instead they indulged in demonisation of the very people that were trying hardest to deal with the problem left them in the fairest way possible.

  • “…I hope they bounce back quicker than I did – it has taken me a long time – I still love my party, elections still fascinate me, I still respect the public (just about), but the pain of losing and the loneliness – I hate that too.”

    Well said, Ed.

    I know that feeling. It never really goes away. Even a subsequent victory does not wipe out the bitter taste of rejection and sometimes the perception of betrayal.

    One of our MPs lost last week after 33 years as a servant of his local people, working tirelessly on their behalf all that time. How did they thank him — they voted for someone else!

    I feel even worse for those candidates who came 4th or 5th or even 6th in seats where we had been in touching distance last time. Sheffield Central for example where a Liberal Democrat came within 168 votes of winning in 2010 and our candidate was reduced to 4th place in 2015. I would not wish such a humiliation on anyone. It is as you say a lonely position being the candidate.

    Democracy depends on candidates but seldom says ‘thank you’ to the losing candidate.

  • Julian Tisi, the cuts at the top meaning cutting their tax bill?!

  • Great piece by Ed – touching and true. Politics is a brutal game with no prizes for second place under FPTP – I’d never really felt this until I saw losing (and winning) candidates in tears at a count.

  • Ed, I’m sorry that even in the comments a piece like this some people think it is necessary to personally attack you.

    * hug *

  • Richard Clein 15th May '15 - 9:55pm

    An honest piece from Ed and one which I’m sure hundreds of parliamentary candidates can relate to. I stood in 2010 in a non target seat (Sefton Central) coming 3rd with almost 10,000 votes (20%). I did the hustings, took the abuse, did the casework, answered hundreds of emails with the only support coming from family, former council
    Leader Tony Robertson, John Pugh and new activists like Dan Lewis and James Ludley who have since gone on to greater things – a legacy I’m proud of. All money was raised by me with not a penny from the party. The reality is I was never going to win and I would argue the feeling of loneliness is even greater in a non target seat. I’ve not done an awful lot since – a hangover from my campaign in 2010 and not the coalition which I supported. It’s sad to see really decent hard working campaigners like Adrian Sanders, John Leech and Simon Hughes lose and it will I’m sure take them time to recover but the fightback has begun and I have no doubt that all of us including Ed will back more resilient and real as a result of our collective experiences.

  • Sue Doughty 17th May '15 - 6:19am

    Many thanks for this piece and so true.Losing is brutal – we ask ourselves what more could have been done, and others helpfully tell us our shortcomings but for me it was like a bereavement. Mentally you are still an MP with ongoing casework and political interests, but in reality you have staff to support who need to be job hunting as soon as possible. The hardest was having to say to constituents that they would need to take some of the casework to the new MP as I no longer had the special access to officials which was needed. We have lost some great MPs and councillors.

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