Modern UK history, defined in this piece as 1900-present day, has been filled with shocking unseatings and dumbfounding defeats. The following piece will look at the most high-profile cases of MPs losing their seats.
*This list does not include MPs who stepped down.
1900: Walter Runciman
The 1900 election marked two notable introductions that would heavily impact Britain within the 20th century.
In regards to party politics, the 1900 election is highly important for being the first contested by the collective then known as the Labour Representation Committee. In regards to MPs, a certain Winston Churchill first won a parliament seat that year.
Funnily enough, in 1899, Churchill lost a by-election in Oldham to Liberal Walter Runciman (whom he would beat for the constituency the next year), after which his opponent remarked: “Don’t worry, I don’t think this is the last the country has heard of either of us.”
Runciman would go on to have a long tenure within government under different roles, notably visiting Czechoslavakia in 1938 in an attempt to resolve the Sudetenland crisis.
1906: Arthur Balfour
The 1906 election saw the Conservatives suffer an even worse fate than in 1997.
In December 1905, suffering from no confidence in his ministry from King Edward VII, Arthur Balfour’s government collapsed and almost immediately, the Liberals declared a general election.
By this stage, the Conservative Party was increasingly unpopular, with an inter-party divide on the matter of free trade among the party’s issues.
In the so-called Liberal landslide, the Conservatives won their fewest ever seats at just 156, the Liberals by contrast had garnered in the ballpark of 400.
The most drastic loss was in Manchester East, in which Balfour felt the effects of a “Conservative Throw Out,” as one poster put it. A 22.5% swing to the Liberals in this constituency meant that the man who was freshly out of the office of prime minister was a month later out of the Commons.
January 1910: Jack Pease
The 1910 election saw the Conservatives recuperate enough to be able to really challenge the Liberals, creating a hung parliament.
The Conservatives gained Saffron Walden, held by Jack Pease, a Junior Lord of the Treasury (assistant whip) under Henry Campbell-Bannerman and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (chief whip) under H. H. Asquith. Sworn of the Privy Council, he was defeated in January’s election but would return later that year in a by-election.
Pease would also go on to become the first chairman of the BBC.
In 1910, the loss of Pease was an illustration of the fleeting Liberal dominance in UK politics.
December 1910: Bonar Law
December’s election was almost identical to the result of January, making any big seat losses scarce.
An interesting development occurred in the constituency of Manchester North West, where future Tory leader and Prime Minister Bonar Law failed to capture the seat. Law was against stiff competition from incumbent Liberal MP George Kemp – himself an ex-Conservative alienated by tariff reform and a war hero who fought in the Boer War.
Law had also lost his seat in 1906.
The Times notes Law challenged Churchill to stand against him, with the caveat that the loser would not serve in the next parliament, although that never materialised.
Prior to the election, Law had been a staunch tariff reformer, Shadow Cabinet member, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, an indefatigable orator, and an important behind-the-scenes figure holding together a fractured Conservative Party.
1918: H. H. Asquith
In 1908, Herbert Asquith became prime minister, with Henry Campbell-Bannerman in ill health. In 1916, amid World War Two, Asquith – an ancestor of Helena Bonham Carter – was replaced with a David George Lloyd-headed coalition government established.
When contesting the 1918 election, the Liberals were divided into two: the Coalition Liberal Party led by Lloyd George and the Liberal Party led by Herbert Asquith.
Perhaps due to the split or the increased electorate under the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1918, Asquith lost his East Fife seat to a Unionist candidate in what would be in the words of Stuart R. Ball of Scottish Historical Review “a setback from which his subsequent career never fully recovered.”
The Liberal split would go further than beyond this election, having notable consequences for the party’s future. By 1922, Labour had overtaken the Liberals.
1922: Winston Churchill
After a win in 1918 resulted in a Lloyd George-led Conservative government, 1922 marked the first year that the Conservatives would solely lead the country after a general election win since 1900.
One of the National Liberals wiped out was former Home Secretary and then-Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill, who lost his Dundee seat.
In a –20% swing, Churchill would finish 4th, behind another National Liberal, a loss made even more astounding considering he was not opposed by a Conservative candidate. Churchill lost his seat to Edwin Scrymgeour, the only ever Scottish Prohibition Party member elected to parliament.
In his biography of Mr Churchill, Roy Jenkins notes how Churchill conceded that he was “without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix,” the latter point an allusion to a surgery that had stalled Churchill’s local campaign.
During Churchill’s absence from the Commons, he became alienated from the Liberal Party, returning to Parliament as a Conservative (Constitutionalist) candidate.
1923: Sir Anderson Montague-Barlow
In a move comparable to Theresa May’s 2017 snap election for a stronger hand in Brexit negotiations, in 1923, Stanley Baldwin called an election in 1923 to get a mandate on the government’s tariff policy.
In the ensuing election, Cabinet minister Anderson Montague-Barlow lost his seat, a symbol of Labour’s performance in that year.
Admitted to the Privy Council the year prior upon becoming Minister of Labour, Barlow obtained an OBE in 1918 but that was not enough to save his seat – one which went unopposed the year prior.
With the Conservatives lacking a majority and being propped up by the Liberals, Labour was able to take power – albeit in a minority government – for the first time.
1924: H. H. Asquith
Another general election, another Asquith loss.
The then-Liberal Party leader had re-entered Parliament after his 1918 exit through a 1920 by-election in Paisley, Scotland.
In the 1924 election, as a result of the fabled Zinoviev Letter in which it was said Labour were in collaboration with the communist Soviet Russia, Labour’s vote collapsed – with the notable exception of Paisley.
By the 1920s, the Scottish town was encapsulated in the ‘Red Clydeside’ movement, with Asquith bombarded with the socialist anthem “The Red Flag”.
Asquith, like 75% of other Liberal MPs that year, lost his seat, with only 40 Liberals remaining in Parliament after the election.
1929: Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland
Although not able to gain a majority, 1929 marked a flagship election for Labour who won more seats than the Conservatives for the first time.
Amongst the nearly 150 Tories toppled was Arthur Steel-Maitland, who had previously served under Baldwin from 1924 to 1929 as Minister of Labour. The Cabinet member had also been the party’s first Chairman during the First World War.
Maitland lost to Labour candidate Charles Simmons, who nudged out the incumbent by a narrow 133-vote margin.
1931: Arthur Henderson
Labour’s 1929 success came to a crashing halt in 1931.
At this election, both Labour and the Liberals were split in two, handing the election to the Conservatives, who at 55% are still the last party in modern-day British politics to win a majority, not a plurality, of the vote.
The official Labour Party did not join the Broadchurch coalition formed in 1931, known as the National Government, and ended up with just over 50 MPs, below 10% of all members in the Commons.
Labour leader Arthur Henderson was one of those unfortunate enough to suffer defeat. As well as a Labour leader, he had held many prominent roles through the First World War, subsequently taking on the Great Office roles of Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.
He lost the seat to National Liberal Gordon Campbell, a First World War veteran who was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Another high-profile loss for Labour was Margaret Bondfield, who was at that point the only woman to hold a Cabinet role.
Ironically, the seat was a safe Labour seat from 1935 to the end of the 20th century.
1935: Ramsay MacDonald
In 1935, Labour managed to get revenge over the man many saw as betraying their party when prominent trade unionist and Red Clydeside pioneer Manny Shinwell ousted ex-prime minister Ramsay MacDonald.
Much to the chagrin of the official Labour Party, in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald established National Labour, a coalition to help steer the nation through the Great Depression.
The loss was a crushing defeat for MacDonald, with Labour’s Shinwell winning more than double MacDonald’s vote count, winning 68.2% of all votes in a 24.5% swing.
Shinwell would subsequently have a sizable role in Clement Attlee’s post-war government, including in coal nationalisation and an increased defence budget.
1945: Archibald Sinclair
There was no election for a decade as Britain was ravaged by the Second World War. Post-war, Churchill called an election in which his ruling Conservative Party suffered a landslide loss to Clement Attlee’s Labour.
Yet, faring worse than the Conservatives were the Liberals, who initiated their post-war decline which would leave them with a single-digit number of seats by the 1950s.
In the Liberals on-again, off-again habit of losing their leader during elections, 1945 saw Sinclair lose his Caithness and Sutherland seat. On this occasion, it was picked up by Unionist candidate Eric Gandar Dower in a close-knit three-way race in which each candidate picked up 33% of the vote; Sinclair came third but was nonetheless just 62 votes away from victory.
It was the last occasion until 2019 when a major party lost its leader in a general election.
1950: Arthur Creech Jones
Like in 1910, in 1950, the Conservatives rose again after a hefty landslide loss to cause a hung parliament.
One of the Labour casualties was Cabinet minister Arthur Creech Jones, who lost his Shipley seat by a narrow 81-seat margin after boundary changes to the constituency.
An anti-conscription pacifist and trade union official, Jones was Secretary of State for the Colonies by the time he was so unceremoniously dethroned.
1951: Megan Lloyd George
In 1951, despite earning 250,000 fewer votes than Labour, the Conservatives were able to take power. The win is in part attributable to the Liberals – suffering from a lack of funds – standing down many candidates, with their votes likely transferring over to the Tories,
One example of the Liberals’ woes was their loss in the very Welsh constituency of Ynys Môn. Here, former Deputy Leader Megan Lloyd George, daughter of former prime minister David, was unseated by Labour candidate Cledwyn Hughes after George had spent 22 years as the MP. Lloyd was the first female Welshman in Parliament.
Nationally, the Liberals won just six seats.
In her parliamentary afterlife, George would herself defect to Labour.
1955: Michael Foot
1955 saw the Conservatives expand their seat count, the first party to do so since the Second Great Reform Act in 1867.
From my research, no truly quintessential MPs were ousted but a historically notable name did lose his seat.
A decade after winning the seat, even beating Randolph Churchill (Winston’s only son), Michael Foot lost his Plymouth Devonport to National Liberal Dame Joan Vickers by 100 votes.
In a story later told by Gordon Brown, Foot remarked: “In 1945, the good people of Plymouth Devonport elected me as their member of parliament. In 1955, the bastards threw me out!”
Despite having already written Guilty Men – a text that would set the tone for Cold War historiography by blaming appeasement for the First World War – Foot was not the Labour giant he would become.
The libertarian socialist and former Tribune journalist would return to Parliament in 1960 through a by-election in the safest Welsh Labour seat, Ebbw Vale. He would go on to become Leader of the House of Commons, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and in the 1980s the Leader of the Labour Party.
Funnily enough, the Plymouth Devonport seat would later be won by David Owen, who alongside the ‘Gang of Four’, broke off from Labour amidst Michael Foot’s leadership.
1959: James Lindsay
Chances are you’ve never heard of James Lindsay as his departure is more significant for the man that took over.
One of the more unremarkable UK elections, 1959 saw few prominent MPs knocked from their perch.
In North Devon, sitting Conservative James Lindsay narrowly lost his seat to Jeremy Thorpe.
The youngster rose through the ranks to become the Liberal leader by the late 1960s. Although not able to sufficiently increase the Liberal Party’s number of seats, Thorpe was able to increase the group’s popularity amongst the electorate. In 1966, leader Jo Grimond won just 2.3 million votes; in February 1974, Thorpe was able to win over 6 million.
Thorpe was also able to hold the balance of power in 1974, with his decision not to form a coalition with Edward Heath directly leading to Harold Wilson establishing a minority government.
1964: Patrick Gordon Walker
In 1964, Labour returned to government albeit with a razor-thin majority and some losses along the way.
The most contentious was when Shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker was defeated by Conservative Peter Griffiths in Smethwick.
In a hotly-fuelled campaign, Griffith stoked up racial tensions in the campaign, at a time when, according to authors Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford noting in Brexitland: Identity, Diversity, and the Reshaping of British Politics, “openly articulating or sympathising with such ethnocentric sentiments was taboo.”
Indeed, Griffith’s campaign slogan is a damning indictment of the repugnancy of his campaign, when he remarked: “If you want a n****r, vote Labour!”
In an area where there had been prevalent Commonwealth migration, particularly from Punjab Sikhs, Griffith was able to nab the seat.
New prime minister Wilson, who decried the “squalid campaign” and “parliamentary leper”, went ahead and appointed Walker as Foreign Secretary anyway although after losing a by-election to re-enter the House, was forced to ditch the role.
1966: Peter Thorneycroft
Although little spoken of, the 1966 election was a glorious night for Labour, able to increase their majority, only lose one seat, and attain a vote percentage that has not been topped since.
In Monmouth, Labour’s Donald Anderson was able to attain victory, winning a constituency that belonged to Conservative Peter Thorneycroft in a two-horse race for the seat.
Thorneycroft had many accolades, amongst them Chancellor of the Exchequer – a role he held for just over a year before resigning alongside fellow ministers Nigel Birch and Enoch Powell over increased government expenditure.
The seat had been held by Thorneycroft for over 20 years.
1970: George Brown
1970 saw the somewhat surprising result of a Conservative win, booting Labour out of office.
One of the most severe losses sustained was in Belper, Derbyshire, where George Brown lost his seat.
At the time, Brown was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and had previously served as First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary. He had even served briefly as Leader of the Opposition in the interim between leader Hugh Gaitskell’s death and the selection of Harold Wilson as his replacement.
Brown had held the seat since 1945, winning over 50% of the vote in all elections but one up to 1970.
He commented in 1971: “The electorate had increased by over 10,000 since 1966, mainly from the growth of middle-class housing estates, so that most of the new electors could be expected to vote Tory. Since my majority in 1966 was 4,274, an influx of 10,000 new voters, mainly Tory, obviously imperilled the seat.”
February 1974: Gordon Campbell
Calling an election in order to attain a mandate on the coal miners’ strike, Edward Heath’s plan backfired because, as mentioned earlier, Labour gained more seats and took power. A more subtle legacy however is the SNP’s breakthrough, who were able to double their vote share in Scotland and increase their seats from one to seven.
One notable win for the Scottish National Party was in Moray and Nairn, where Winnie Ewing was able to topple Conservative minister Gordon Campbell.
The SNP had run an effective campaign with the slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” in retaliation to the discovery of North Sea oil off the coast of Scotland, which was not seen to reap benefits for Scotland.
Secretary of State for Scotland Campbell had been reticent about the issue, costing him the seat.
October 1974: Michael Ancram
Another election the same year gave Labour the majority they wanted.
Michael Ancram lost his seat in this election.
Unknown at the time, he was elected to the Berwick and East Lothian seat in the February election but lost it back to Labour in October.
The reason the loss was the biggest was due to his later contributions during the Conservative Party’s wilderness years in the late 20th and early 21st century when it was forced to undergo a rebuild.
Ancram served as Chairman of the party before taking on roles more in the public eye such as Deputy Leader of the party and serving in the Shadow Cabinets of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard as Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary.
Despite being prior to his fame, it showed Labour’s popularity at the time – including in Scotland. Although realistically, Labour did not have enough popularity, with its three-seat majority whittled away by the late 1970s, leading ultimately to the collapse of the Callaghan ministry after a no-confidence vote in 1979.
1979: Shirley Williams
1979 was a mixed year for women in Parliament. Indeed, Thatcher won the election, becoming the nation’s first female prime minister but both Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams, perhaps the two most famous women in Parliament, both departed – the latter not by choice.
The then-Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General lost her seat in Hertford and Stevenage, a newly-established seat first won in February 1974.
She had been dogged in the press particularly over her brief 1977 arrest after joining the picket line during the Grunwick trade union dispute.
It was by no way the last time that the public had seen the last of Williams however. In 1981, as a part of the breakaway ‘Gang of Four’ which defected from the Michael Foot-led Labour Party, Williams was a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
She won a 1981 Crosby by-election, after a –17% swing from the Conservatives, in a seat won by more than 50% of the Conservative vote two years previously.
1983: Tony Benn
A Labour titan and the modern-day flagbearer of democratic socialism, Tony Benn was on the unfortunate end during Labour’s disastrous 1983 electoral performance.
It is actually a misnomer to say Foot was doomed from the start. Indeed, before the SDP split and the Falklands War, Foot obtained a double-figure lead over Thatcher in opinion polls.
By the 1983 election however, which featured the infamous “suicide note” manifesto which pledged to leave the EEC, abolish the House of Lords, and commit to a policy of nuclear disarmament.
Benn’s loss in Bristol East interrupted his total time of over 50 years in Parliament, ending continuous service after 33 years.
The loss of Benn was a huge blow to any plans he may have had for the Labour leadership. As Benn was out of the Commons, he could not stand in the subsequent leadership contest won by Neil Kinnock. By the time he later challenged Kinnock for the role, Benn struggled to gain ground, seen as too ‘Old Labour’ for a modernising party.
1987: Roy Jenkins
The 1987 election saw Labour make steady leeway, somewhat closing the Conservatives lead. One seat they won was Glasgow Hillhead.
The seat belonged to Roy Jenkins. Jenkins had many high-profile roles from Chancellor to Deputy Leader of the Labour Party but is most regarded for his time as Home Secretary. Amongst his legislative reforms during his high-regarded tenure was the legalisation of homosexuality, abolition of the death penalty, and anti-racial discrimination policies.
Jenkins had been out of Parliament to serve as President of the European Commission (the only Brit to ever serve in the position) when he defected to be a founding member of the SDP. Jenkins’s strong pro-Europe position had netted him opposition from Labour MPs and under Foot had advocated to leave the organisation.
In part due to boundary changes since 1983, Jenkins was felled in 1987 when the constituency was won by Labour’s George Galloway.
In an ironic twist, like Jenkins, George Galloway himself would go on to have an explosive and public separation from the Labour Party.
1992: Chris Patten
In 1992, John Major’s Conservatives retained their majority in a surprisingly strong result. Performing better than projected, John Major’s 14 million votes is the highest of all time.
Although a short-term victory, in the long-term, it was still a large reduction of seats and one that had wiped out MPs such as Chris Patten.
The Chairman of the Conservative Party under Major, Patten went on to lose his marginal seat in Bath to the Liberal Democrats. His successor Don Foster threw up the explanation that Patten’s role in constructing the highly unpopular poll tax was responsible, explaining: “It’s important to remember that Chris got absolutely hammered by the poll tax. On polling day in Bath, there were a number of poll tax evasion cases at the magistrates court which had brought the anti-poll tax protesters to Bath in their droves.”
It was not all bad news for Patten. Not only did he himself actually raise his profile out of Parliament through his role as Governor of Hong Kong but he also should be accredited as the architect of the 1992 re-election campaign.
1997: Michael Portillo
1997 was the nadir of eminent politicians losing their seats. Shamed politicians such as Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken, popular figures such as Norman Lamont and Edwina Currie, and Cabinet ministers Malcolm Rifkind and William Waldegrave were amongst those on the chopping block. Yet the most devastating result was in Enfield Southgate.
There, Michael Portillo, then-Secretary of State of Defence, unexpectedly lost his seat to Labour candidate Stephen Twigg. An unassuming, young 30-year-old, the openly gay Twigg seemed to be merely a footnote in the election, especially considering the seat’s designation as a safe Tory seat considering Portillo’s 15,000-strong majority in 1992.
In an unbelievable turn of events, Portillo lost after a 17% swing to Labour. It was particularly notable as Portillo was seen as a shoo-in by many for the man to succeed Major as leader of the party.
Since then, terms referencing Portillo’s defeat have entered the political vernacular, from the so-called ‘Portillo Moment’ to the question “Were you up for Portillo?”
As Portillo later told The Guardian, “My name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public.”
2001: David Lock
David Lock’s loss in 2001 was one of the first signs of disillusion and public hostility towards the New Labour government at an electoral level.
On top of the 1997 election triumph, Labour was able to retain over 400 seats in 2001, remaining popular with the electorate.
However, discontent could be seen in Wyre Forest, where Labour MP David Lock was defeated by a rare successful independent candidate. Dr Richard Taylor of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern won 58% of the vote, a 17,000-strong majority, pushing Labour into second place with a paltry 22% of the vote.
Taylor ran a successful single-issue campaign over the government’s decision to downgrade the Accident & Emergency Department of the Kidderminster Hospital. In 2000, the government closed the A&E service after NHS cuts.
Proving that nothing could galvanise a grassroots campaign like issues of health, a cross-party matter, it was a big result that proved the government were not unbeatable. Tearing a noticeable hole through Labour’s otherwise successful fabric, one commentator noted: “Not only has a valuable minister been lost, but Labour’s determination to make health a central campaign issue has backfired messily in Middle England.”
2005: Oona King
Although still holding a comfortable majority of 66, the 2005 election was not a good night for Labour, to say the least.
The Iraq War was the long shadow hanging over the election and contributor to many of the party’s big losses, among them losing Blaenau Gwent, the safest Labour seat in Wales.
More public was Labour’s loss in Bethnal Green and Bow, where ousted Labour MP and vocal Iraq War critic George Galloway defeated steadfast Blair supporter Oona King.
After a heated, and personal campaign, Galloway who stood for Respect – The Unity Coalition, nudged out King, with many Labour figures accusing the Scottish socialist of exploiting racial tensions in the densely-Muslim-populated constituency.
Described by the BBC as “one of the most remarkable results in modern British electoral history,” Galloway won on a 26.2% swing before cutting a searing speech. In it, he exclaimed: “All the people you’ve killed, all the lies you’ve told have come back to haunt you…it was a defeat for Tony Blair and New Labour and all of the betrayals.”
2010: Jacqui Smith
Many marginal Labour seats fell to the Conservatives in 2010 as the Tories were able to get back into government, albeit with Liberal Democrat support in a coalition government, under the more liberal leadership of David Cameron.
In 2009, Jacqui Smith resigned as Home Secretary amid heavy backlash over her role in the MPs expenses scandal; after the next election, she was out of Parliament.
In 2007, Jacqui Smith was appointed by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the role of Home Secretary, making history by being the first female to hold that position. Also the youngest Home Secretary since Winston Churchill nearly a century earlier, she was only the third woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State.
She would be forced out of the role before the next election, however. Smith had claimed over £100,000 in expenses on her sister’s London residence whilst a bill including two pornographic films viewed by her husband had to been declared in a similar fashion. In total, she claimed £150,000, more than the prime minister and Leader of the Opposition.
With the black cloud hanging over her, she was forced into resignation.
Clearly, her constituents were too outraged by the dubious expenses and what was seen as an unjustified use of taxpayer money as she was ousted from the Commons by Redditch voters.
2015: Ed Balls
In 2010, it was a widespread prediction that then-Secretary for Children, Schools, and Families Ed Balls would face his own ‘Portillo Moment’ but was able to hold onto his seat by 1,101 votes. He would not be so lucky in 2015.
An economic advisor to Gordon Brown, Balls was an important figure in the New Labour project and had reportedly been the person Brown had wanted to leave the role of prime minister to.
After the election, Balls came third in his bid for the Labour leadership. The next year, after a brief time as Shadow Home Secretary (replaced by his wife Yvette Cooper), Balls was transferred to Shadow Chancellor.
He would serve in this role until the general election when he lost his Morley and Outwood to Conservative Andrea Jenkyn by 422 votes.
In his autobiography, Ed Balls reflected: “Once the Tories put our weakness on economic credibility together with the fear that the SNP would be calling the shots, we were sunk. We became the risky choice. I believe millions of English voters – most crucially ex-Lib Dems – genuinely felt that their taxes were going to be hiked at the whim of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, and the only way to stop that happening was by voting Tory.”
It was ultimately a night to forget for Labour, who also lost ground in Scotland, where the SNP won 56/59 seats, toppling Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, leaving the party with just one seat.
2017: Nick Clegg
As bad as 2015 may have been for Labour, it was worse for the Liberal Democrats.
In 2010, the nation was gripped by Cleggmania, a term coined to describe the popularity of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. One YouGov opinion poll for The Sun saw the Lib Dems in the lead in the election race whilst Clegg was voted as having popularity equivalent to Winston Churchill.
After a hung parliament after the 2010 election, Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister in the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition government. Many saw Clegg as spineless in the role, unwilling to stand up to Cameron, most famously breaking his manifesto promise of not raising tuition fees. Mayor of London Boris Johnson referred to him as “David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things that David Cameron has to do.”
In 2015, the party – which under Charles Kennedy in 2005 had won 62 seats (the most since 1923) – crashed, winning only 8 seats from the 57 it had held before.
Although Clegg held on in 2015, he did not in 2017. Although in 2017, the Lib Dems improved, likely due to their status as the anti-Brexit party, and were able to re-elect future leaders such as Vince Cable, Jo Swinson, and Ed Davey, Clegg lost his Sheffield Hallam to Labour’s Jared O’Mara by over 2,000 votes.
Former Lib Dem leader Clegg’s loss was a symbol of just how far the party had fallen.
2019: Dennis Skinner
On the topic of Lib Dem leaders falling out of Parliament, 2019 saw the first major party leader lose their seat since 1945 as Jo Swinson’s East Dunbartonshire seat fell to the SNP.
However, it was worse for Labour, whose crushing loss is best emphasised through the party’s loss of long-time safe seat Bolsover.
Since 1970, the seat of Bolsover in Derbyshire had been held by the legendary backbencher Dennis Skinner. Nicknamed “The Beast of Bolsover”, Skinner was a socialist bleeding heart in Parliament; showing solidarity with the miners’ strike (himself an ex-coalminer), voting against the Iraq War, and supporting Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Skinner became equally, if not more, famous for his parliamentary outbursts. Skinner routinely made anti-monarchial statements during the Queen’s Speech ceremony and could be seen being suspended from parliament for use of vulgar, unparliamentary language.
Dennis Skinner had commonly won over 50% of the vote but was ousted in 2019, when suffering a –16% swing, allowing the Conservatives to gain the seat.
An ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Skinner was 87 at the time, the oldest MP to lose his seat in the post-war era. The loss was especially notable as Skinner would have become Father of the House upon his win as the then-holder of the position, Ken Clarke, announced he was stepping down.