THE latest slump for the Camden Liberal Democrats in last week’s election results suggests we may be waiting some time before a repeat of the drama which coated a genuine three-way contest in Hampstead and Kilburn back in 2010. It might have been a one-off event for a generation, and even as a reporter you felt privileged to be in the grandstand for a clash which was unpredictable to the end. The campaign just gone was always going to be a pale re-run in terms of intrigue.
And as people talk about Tulip’s defence of the 42-vote majority and Chris Philp’s alternative route to the Commons in Croydon South, it’s worth remembering Ed Fordham, the Liberal Democrat who may now always be the person who went closest to winning a parliamentary seat in this borough for his party. After polling just over 3,000 votes this time, local Lib Dems do not deny that it will be a long road to see the finishing post up close again.
Certainly, Ed fairly feels his own near miss is too often forgotten when the story is redrafted with each telling of the 2010 contest. If people thought Simon Marcus was close in the poll against Tulip, Ed, the record books show, was closer. History, however, is rarely written by the guy in third place… unless, that is, it’s on the Lib Dem Voice blogsite, which this week features a personal piece from Ed on how hard losing – particularly, narrowly – is to shoulder, a sort of trumpet of solidarity for party colleagues, and friends who were banged out of their seats last week. It is only “half-true” that time is a healer, he says.
“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,'” he writes. “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.”
The 2010 battle for H&K was such a strange election, because you had these two guys in Ed and Chris who were busting a gut to win, and who while reporting on the campaign you’d see almost every day. And then there was the Labour candidate – Glenda Jackson – who sort of appeared in the last week or so, strolled into the election count, won, and waltzed off again, despite not really seeming to want the job they were all applying for in the same way. Ed really wanted it, knew he could win on a good day, and when he didn’t the disappointment was etched deep over his face. After the count, it was one of those moments where you almost felt apologetic for trying to get a quotable reaction afterwards, when the bald facts of defeat really spoke for themselves and there’s not really much more to say to a journalist however many different ways we phrase the same question. How do you feel? Why do you think YOU lost? How? Why? The bravefacery is awkward, painful.
Ed goes on, writing about how he felt after the seeing the disastrous results unfold for the Lib Dems last week: “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.”
When Ed writes that “none of it is fair”, there will be many who disagree and think that his high-up friends were simply judged on their choices and policies over five years, and the electorate fairly chose something else. But I don’t think his blogpost really is a grab for pity from opponents, more just a written reflection on how a win-lose see-saw result that is casually tweeted about by you and me, reported about and sometimes laughed about is actually a really big deal, personally, for those at the centre of the theatre – even if they walked onto the stage voluntarily. It’s not a case of him asking for people to feel sorry for Lib Dems who made their own bed and then felt it uncomfortable to lie in, more an honest account of what happens when everybody goes home and the disposable gossip of who won where is replaced with another news story, another event.
We all move on but Ed writes: “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.”