On the campaign trail – facing defeat

Policy Connect's Jonathan Shaw, a former Labour MP and Minister reflects on what it's like to be on the losing side at a general election.

“Mr. Shaw, you’ve done a tremendous job for this area, and I can’t thank you enough... but it’s time for a change.”

This disheartening sentiment from voters is something many MPs seeking re-election on July 4th might recognise. Having canvassed during every general election since 1992, I've developed a keen sense of when the political tide is shifting. This was evident in the 2010 general election - the last instance when the Government switched hands. Gordon Brown put up a valiant fight, and I was there with him for much of it, serving then as the Minister for the South East - a region where Labour was defending numerous marginal seats, including my own. Consequently, after 13 years as the MP for Chatham and Aylesford, holding various ministerial positions, I was defeated by the very capable Tracey Crouch.

The prospect of losing, and losing itself, is daunting. Numerous MPs have chosen to retire rather than confront the voters – many have confided in me their reluctance to engage in a losing battle or their lack of desire to sit on the opposition benches. These are perfectly valid reasons to bow out; the life of an MP today is gruelling. I contemplated not running – to avoid a “Portillo moment” – but ultimately, I was grateful for the chance to express my thanks to the party workers and my family who had steadfastly supported me over such a long period.

While out canvassing my old patch, the reaction from the electorate seems to suggest that we are again at a moment of political change. Yet, there are many undecided voters; and it is likely that these individuals will face painstaking decisions over the next week as they decide between competing visions for Britain's future. For candidates and campaigners like myself, this final week will be tough - time is indeed short in politics! 

Jonathan Shaw

Jonathan Shaw is a former Labour MP and Minister and sits on the Policy Connect Board of Directors. He is the Strategic Director for Kent Further Education and chair of the Kent-based charity the Blackthorn Trust.