OPINION - I sobbed into a glass of wine while my phone melted down: what it was like to lose in the Tory wipeout

 (Fay Jones)
(Fay Jones)

“Don’t let them see you cry,” is the kind advice from my Labour opponent. We’re standing in a small huddle; gathered around the Returning Officer as she briefs us on the votes counted in my former constituency of Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe. The worst has happened; I’ve lost my seat. To the Liberal Democrats. After four and a half years, and six weeks of the campaign, I’m about to lose my job on live TV.

When you’re losing, the count is gruesome. We began the night with our noses in front but quickly my lead disappeared. Hope fades, the mood shifts and all you can see is crusty knitted jumpers backslapping gleefully. One chap even provides a shoulder massage to the Lib Dem candidate to warm him up for his victory speech. In the end, I lose by 1,400 votes. Reform took 6,500.

And so, I become one of the 251 Conservative victims of Thursday’s general election. In truth, the result was decided weeks ago, perhaps even years. We were never going to recover from Partygate, Trussonomics or Suella Braverman by doggedly pursuing Reform voters. When the election was called, I felt we might be able to hold Starmer to a double-digit majority if we could deliver a flawless campaign. Clearly, that didn’t happen. One of my farmers put it succinctly: “If your campaign was an animal, I’d have shot it.”

The day after the election is hell: too tired to sleep and fuelled by regret, it’s not a good time for social interaction

I stand on the platform with my fellow candidates and try to look passive as the new MP fails to read the room and delivers an epic victory address that bores even his own supporters. My speech is brief; it’s 6.20 in the morning and people want to go home, me especially. I am shepherded out of the hall by my team and into the pub next door where I sob into a large glass of white wine. I catch up on the results I’ve missed and my jaw drops at the scale; genuinely brilliant, hard-working MPs have been dismissed. However, small bits of joy cut through; the misogynistic bully who I reported to the whips has also fallen by the wayside.

The day after the election is hell. Too tired to sleep and fuelled by sadness and regret, it’s not a good time for social interaction. But your phone is in meltdown. Messages and phone calls come throughout the day from fellow rejects and kind-meaning winners. I start to dry my eyes when another former colleague calls and you go through it all over again.

The new Leader of the Opposition calls and I manage to hold back the tears. Leadership hopefuls send almost identical messages; all urging you to consider “coming back” as if the electorate hadn’t been very clear on that already. The Party Chairman calls — I press the red button. By Sunday morning, I’ve started to notice positives. This time last week, while out knocking doors, a man shouted from his doorstep: “you’re a f****ing c***”. I realise I can now, without fear of penalty, go back up there and do exactly the same to him. No more answering moronic facebook comments about “globalists” or the World Economic Forum… No more balancing that infuriating parliamentary credit card — paying out of my own pocket when my researcher has lost a receipt. No more Liz Truss. Perhaps there are upsides…

So, where next? The diary for Monday is strangely clear, except for a meeting organised by Parliament’s HR service entitled “Departure”. I have seven staff to make redundant and an enormous number of leaflets to dispose of, but after that, I’ve got nothing to do.

As someone who’s been fortunate enough to be in a job continuously since university, it’s hard to know where to start. What am I qualified for? With 250 other victims furiously emailing recruitment firms, what does the former Minister for Wales have to offer the world? I start to look through my contacts to see who might meet me for a coffee when my husband finds an exciting role advertised — chief executive of the Falkland Islands government, based 8,000 miles away.

Very, very tempting.

Fay Jones was MP for Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe, and Minister for Wales in the last government