At around 3am on election night in 1997, the Conservative leading-light Michael Portillo suffered at shock defeat when he was ousted from his seat in Enfield Southgate by Stephen Twigg. Ever since, the surprising departure of a high-profile politician on election night – and their disbelieving face as the result is declared – has been dubbed a ‘Portillo moment’.
The unpredictable nature of this election, and the potential upending of traditional voter loyalties means there are unusually large number of potential ‘Portillo moments’ to watch out for this week, as Cabinet Ministers, Corbyn allies, and even party leaders are vulnerable to being spectacularly dethroned.
Below are the high-flying candidates who could be booted from the Commons on Thursday night.
Expected time to declare: 3am
Constituency: East Dunbartonshire
The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has talked a big game this general election campaign, even suggesting at the start of November that she might become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Perhaps though she should have been more concerned about her own fate. In her constituency of East Dunbartonshire, the Scottish Nationalists are practically salivating at the prospect of taking back the seat she poached from them in 2017. Swinson’s majority at the last general election was a mere 5,339 votes and, as Stephen Daisley points out, her policy of revoking Article 50 may well cost her the support of Tory Unionists, who backed her in 2017 to keep out the SNP.
Arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve, who was the Tory MP for Beaconsfield for 22 years before Boris Johnson removed the whip from him, is one of the big names predicted to lose his spot on the green benches this week. The former Attorney General, who is standing this time as an independent, will be hoping that his years of loyal service as a local MP will aid his campaign. But without the name recognition and tactical support that comes from being part of a big political party, it’s hard to see how he’ll survive this election.
Constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
Chuku Umunna’s rollercoaster career – which saw him resign from the Labour Shadow Cabinet, leave the party to join the ‘Independent Group’, form the new party Change UK, leave the party to become an independent, and then join the Lib Dems – could come to an abrupt end on 13 December. Despite winning the backing of celebrities such as Hugh Grant, Lib Dem campaigners are said to be worried that Chuka is struggling to win over residents in the central London seat, which he moved to from Streatham. Looking at the numbers alone, it’s easy to see why. In the 2017 election, the Lib Dems received just over 4,000 votes in the area, compared to the Conservative’s 18,000 and Labour’s 14,000. Umunna and the Lib Dems are therefore taking a big gamble that London residents will ditch their old parties and vote on Brexit lines this time (his constituency backed Remain by 71 per cent in 2016).
Iain Duncan Smith
Constituency: Chingford and Woodford Green
Will the ‘quiet man’ go quietly into the night? The former leader of the Tory party has held the seat of Chingford and Woodford Green for 27 years, but IDS doesn’t exactly have a large bulwark against a Labour swing. In the last election, his majority was 2,438, and there have been several ‘unseat Iain Duncan Smith’ campaigns led by Momentum throughout the year. The constituency, which sits on the outskirts of London, has changed demographically over the years, and the Labour candidate Faiza Shaheen will be cautiously optimistic that she can claim IDS’s scalp.
Constituency: Esher and Walton
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has a desperate fight on his hands to hold on to his seat of Esher and Walton. Although Raab had a majority of over 23,000 in the last general election, his reputation as a hardline Brexiteer in a constituency which backed Remain by 58 per cent means he is particularly vulnerable to a Lib Dem surge. YouGov’s MRP analysis of the polls still has Raab as the likely winner in Esher and Walton, but tactical voting by Remainers could skew the polls.
Constituency: North West Durham
It would be a devastating blow for Labour on Thursday night if Laura Pidcock, the Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights, lost in North West Durham. Not only is Pidcock the protégé of Corbyn and one of the MPs tipped to take over as Labour leader, but defeat would signal that the party has broken with its traditional supporters in the former mining communities of the North East. Since its creation in 1950, the North West Durham constituency has never backed a non-Labour candidate. As things stand, it’s doubtful that Pidcock will be the first to see it go blue – the Corbynite MP had a reasonably comfortable 8,792 majority in 2017. But local activists are reported to be focusing their efforts in the area, suggesting the party is not confident this ‘Red Wall’ seat won’t be breached.
Expected time to declare: 4.30am
Constituency: Uxbridge & Ruislip South
He may be the prime minister, and he may well lead the Conservatives to their fourth general election victory, but that doesn’t mean Boris Johnson will necessarily hold on to his Uxbridge seat. As reported by Mr Steerpike, CCHQ seem to be worried that Boris could be ousted by Labour’s youthful Ali Milani, as Momentum throw everything they’ve got at the ultimate decapitation strategy. YouGov’s MRP analysis currently predicts that the Prime Minister will hold on to his seat, but his narrow majority of 5,034 in 2017 means an upset is entirely possible. It would certainly be quite remarkable if Boris loses on election night – no prime ministerial incumbent has lost their seat in UK political history.
Expected time to declare: 5am
It’s hard to imagine a House of Commons that does not feature the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ Dennis Skinner, who has held his seat in Derbyshire since 1970. But Skinner’s constituency, which makes up part of the ‘Red Wall’ of Labour strongholds, backed Leave by 70 per cent in 2016, and is particularly vulnerable to the Tories’ charms, due to Labour’s ambiguous Brexit position and the party’s loss of social conservative voters. Skinner’s majority has been slowly trickling away to the Tories since the 1990s, and YouGov’s MRP analysis suggests the Conservatives are the favourites to take the seat. If at around 5am Skinner is defenestrated by the good people of Bolsover, expect the ‘Red Wall’ to have crumbled elsewhere.
Constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Cries of ‘Hallelujah’ will echo out around the country if the SNP’s Ian Blackford loses his seat in this election. The Nats’ Westminster leader is infamous for his long, dull diatribes in the House of Commons, which make anyone watching PMQs want to tear their hair out. Blackford’s reputation may mean there is a degree of wish-fulfillment in reports that he could lose his seat this time around. Nonetheless, he only has a small majority in his Highlands constituency and the Conservative candidate, Gavin Berkenheger, will hope to rally Unionist voters in the area. Blackford’s departure may be unlikely, but the loss of their House of Commons leader would be the ultimate ‘Portillo moment’ for the SNP, even if they perform well in Scotland at large.
Constituency: Derby North
While the former Labour MP Chris Williamson has never exactly scaled the heights of the political greasy pole, the former shadow minister for fire and emergency services is definitely one to watch on election night. A close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, Williamson parted ways with the Labour party in November after he was suspended for playing down the party’s anti-Semitism problem, which he said Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ about. In a letter announcing his intention to stand as an independent in Derby North, Williamson blamed his party for instigating a ‘witch hunt’ against socialists, capitulating to the ‘Jewish Labour movement’, and promised to build a ‘genuinely socialist and anti-imperialist’ movement. Many will be glad to see his ‘movement’ fall at the first hurdle on December 13th.
Anna Soubry is one of the few candidates still flying under the banner of ‘Change UK – TIG’, but it seems that the 2019 election will bring about the end of both the failed party and her political career. In 2017 as the Conservative candidate, Soubry only defeated Labour in Broxtowe by less than 900 votes. Even if she manages to hang on to a considerable number of her old constituents and rally Broxtowe’s Remainers to her cause, the former MP will probably be pipped to the post by either Labour or the Conservatives.
Constituency: Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
Labour’s Yvette Cooper is one of the less likely candidates on this list to lose her seat on Thursday night – she had a 14,499 majority in her Yorkshire constituency of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford in 2017, and has represented the seat for 22 years. Nonetheless, her pro-Remain Brexit stance has put her at loggerheads with her constituents, 70 per cent of whom voted to Leave in 2016. After this year’s local elections, one Labour councillor even blamed Cooper’s Brexit position for his party’s losses in Wakefield, saying she ‘wouldn’t know democracy if it scratched her in the eyeballs’. Perhaps 2019 will be the year Cooper’s constituents force her to take notice.
Expected time to declare: 5.30am
Constituency: Chipping Barnet
Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is one of the few Cabinet ministers whose political career is on a knife-edge this election. Villiers’ constituency of Chipping Barnet is listed as a ‘tossup’ by YouGov, between Labour and the Tories. The North London constituency has been held by the Conservatives since its creation in 1974, but the changing demographics of the area and Labour’s newfound success among young graduates has gradually eroded the Tories’ majority there to just 353 in the 2017 election. The Conservative party is said to be throwing considerable resources at the seat to ensure Villiers is not ousted.
Expected time to declare: 6am
Constituency: Richmond Park
YouGov’s MRP analysis of the polls has the Lib Dems set to take Richmond Park from the Conservatives, meaning the London mayoral candidate and International Development minister Zac Goldsmith could be booted from the Commons. Richmond Park has been a Conservative/ Lib Dem ultra-marginal constituency since it was formed in 1997, and had one of the highest Remain votes in the country in the 2016 referendum (only 29 per cent of its voters backed Leave), which gives you some idea of the challenge Goldsmith faces this time as the local face of the ‘Get Brexit Done’ party. Still, Goldsmith will at least be used to the setback. In 2016, he famously called a by-election in his seat to protest against the third runway at Heathrow, only to be defeated by the Lib Dems for his trouble.