Many called, but few were chosen – the winners and losers who vied for political office from the ranks of the legal profession
It’s definitely quite a weird feeling,” admits Bambos Charalambous, talking about his return to work as an in-house lawyer at Hackney Council last week.
The air of unreality is because, had things gone a little differently the previous Thursday (6 May), Charalambous could just as easily been settling into a new life as a member of Parliament.
Charalambous was one of a clutch of lawyers standing for Parliament across the political spectrum that enjoyed a mixed bag of results in one of the most unpredictable elections in living memory. For many it means a return to the relatively calm waters of the legal world, while others prepare for new lives in the Commons.
Charalambous, the Labour candidate for Enfield Southgate, was one of those who experienced the deflation of returning to the day job on Monday morning.
“It feels odd, but normal at the same time,” he says, before admitting that there is some disappointment at missing out on the chance to influence the post-election landscape at Westminster.
“You watch everything unfolding afterwards and you wonder what it would be like playing a role,” he adds. “This is a chapter of history that will be written about for many years to come.”
For Charalambous, who has stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate before in 2005, when he lost out to Conservative Shadow Justice Minister Eleanor Laing in Epping Forest, election night this time round was an equally nerve-racking experience.
“Once the polls shut you have no idea how things are going to pan out,” he says. “On one level you have this sense of foreboding. It’s like waiting for a jury to come back and deliver a verdict – you have that same sense of the unknown.
“You’re thinking, ’this could be a life-changing experience for me’; but at the same time you think about your speech. What would I say if I won? What would I say if I lost? It’s a real rollercoaster of emotion.”
For Charalambous, the night was one of mixed fortunes due to his local Labour group winning back Enfield Council from the Tories after eight years in opposition. The result means Charalambous has become acting leader of the council until the party can find someone with a less demanding day job.
But defeat in the parliamentary election has not put him off another tilt at the bigger prize. And, unless the new coalition Government is more stable than some are predicting, that could mean another campaign next year.
“I’d like to do it again,” admits Charalambous. “It was incredibly rewarding and a fantastic experience. I’m definitely keen to stand again and would recommend it to anyone.”
Of course, for every loser there is also a winner. And on the Conservative side of the house in particular there were a number of success stories among the legal fraternity.
FSA solicitor Steve Barclay won in North East Cambridgeshire; Hunton & Williams partner Charlie Elphicke came out on top in Dover & Deal; and Travers Smith corporate professional support lawyer Nicky Morgan triumphed in Loughborough.
It was a case of third time lucky for Morgan after losing the Loughborough seat in 2005 and in Islington South four years previously. She believes the support of her firm was crucial to her victory this time round.
“I’m lucky in terms of the firm that I’m with,” she says. “Travers Smith has been brilliant from the start. It recognises the value of having its former lawyers doing a variety of different things.”
Instead of returning to her Farringdon office, Morgan spent last week as one of the 226 new MPs finding their way around the labyrinthine corridors of power in Westminster.
“It’s like being the new girl back at university,” she jokes. “It’s been a while since I’ve started a new job, so it’s very exciting. There are a lot of us who’ve been candidates for a long time. We’ve been waiting to be able to do things and now we can do.”
Morgan believes her legal training will serve her well when it comes to the very different demands of public service.
“It should come in very useful,” she says. “It’s invaluable, especially for all the case work we have to do. We’re trained to drill down to the nub of the problem, whether that’s negotiating a rights issue or talking to someone about their housing benefits.”
The waiting game
While Morgan was able to pop the champagne corks relatively early after her result came in shortly after 2am, others faced long and anxious waits.
For Serena Tierney, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Sussex Mid, it was a much longer night. The Wragge & Co consultant did not discover that she had failed to overturn the Conservative majority until nearly 6am.
“I went to bed at about 11 on Friday morning and more or less slept through until Saturday,” she says of her exhausting night.
It is no surprise that she needed the rest when you consider that her working days through the campaign would normally start before sunrise and end at least 12 hours later. Last week she was enjoying a well-earned break in France before resuming her life at Wragges.
She says that the rigours of the campaign trail meant she could not think about the possibility of changing career with only a few days’ notice.
“It’s so full-on that you don’t have time to think about anything else,” says Tierney. “Once the campaign was underway I’d already cleared my way out of the office. It only barely crossed my mind that the office even existed, but I’ve got lots of really exciting projects so I’m actually looking forward to going back.”
Tierney, who lost out to Tory MP Nicholas Soames for the second time, would not be drawn on whether she would want to stand for a third time if called on. But she does admit to some disappointment about how things turned out this time around.
“There were points during the campaign when we had a real chance,” she argues. “I knew that the big increases in our vote would suffer, but I thought it would be significantly better than that.”
Despite her own party’s setback, Tierney believes the new coalition Government offers the chance to effect real change to the political system.
“We should use this opportunity to get a system of PR, as it’s the best chance we’ve had in my lifetime,” she insists.
Fellow Liberal Democrat candidate Joanna Shaw was another to taste defeat on election night. She too had to wait until long into the morning before hearing that she had not mustered the 10 per cent swing required to unseat Labour’s Frank Dobson in Holborn and St Pancras.
The One Essex Court barrister knew she was up against it by taking on a 30-year incumbent former health minister. But the unique unpredictability of this election meant she still went to her count in expectant mood.
“I’d felt increasingly positive throughout the day, but I was told that people were even changing their minds when they went into the polling stations,” she relates. “We knew by around three that it hadn’t gone the right way [for us]. There was so much anticipation and then you’re so tired that it’s hard to know what you’re feeling.”
Shaw, however, had little time to reflect on the result – she was back in court on Monday morning.
“I love my job so it’s not a problem going back to it,” she maintains. “I do have to build up my practice a bit now though, as I’ve not been able to do much earning in the past couple of months.”
Red and willing
While there was generally little cause for celebration among Labour supporters, a scattering of lawyers will be taking up their new positions on the opposition benches.
Rochman Landau employment lawyer Chuka Ummuna won in Streatham, while Addleshaw Goddard trainee Jonathan Reynolds retained the Labour stronghold of Stalybridge and Hyde, near Manchester.
Reynolds is another who sees his legal career as providing an edge after switching his attention to politics.
“I learnt [about] commercial relationships for dealing with clients and am able to handle late nights and heavy workloads, which should be useful in a hung parliament,” he explains. “There are also issues around access to justice and, I think, many lawyers would like legislation to be better drafted.”
Labour colleague Hamish Sandison was less successful in his attempt to take Monmouth from Conservative David Davies.
The former Bird & Bird chairman, now a technology partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse, agrees that there are some synergies between the work of lawyers and politicians, but adds that nothing in his life in the City could prepare him for the rigours of the campaign.
“It’s non-stop activity,” he explains. “Imagine a negotiation that goes on all day and into the evening, but carries on for a month. I’m still in need of some sleep.”
But after finally resting over the weekend immediately following the election, Sandison was another who was back at work come Monday morning.
“I’ve got a few projects coming up that I’m keen to get involved in,” says Sandison. “The firm’s been very good about it all.”
Back to reality
Like many of his fellow lawyers, Sandison did not know which job he would be walking into after election night. But with the pragmatism common to their profession, most of the vanquished candidates seem to be rolling up their sleeves and getting back to the daily grind.
Murray Stable advocate Donald Cameron, who trailed in fourth place in Charles Kennedy’s seat of Ross, Skye & Lochaber, is typically sanguine about the situation. “You really felt that you were at the centre of a national event,” he says. “But being a candidate places lots of demands on you and we all have to earn a living.”
Winners and Losers
Last July communications agency Madano Partnership published a list of the 242 prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) most likely to be elected, revealing 22 lawyers among their number.
If a week is a long time in politics, then 10 months is an eternity. There was a mixed bag of results for the lawyers expected to be taking up their seats in Westminster.
The 22 lawyers expected to triumph at the polls included 17 Conservatives, four Labour candidates and one Scottish Nationalist.
While all four of Labour’s lawyers bucked the national trend by scoring victories, results elsewhere did not always follow the script.
Labour’s legal victors included the groundbreaking achievement of former Berrymans Lace Mawer barrister Shabana Mahmood, who became the first-ever female Muslim MP by holding onto Birmingham Ladywood, and even upping the Labour share of the vote in the process.
For the Tories one of the most notable setbacks on election night came when One Brick Court’s Joanne Cash lost out to Labour’s Karen Buck in Westminster North following a high-profile campaign. Cash, a favourite of David Cameron, who was expected to have been fast-tracked into a ministerial role, blamed the media for her surprise defeat.
Other Tory losses among the legal fraternity included Jeff Clarke in Wirral South and Alberto Costa in Angus. Clarke, a barrister at New Bailey Chambers, was defeated by Labour’s Alison McGovern by less than 600 votes, while Costa lost out to the SNP’s Mike Weir.
The SNP’s own Annabelle Ewing, a consultant at Leslie Wolfson & Co and MP for Perth from 2001-05, was beaten by Labour’s Gordon Banks in Ochil & South Perthshire.