Record number of UK Cabinet ministers defeated in general election

British TV presenter June Sarpong (R) celebrates during a Labour Party victory rally at the Tate Modern in London early on 5 July, 2024. The UK’s Labour Party swept to power after winning the country’s general election, crossing the 326-seat threshold for a working majority in the House of CommonsAFP

A record number of Cabinet ministers lost their seats on Friday in Britain’s general election, leaving only a couple of obvious contenders for the party leadership if Rishi Sunak resigns.

Nine members of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top team failed to be re-elected, beating the previous high of seven who lost out in 1997, as the ruling Conservatives suffered a mauling at the hands of the main opposition Labour party.

Grant Shapps, the UK’s defence secretary for nearly a year, was the most high-profile casualty, losing his Welwyn Hatfield seat north of London.

Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt, who shot to international attention as a sword carrier at King Charles III’s coronation last May, lost in Portsmouth North on England’s south coast.

A former defence secretary, she tried twice to become Tory leader, and was tipped to try again after Thursday’s election, with Sunak expected to stand down.

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Other Tory casualties included Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, Transport and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan.

Veteran minister Johnny Mercer and Brexit champion Jacob Rees-Mogg also lost out, as voters grew fed up with the Conservatives after 14 years in power.

The defeats have already sparked soul-searching among re-elected and departing Conservatives, who said the party had been punished for a series of scandals and infighting in recent years.

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“I think that we have seen in this election an astonishing ill-discipline within the party”, said former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, after losing his seat.

Shapps, an MP since 2005, criticised the Tories’ “inability to iron out their differences” amid an endless political “soap opera” that saw five prime ministers since the 2016 Brexit vote.

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“What is crystal clear to me tonight -- it is not so much that Labour won but that the Conservatives lost,” he added.

Right-winger Suella Braverman, sacked as interior minister by Sunak late last year for a series of incendiary comments, was re-elected and finance minister Jeremy Hunt survived a major scare to squeak victory.

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Current interior minister James Cleverly also held on to his seat.

Secretary of State for Business and Trade Kemi Badenoch and security minister Tom Tugendhat also won their races.

Most of those high-profile survivors are expected to challenge for the leadership.

Braverman apologised to voters in her victory speech, saying the Tories had failed to listen to voters.

“The Conservative party let you down... we have got to do better and I will do everything in my power to rebuild trust. We need to listen to you. You have spoken to us very clearly,” she said.