Lana Hempsall: Reflections on losing in the general election

By Mariam Issimdar
BBC News

Image source, Lana Hempsall
Image caption,
Lana Hempsall with her guide dog, Clark

The highs and lows of election nights are well documented, with cameras capturing every emotion from the elation of victory to the barely disguised disappointment of losing. Once the media glare has moved on, how do the candidates come to terms with the public's decision? As the dust settles, one woman from Norwich is considering her political future.

It all seemed to be going so well for Lana Hempsall. She was campaigning in the Norwich South constituency as the Conservative candidate, and knew she had a much better chance of success compared to her last bid for power.

Image source, Lana Hempsall
Image caption,
Lana and Clark at Norwich market

Two years earlier she contested a seat in Manchester, despite knowing she was unlikely to win there.

"I enjoyed standing for Parliament in 2015. Being part of the election was such an honour and a privilege and I thought I couldn't bear the thought of not being involved in that way in 2017," she said.

So when Theresa May called the snap election, she put her name forward and, according to polls at the time, had every chance of winning.

"I was ahead in the polls locally, everyone was helping with the campaign, even the prime minister, but then it went a bit crazy."

The political mood was moving away from the Conservatives. It was during a hustings event in Norwich on 17 May that Ms Hempsall realised she was fighting a losing battle.

Image source, Lana Hempsall
Image caption,
On the campaign trail

"I was the lone voice in the room saying we intend to keep university tuition fees because we feel it is a better system for younger people right now and that there was more of you in higher education than ever before, but that really fell on deaf ears.

"By the time we started talking about the NHS I felt there was nobody really listening to me, at all."

She left the room feeling "deflated".

"The generation gap was so obvious and whilst I had lots of positive engagement on the doorstep, at the hustings it just didn't happen."

And once the Tory manifesto came out, Ms Hempsall said the game was up.

"It was like swimming against the tide really.

"I don't blame anybody, I just wish we could have sold our policies better…that's what sold the Labour policies. Who was going to pay for them was irrelevant, they just sounded great."

Image caption,
At the 2017 general election count, moments before the returning officer would confirm Lana Hempsall had not won

Despite increasing her party's vote by a third, she finished runner-up. The seat was retained by Labour's Clive Lewis who took just over 60% of the vote.

Ms Hempsall is partially-sighted, which she said has helped her come to terms with losing.

"It's not an unfamiliar feeling. I am registered blind and what I've learnt to do is to lose graciously, often," she laughed.

Image source, Lana Hempsall
Image caption,
Post-election 'chill' with Norwich North MP Chloe Smith at Take That gig

Dusting herself down, she has been getting on with life, ferrying the children to school, resuming her role as a councillor and putting more time into her online company, even having a post-electoral 'celebration' at the Take That gig in Norwich with neighbouring Conservative MP Chloe Smith.

"You find a way of doing it better next time and I'm certainly aiming for a next time."

But what if that next time was sooner, does she have the stomach for it?

"Absolutely. If I am on the approved list of candidates I am absolutely standing."

Image source, Lana Hempsall
Image caption,
The piano is Lana's pride and joy and her way to unwind "especially if a meeting or something else political has made me cross or sad"

Her main motivation is to help disabled people find work.

"We need to make the workplace more accepting. We don't want to live on benefits, stop fobbing us off with barely adequate disability packages.

"I am competing with the most able people in the country to get my name out there and at times it feels impossible but I'm not going to give up.

"At some point I do need to give myself an escape route and say if this isn't happening then I need to divert my energies somewhere else otherwise I'm just going to drive myself insane trying, but not yet.

"I'm not done with this yet."

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