Sketch: Mathew Little sees Angela Smith lose her seat

The former minister for the third sector fears the sector 'will do more for less'

The hushed, confiding tones of her entourage said it all.

Thirteen years as an MP and 11 turbulent months as Minister for the Third Sector were coming to an end for Angela Smith in the early hours of Friday. Local Conservatives, a curious mixture of cut-glass assurance and Essex-man bravado, were at the count in force. They had their eyes on the symbolic capture of Basildon and weren't leaving without it.

Smith's very young campaign team seemed almost anonymous by comparison. The media were seeking a moment to equal Michael Portillo's defeat in 1997 - but, despite Smith's ministerial status, this was not it. Her departure was never really in question. A former lobbyist for the League Against Cruel Sports, she had claimed Basildon in 1997 in a flurry of New Labour enthusiasm that saw swathes of Essex seats along the Thames turn red. Now the tide had turned, and everyone knew it. "I've never called an election in my life," Smith told a local radio station 90 minutes before the declaration was made. "And I'm not going to call this one".

But time was running out.

At the declaration, Tory activists pumped the air to celebrate regaining a seat that in the 1980s and 1990s was a symbol of unashamed working class Toryism. Smith protested that it was only on "short-term loan" and she would fight to take it back. "This is my home and I'm staying," she insisted. In truth, it might be some time before she is back in Parliament. The Labour vote slumped by 10 per cent and the seat, with boundary changes, now barely qualifies as a Tory-Labour marginal.

Smith had a final message for the sector. "My fear is it will be asked to do more for less," she said. "You can do more, but not by replacing the state and trying to replace state funding." And her own future? "To be honest, I haven't made any plans beyond tonight and getting some rest." You could discern a feeling of relief that it was all over.

 

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