Could Rishi Sunak become the first PM in history to lose his seat at an election?

Credit: PA

With Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party facing a wipeout according to the polls, there are suggestions he could even become the first sitting prime minister in history to lose his seat.

A poll released yesterday predicted the Tories would only win 53 seats, down from 365 in 2019 - one of those the poll suggested they could lose is Sunak’s seat of Richmond and Northallerton in Yorkshire.

The analysis, done by Savanta and Electoral Calculus for the Telegraph, says Labour could win a whopping 516 seats at the election on July 4.

Richmond is seen as a true-blue safe constituency - but what would happen if Sunak became the first PM to lose his seat?

How safe is Sunak’s seat?

Sunak’s North Yorkshire seat has never been Labour - he won it in the 2019 election with a huge majority of 47%. 

He’s held the seat since 2015, and before that it had been represented by former Tory leader William Hague since 1989.

The boundaries between many constituencies have been redrawn for this election to reflect population changes, which means Sunak’s constituency is now changing to become Richmond and Northallerton.

Has a PM ever lost their seat?

No sitting prime minister has ever lost their seat at a general election before, according to the Institute for Government.

Some have come close, including Arthur Balfour in 1906 and Ramsay MacDonald in 1935.

Balfour resigned as prime minister in an attempt to force an election in December 1905, but instead the leader of the opposition formed a government and took on the role of PM before there was an election in January 1906. Balfour then lost his seat at that election.

Ramsay MacDonald was the first ever Labour PM - he was defeated in the 1935 general election but had already resigned as PM before the start of the campaign.

A number of smaller party leaders have lost their seats in the last hundred years, most recently when Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her East Dunbartonshire seat in 2019.

How accurate are polls?

Savanta does say Sunak’s seat is one of those which is still in the balance, as their poll suggests there’s a fine margin between Labour and the Conservatives.

There have been lots of polls out over the last few weeks, all with different methodologies and slightly different results - they have been wrong in the past and should be treated with caution.

But one thing all of them seem to show is a huge Labour majority.

Can Sunak still be leader of the Tory party if he loses his seat?

This would all be more of a dilemma for the party in a situation where the Conservatives still won the election but Sunak lost his seat - but as they’re on course for a huge defeat, it’s very unlikely Sunak would be able to remain in post as party leader. 

Both the Conservative and Labour party do have rules that say party leaders should be elected MPs, but their respective rulebooks don’t explicitly say whether a leader who was no longer an MP would have to resign.

There are a number of MPs who have been tipped to replace Sunak as Tory leader, but many of them could also lose their seats.

According to the Savanta poll, Penny Mordaunt, Grant Shapps, Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick could all lose their seats.

Other cabinet members who aren’t seen to be vying for leadership are also at risk, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary James Cleverly.

Twelve serving cabinet ministers have lost their seats since 1974, but the latest Savanta poll suggests the current cabinet could face a wipeout - with 15 of Sunak’s top team losing their seats.

What would Sunak do if he was no longer an MP?

There has been lots of speculation about whether Sunak might give up politics and move to California if the Tories lose the election. He’s promised he won’t be doing that, but if he loses his seat it makes it more of a possibility.

On Wednesday, Sunak told Nick Ferrari on LBC that he would serve as a backbencher for another five years if the Tories lose the election. 

Speaking to Robert Peston early in the election campaign, Sunak said claims he would move to California if he loses the election were “simply untrue.”

When asked if he was committed to staying in the UK, Sunak said: "Of course, of course I am. Of course, and this is my home.

"I mean, my football team just got promoted back in the Premiership and I hope to be watching them for years to come in the Premier League."

He added he was committed to staying in the UK and Parliament for many years regardless of the outcome of the election.

The full list of candidates in Richmond and Northallerton is as follows:

  • Rishi Sunak (Conservative)

  • Tom Wilson (Labour)

  • Daniel Callaghan (Liberal Democrats)

  • Lee Taylor (Reform UK)

  • Kevin Foster (Green)

  • Louise Dickens (Workers Party)

  • Sir Archibald Stanton (Monster Raving Loony Party)

  • Rio Goldhammer (Yorkshire)

  • Jason Barnett (Independent)

  • Count Binface (Count Binface Party)

  • Angie Campion (Independent)

  • Niko Omilana (Independent)

  • Brian Richmond (Independent)

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