The party leaders, minus Cameron. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/AFP
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Who are the party leaders?

Where is Natalie Bennett from? How old is David Cameron? What was Nigel Farage's job? We give you the lowdown on the party leaders.

Ed Miliband

Age: 45

Birthplace: London

Education: Haverstock Comprehensive in Chalk Farm; the University of Oxford (PPE); the London School of Economics

The son of immigrant parents, Ed Miliband began his career as a researcher on the Channel 4 program A Week in Politics. He started working for the Labour Party in 1993 and worked for Gordon Brown. He was elected at MP for Doncaster North in May 2005 with over 50 per cent of the vote. He has been leader of the Labour Party since September 2010.

Nicola Sturgeon

Age: 44

Birthplace: Irvine, Ayrshire

Education: Greenwood Academy; the University of Glasgow (Bachelor of Law, Diploma in Legal Practice)

Nicola Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party in 1986, where she worked as a Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener. She originally ran in the 1992 general election, when she was the youngest candidate in Scotland, but failed to win the seat.

In 1997, she defied a Labour national landslide to win the Glasgow Govan seat for the SNP. Although she failed to win the seat in the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999, following partial devolution, she was placed first in the SNP regional list and became a MSP.

Sturgeon has served in the Shadow Cabinets of both Alex Salmond and John Swinney, and has been the Shadow Minister of Children and Education, Health and Community Care, and Justice.

She became Deputy First Minister of the SNP in 2007 and party leader in September 2014.

 

David Cameron

Age: 48

Birthplace: London

Education: Eton College; the University of Oxford (PPE)

After leaving Eton in 1984, David Cameron took up a post as a researcher for his godfather Tim Rathbone before working in Hong King as a “ship jumper”. He then entered the University of Oxford, where he was – controversially – a member of the elite Bullingdon Club.

After graduating, Cameron worked for the Conservative Research Department, going on to brief John Major for Prime Minister’s Questions. He then served as Special Adviser to the Chancellor and later the Home secretary.

After various attempts, Cameron won a seat in Witney, Oxfordshire in 2010. His leadership of the Conservative Party was announced in December 2005.

 

Nigel Farage

Age: 51

Birthplace: Downe, Kent

Education: Dulwich College

The son of a stockbroker, Nigel Farage was educated at Dulwich College in south London before entering the City as a broker on the London Metal Exchange.

Farage had been involved in the Conservative Party since school, but left in 1992 after then Prime Minister John Major’s government signed a treaty on the European Union. He was a founding member of UKIP the following year.

Farage was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 and then again in 2004, 2009 and 2014. He was elected leader of UKIP in September 2006.

Some of his comments about immigrant groups in the UK, such as Muslims and Romanians, have proved controversial.

 

Natalie Bennett

Age: 46

Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

Education: MLC School, Burwood, New South Wales; University of Sydney (Bachelor of Agricultural Science); University of New England (BA Arts); University of Leicester (MA Mass Communication)

Natalie Bennett was born in Sydney, and started work as a journalist in New South Wales. She left Australia in 1995, living for four years in Thailand before moving to Britain in 1999. She has worked for the Independent, the Times and has been editor of The Guardian Weekly.

She joined the Green Party in 2006, working as an internal communications co-ordinator. She also founded the Green Party women’s group, and was a trustee of the Fawcett Society 2010-14.

Bennett replaced Caroline Lucas as leader of the Green Party in September 2012. Now a British Citizen, she would be eligible to hold the post of Prime Minister.

Photo: Getty
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Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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