Today, August 27th, Sir Ed Davey triumphed over competitors to become the leader of the Liberal Democrats after the position was vacated by Jo Swinson due to her failure to retain her Westminster seat in the 2019 General Election. Sir Ed previously stood unsuccessfully against Swinson in the 2019 leadership election.

Has there ever been a party leader who was similarly rejected by their party in a leadership election, only to succeed in a subsequent election?

The obvious example which springs to mind is Boris Johnson, however, although he received MP endorsements in the 2016 Conservative party leadership election, for example from Liz Truss & Jo Johnson, and "effectively launched" his leadership bid, he didn't formally enter the contest and eventually declined to stand.

  • 1
    Does Jo Biden count? :-) Aug 27 '20 at 11:50
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    @SteveMelnikoff aha, I should perhaps specify British party leaders!
    – CDJB
    Aug 27 '20 at 11:51

Yes, for example in the 1976 Labour Leadership election, Jim Callahan narrowly beat Michael Foot in the run-off (having lost to him in the first round of voting)

Michael Foot went on to win the 1980 election (This time Healy won the first round, but Foot won the run-off) So Michael Foot was rejected in ’76, but succeeded in ’80.

Similarly, Callaghan had stood unsuccessfully in 1963, and Wilson stood unsuccessfully in 1960.

In the Conservative party, things are less clear, as there is a tradition of the leader "emerging" from a consensus within the Parliamentary party, and there being no public election. It is only recently that the Conservative have held ballots of the membership. No unsuccessful declared candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives has gone on to win the leadership at a later time.

Finally David Owen became leader of the SDP in 1987 unopposed, having been defeated by Roy Jenkins in 1982.

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