Firstly, thank you for sticking with me considering my rather wayward opening sentence! Of course, being a Labour voter, I was more than pleased when they won that third term, whatever my views on Blair they were, as a party, the best choice. But now, a decade on, feeling desperate after last week’s devastation and facing the frightening prospect of the next five years, I’ve started to consider what might have been …….
Let me share with you a parallel universe in which Michael Howard became Prime Minister. Please, bear with me!
We all remember 20th March 2003, when Britain went to war with Iraq. We can forever argue the morals of who, on all sides of the house, voted for/against, and at what stage in those crucial weeks they made their decision, but ultimately, I think most people are in agreement, it was Tony Blair’s war. It’s Tony Blair’s legacy.
Labour, twelve years on, are still punished for that decision, but let’s for a moment, imagine that the punishment was delivered, not over years of underlying bitterness, but as a decisive blow, immediately, in that next election ……..
It’s early on the morning of Friday 6th May 2005, you turn on the TV, or like me, and so many others, you are already there, bleary-eyed, still seated from mid-evening, grasping another mug of coffee and mesmerized by Peter Snow’s unending energy as he enthuses over the swing-o-meter and myriad of other BBC graphics. You watch in abject horror as the swathe of blue ripples across the country, and finally, as dawn breaks, you accept the inevitable defeat.
In the following days Michael Howard moves into No. 10 Downing Street, his chancellor Oliver Letwin takes up residence next door. Tony Blair reluctantly stands down and the Granita Pact finally plays out: Gordon Brown takes his place, on the opposition benches, as Leader of the Labour Party.
Although Labour lost the election, it wasn’t a landslide like we saw in their favour in ’97, and there are positives to behold as they welcome a new influx of MPs, incidentally two of them are previous advisors to Gordon Brown, taking up seats in the Northern constituencies of Normanton and Doncaster.
Of course, in this scenario we have to suffer the policies of the Tory ruling class for five years, and consequently the country doesn’t achieve the reduction in hospital waiting times that Labour ensured in its third term, nor the implementation of the higher tax rate, or the numerous other benefits we now take for granted. It wouldn’t have been an easy time, but maybe, in the long run ……..
So now think on, it’s 14th September 2007, there are queues outside branches of Northern Rock, people are panicking, there and across the country, and one of them is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The opposition leader pushes him to move quickly, limit the damage and take banks into public ownership, but he can’t do that can he, he’s a Conservative! He knows he’s not helped this situation with his further loosening of bank regulations and now he’s out of his depth. In contrast to Letwin’s reputation as weak and indecisive, Brown, with eight years as Chancellor to his name, is both known and renown on the world stage. Brown’s recommendations might be ignored by our Government, and ridiculed by the right-wing media who, always preferring style to substance, have never warmed to his intellect and appear daunted by his gravitas, but in Europe the reaction is altogether different. Sarkozy first, then the others of the G20, including the USA, follow the Labour Leader’s suggestions to take a controlling interest in the failing banks. They listen some months later when he persuade them to inject thousands into the IMF and the World Bank, a pivotal decision that ultimately will stabilize the world’s economy.
Unfortunately, back home, we don’t fair so well. Stubbornness prevails and the Tories preside over the worst recession the UK has ever seen.
Like Brown, Howard leaves it as long as possible before calling the General Election, eeking out the days, hoping the forecasts will show an uplift in the economy, but they don’t and he inevitably pays the biggest price. In May 2010 Labour win a massive majority: voters are desperate for Gordon Brown to, once again, be in charge of the country’s finances. The result is celebrated not just here, but across Europe and America, such is his reputation on the world stage.
Brown goes on to unite the best of New Labour with the left of the party and once again puts the UK back in the driving seat of Europe. With Ed Balls now by his side as Chancellor they turn the economy around, not with cuts, but with investment in public services and welfare. Brown extols the virtues of 1997-2005, he builds on those achievements, but he also apologises for Iraq – lessons have been learnt and the electorate accept that.
Imagine now, in that parallel world, what difference there might have been come last Thursday. In that parallel world Brown is just starting his second term as Prime Minister, but announces that he doesn’t intend to run for a third, he has his charity work in Africa to pursue, even though the IMF are rumoured to be waiting in the wings with other ideas! The party members, and the country, will be sad to lose him, he’s generally considered to be the best Prime Minister of the last hundred years or more. However at least, for once, there is a consensus within the Labour Party over the successor. Long gone are the ‘90s and that desire for presidential-style-glamour, the people want substance, they want a continuation and so the voters have united behind the new cabinet member and Union favourite Ed Miliband.
Admittedly, there’d have been sacrifice, but that parallel universe is currently looking very appealing.