No, one of them is not the EU referendum result. That would be too obvious. Instead I have taken a trio of happenings that I think changed the course of British political history over the last ten years in unthinkable ways that could easily have gone the other way.
- Gordon Brown not calling the 2007 election
Michael Gove and other contenders for the Tory leadership should take note: not calling a general election when you are probably going to win can come back to haunt you. Now, we will never know if Brown and Labour would indeed have won the election that never was in 2007. But they very likely would have (just) and even if Labour hadn’t won outright, they would have been the largest party. Could it have formed a government with the Lib Dems (who no doubt would have taken a beating at the time given their leadership difficulties, but surely not as bad as witnessed in 2015)? If so, Labour would have had the space to weather the fallout from the financial crisis as well as the 2009 expenses scandal without having to call an election until 2012. Anything might have been possible.
2. Ed Miliband being elected leader of the Labour Party over David
Most assumed that the leadership was in the bag for David Miliband back in September 2010, before the result was called at that year’s Labour conference. In Manchester, the shock was palpable when Ed won by a narrow margin, mostly as a result of the trade union vote.
People since have speculated that if David had won, he would have become prime minister in 2015. There is no way to know this, and in many ways I really doubt it. But Labour wouldn’t have shifted so far to the left, and would not have revised the way it elects its leaders – both factors in helping the Corbyn leadership to happen.
3. Jeremy Corbyn getting onto the Labour leadership ballot with twenty minutes to go before the deadline
This one, of the three, is the most surreal. A bunch of Labour MPs, spurred on by Andy Burnham’s desire not to be the most left-wing candidate of the bunch, decide to rather unwillingly nominate Jeremy Corbyn to be the next leader of the Labour Party. In some ways it’s part of a routine that has become a fixture of recent Labour leadership contests – a far-left candidate is added to the roster to make it seem like they still matter.
Only this time round, turns out the far-left candidate far more than mattered – he bloody well won. And by a canter too, getting 60% of the first round votes.
It is hard to imagine how different things might have been had Corbyn not made it onto the ballot. I still think the country would have voted Leave, but it is legitimate to not take this for granted. The whole next decade of the Labour Party and indeed British politics as a whole will now be completely different than it would otherwise would have been, had that twenty minutes been allowed to elapse without Jeremy getting the needed amount of nominees.
Looking over this list of turning points, I have only now just noticed that they are all Labour Party centred. I suppose that makes sense when you consider just how dominant Labour was ten years ago – history has hinged on them making the following three errors that I have just outlined above. Funny and sad to consider just how different things might have been had any of them gone the opposite way.