I have wondered for a long time how very different history may have played out had Gordon Brown have stood against Tony Blair for the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994. Given how hugely things could have differed this might seem like a bit of an invidious task but I will have a stab at what I think some of the most important consequences might have been.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
I think Gordon Brown would have lost and lost quite heavily. This would have been a good thing for a number of reasons.
Firstly it would have meant that Gordon Brown's sense of injustice and entitlement that festered within him for the entire time Blair was PM would not have been there (or at least nowhere near as much). I still think Blair would have won and the modernisers vote would not have been split allowing a left-winger to win. You only have to look at the results of what actually happened to see that Blair won convincingly enough to make that possibility extremely unlikely.
Secondly I think that Tony Blair would not have been PM for as long as he ultimately was. This might seem a bit of an odd thing to say but one of the reasons I think that he kept going as long as he did is because Brown kept scupperring his plans. He was constantly having to fight a rearguard action against him and a lof of his energies were put into managing the Gordon problem. As an aside it is ironic that if Brown had been a more concilliatory Chancellor he could have succeeded earlier and perhaps at a time when he would have been more able to enjoy his time at the helm.
Thirdly I think it is now pretty clear that during the reign of Blair and Brown it has been very difficult for other Labour politicians to carve out a distinctive place for themselves in the senior echelons of the party. Everything has been filtered through the prism of the Blair or Brown factions. If Brown had been a diminished figure through having been defeated for the leadership then he would not have been such an obvious person for a faction to coalesce around and be so sublimated by. The consequences of the TB GBs has been to poison the well for the next generation of Labour politicians. This is part of the problem they are now facing helmed largely by technocrats without a real vision as the figures that could have come through were all marginalised.
Finally, Gordon Brown would now not be PM. The only reason that he was able to remain the "person most likely to succeed" for so many years was because of the way the story that he "stood aside" was disseminated over the years. A strong feeling was fostered that he was entitled to become the next leader after Blair and indeed Blair himself never managed to change that narrative in spite of trying.
The truth is that we can never know what would have happened for sure but I do think that Labour would have been in a better position now if the internecine squabbling between the two factions had not dominated the party for so long and Brown's defeat at the hands of Blair would have made it a lot less likely to have occurred in the first place.
As an aside (and perhaps this is a subject for another counterfactual) it is instructive to see what has happened to David Davis following his defeat by David Cameron in 2005 for the Tory leadership. In spite of having been the front runner he lost quite heavily in the final round and although still a strong figure as Shadow Home Secretary he was never part of the inner circle and has diminished in importance to the point where now he may not even feature in a future cabinet (although that is partly down to his own rather quixotic decision to stand down last year). My point is that leadership contests can massively change the political narrative.
Perhaps that's why what could have happened can be such a fascinating subject for political enthusiasts such as myself.