Before I start it is worth considering that there may never be another Labour PM. If they fall into internecine squabbling after the general election it is always possible that the hollowed out husk of what's left might eventually implode. For the purposes of this post though I am assuming that this does not happen.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
I just wanted to run through a bit of the history of the last 50 years to show how the more recent trend for the next PM after a party changing election has not been obvious.
Here is a quick list of General elections and where the next opposition PM was at the time when power changed hands:
1964 - When Harold Wilson became PM, Edward Heath had already been an MP for 14 years and had been Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Labour and Secretary of State for Industry. It was no surprise when a year later he became Leader of the Opposition.
1970 - When Heath became PM, the next opposition PM was the outgoing PM, Wilson himself!
1974 - When Wilson became PM again, Margaret Thatcher had been Education Secretary. It was a bit of a surprise when she became Leader of the Opposition in 1975 and not many would have laid money on her being PM in 1979 back when Heath first lost office. The smart money would have been on someone like Willie Whitelaw.
1979 - When Margaret Thatcher became PM, the next opposition PM, Tony Blair was completely unknown and was still a few years away from even entering parliament. At that point nobody would have guessed that the next Labour PM was 18 years away. People like Denis Healey, David Owen and even Michael Foot were being touted as future PMs at this point. Indeed Healey is still viewed as one of the best PMs we never had.
If David Cameron becomes PM this year... In 1997 he was a former junior party advisor and strategist who was working in the PR department for Carlton TV. He didn't even have a seat in parliament. All the talk in terms of a future Tory PM was of when Michael Portillo was going to get back into the Commons and seize the leadership.
The reason I am going through all of this is because a lot of the discussion in and around the Labour Party is focusing on who will succeed Gordon and who might be the next Labour Prime Minister. Could it be Ed Balls (*shudder*), James Purnell, David Miliband or even his younger brother Ed? But the recent history shows us that when a party loses power, there really is no telling when they will get back in again and who the leader will be when they do. The odds are that if Labour do have a Prime Minister again in the future, he or she may not even be an MP yet. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to look at some of the junior advisors to the current cabinet or even some of the Labour activists currently making a splash in the blogosphere if you were looking for a long term bet. You'd certainly get good odds!
Of course my argument here is based on the assumption that changes of party in government happen quite rarely which has been true for the last 30-odd years but may not be true in the future. Indeed I hope it is not. But if Cameron does squeak a majority then we already know he is going to try and redraw the electoral map to make it easier for the Conservatives to win in a subsequent election and incumbency can be a powerful weapon if used well.
So don't be surprised if the next Labour PM is someone that you won't have heard of even several years from now.