9 giant “what-ifs” of British politics

Andrea Leadsom Profile

Take a look at 9 significant moments in British politics that could have gone the other way.

1. What if John Smith had not died in 1994?

Would the Labour leader have gone to defeat John Major in 1997 like Blair did, or would Major have ensured another five years of Conservative-rule?

2. What if Harold Wilson had not resigned in 1976?

Harold Wilson Interview

If Wilson had stayed on, might he have called an early general election and ensured that the Tories never came to power, or would he have lost out to Margaret Thatcher, just as his successor Jim Callaghan did in 1979?

3. What if Michael Gove had not run for the Conservative leadership last summer?

Michael Gove Smile

With Gove not running, Johnson would surely have run for the position, and could have faced off with Theresa May in the final round. If that had happened would the country now be run by PM Johnson and Chancellor Gove?

4. What if Andrea Leadsom had not pulled out of the Tory leadership election?

Andrea Leadsom

Could Leadsom, a committed Eurosceptic, have scuppered Theresa May’s chances of becoming prime minister by appealing to the pro-Brexit Conservative base?

5. What if David Miliband had challenged Gordon Brown for the Labour party leadership?

Gordon Brown

Would he have won? And more crucially would he have changed the result of the 2010 election, or was a Cameron premiership inevitable from the start?

6. What if Margaret Thatcher had not pulled out of the 1990 Conservative leadership election?

Maggie In Hard Hat

Would Britain’s first female prime minister have stayed put and gone on to win the 1992 election?

7 What if Clement Atlee had NOT called for an early general election in 1951?

First General Assembly Clement Attlee

Would his slim majority government have transformed the country even further, or would it have lost its majority and authority and led to an even larger Conservative majority in a later year?

8. What if Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats had decided not to enter a coalition in 2010?

Sir Vince Cable at Essex Book Festival 2016

Would a Conservative minority government have fumbled along before calling an election and winning a majority? Surely the Liberal Democrats would have more than the twelve seats they are on now.

9 What if Alan Johnson had challenged Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership?

Would the 2015 election have had a different result?


The answer to all of these is: nobody knows. If real-world politics has taught us anything, it’s that politics is impossible to predict. I can only imagine that it’s a much harder task to predict political events in an invisible parallel universe.

What are your top "what-ifs"? How do you imagine any of these events going down?