As talk turns, yet again, to who will succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister, let's spare a thought for those who came closer than any to number 10.
Is he next?
Everyone that’s interested in politics - and I’m sure even some of those who aren’t - have imagined what it would actually be like to be Prime Minister. But for a select few, it was actually in their grasp, yet they fell at the final hurdle.
Unsuccessful challenger for John Major’s Conservative Party leadership, and by extension Premiership, in 1995. Redwood, in contrast to Major, is an ardent Brexiteer and Eurosceptic. In his failed leadership challenge, The Sun - which backs itself as supporting most electorally successful Prime Minister’s in recent history - supported Redwood against Major, and may have done so subsequently against Blair. Instead, Blair won the support of the Sun and the nation, ending years of Conservative rule.
A more recent one. Leadsom, like Redwood before her, is also committed to Brexit and her loss is arguably evidence of pro-EU feeling in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. It’s arguable that Leadsom - more divisive than Theresa May, who beat her to the top spot, would have lost the snap 2017 election to Jeremy Corbyn due to an even greater lack of appeal.
Currently Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis ran to be Conservative Leader in both 2001 and 2005. Once triggering the most pointless by-election in history after resigning as an MP over the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, Davis also backs reinstating the death penalty for extreme circumstances, and voted against the Same Sex Marriage Act in 2013. Currently a frontrunner in the race to replace Theresa May, could we see his third (potentially futile) run at the top?
Hailed by many on the Left as ‘the greatest Prime Minister’ that never was, Benn is one of the only non-leaders to have an ideological cult named after him - Bennites are still very much active in the Labour Party. A eurosceptic (sensing a theme here,) Benn unsuccessfully challenged Neil Kinnock for the Labour Party leadership in 1988. With 47 years experience as an MP, Benn certainly had more experience than Michael Foot, who lost heavily to Maggie Thatcher in ‘83, and perhaps could have put together something of a contest against John Major. Benn is cited as one of the only politicians to move more radically left after holding a ministerial post.
Considered an adept media performer and quietly charismatic, Heseltine is despised on some wings of the Party for being the man that ‘stabbed Thatcher in the back’ by running against her - though John Major eventually won the contest as Thatcher’s pick. A big supporter of right-to-buy, Heseltine breaks the theme of this list - he’s strongly pro-EU and condemned much of the Leave campaign, particularly Boris Johnson.
A familiar face - Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister under Blair. A Trade Union Activist, he ran for Labour leadership in 1994, splitting the ‘harder’ Left vote with Margaret Beckett and opening the door for the Blair years. Prescott’s more notable views are his opposition to state schools governing their own finances and general local government, and his staunch pro-unionism stances.
Both Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition against Tony Blair, Michael Howard remains prominent. In the 2005 election, Howard’s Conservatives made some gains, but not nearly enough to unseat Blair - his campaign was criticised for arguing against unfettered immigration, when Howard himself is the descendant of immigrants.