Monday, 18 December 2017

10 years on from Clegg v Huhne

Let's have a little counterfactual fun this morning. All just because ten years ago a Lib Dem party leadership contest came to an end. It was very close:
Nick Clegg 20,988
Chris Huhne 20,477

Clegg had been seen as the front runner, with more support amongst the MPs and perhaps a bit because Huhne was defeated in the previous leadership contest. Huhne fought a bold campaign though, and nearly stopped the heir apparent to the top job. What if it had gone the other way?

The usual mark against Huhne is the speeding ticket farrago. Putting the morality of the incident to one side, it only ever became public knowledge as a result of his marital breakup.I imagine that in the party leader role Huhne would have felt more pressure to keep his marriage together and might have had less time for other relationships, so I tend to think that a swing of 256 votes would have seen him never face the driving related prosecution.

It's plausible that Huhne wouldn't have had quite the Cleggmania impact in the 2010 election; from that, we can assume the Lib Dem poll bounce would have been reduced. Prior to Cleggmania everything was pointing to a loss of around 30 Lib Dem seats at that election - leaving the party a mere 30 or so MPs, for which by summer 2015 the bird of liberty would have given its right wing.  Most if not all of those seats would have fallen to the Tories, and so Cameron's May 2010 problem of being 19 seats short of a majority would instead have been his glorious victory with a majority of about a dozen.

We've seen where Cameron with a majority of twelve winds up.  I wonder who would have become PM in the summer of 2012 after he resigned because we voted to leave the EU? The result of the referendum would be more in doubt, of course, as the chances are we'd've had a less pro-poverty Labour leader than Jeremy Corbyn.

But if we'd voted to leave, as negotiations sank into the mire we see today, Huhne would have then been the only major party leader to have fought a general election, leading a - or the - anti-Europhobe and pro-Brejoin party from a basis of 30 seats, rather than the slim team Tim Farron was at the helm of in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

How different would that 2015 election have been? Without the contraction of the Lib Dem council base we saw during the left-right coalition years, and without the ironic voter opprobrium of Labour-leaning voters who in 2015 were outraged at the Liberals for delivering Labour policies like the ATOS contract and the Bedroom Tax. With the support of student voters who had seen the Labour-Tory plan for unlimited tuition fees deliver an annual cost nearer £20k than £9k.

A greater loss of seats in 2010 could have made for a noticeably bigger parliamentary party by 2017 than in 2005.

Ah well. What might have been. But, as with any counterfactual, probably wouldn't've.

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