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When did OTL leaders become 'plausible'?


At the same time, a Space Bug
I think there are two types of 'implausible' that are sort of elided by the question here: implausible as in a nonentity (Carter) and implausible as in an entity that is seemingly disqualified (Trump). Churchill was clearly implausible in the latter sense, if only because the politics of the time had put enough of a mental block on a second world war that "it all comes crumbling down, a big beast with better war credentials is dragged in from the wilderness" was with hindsight the *smart* way to bet, but certainly not what your man in the street was anticipating. Not so much 'unlikely' as 'unthinkable' in other words.

Douglas-Home ran into a similar issue in that no one was expecting a Scottish laird to be dragged out of the catacombs even if he was qualified for the job - and then Thatcher is the one that feels (to me) implausible in both senses of the word: a woman, obviously, but also up to a pretty late point her career had done nothing to indicate Prime Ministerial prospects.

Upon reflection, it's fairly interesting that all of these dark horses happened on the Conservative side of things whereas in the US the polling upset is very much a Democratic phenomenon - were I less monumentally sleep-deprived I would probably have thoughts on this but :sleep::sleep::sleep:


Total Inabilty To Supply Usual Performance


Active member
Gone Fishing
Bill Clinton became plausible when he started winning primaries in 1992 before 1992 I bet not many thought he would have a chance. He forfeited a run in 88 because of that very reason..


Well-known member
Even compared to Attlee, he gave mediocrity a bad name.
Well I don't know that I'd call Attlee mediocre, seeing that he was, on balance, the best Prime Minister that the Labour Party has ever produced. Not perfect, his nationalisation and health policies were quite unimaginative command and control and the quick bolt out of India cost hundreds of thousands of lives and ultimately left us the legacy of the world's most dangerous nuclear hotspot. But Attlee was a decisive and determined leader and of all the post war PMs, only Thatcher has managed such complete control of the machinery of government. Attlee was also totally ruthless in sacking dead wood while relatively tolerant of differing views within the party.

A V Alexander was kept at the Admiralty (military security being a vital aspect of government during WW2) and never really got a chance to turn his hand to domestic policy. But it is rather intriguing to wonder what Labour's most senior Ministerial supporter of the co-operative movement would have done if the top job had come his way. A lot more worker owned businesses, worker representation at board level and bonus dividends would probably have been the legacy.

Gorro Rubio

the GROTESQUE chaos of a complaints unit
Hampstead, UK/Alicante, ES
Both Zapatero and Sánchez fall under this category, which neither of them being the favoured candidate to be the next PM even a week before their accession to the office.

Zapatero "benefitted" from the Madrid bombings being a last minute surprise that doomed PP in a similar but bigger way than the Manchester attacks did for May. Without those, Rajoy would have swiftly ascended to the premiership 7 years earlier than OTL (in fact, he’s a case of the opposite phenomenon of someone being odds on in becoming the next PM for a decade). If the attacks had been 36 hours later than OTL he would have won still, as during the immediate aftermath everyone believed that ETA was responsible for them and would have caused a landslide for the party seen as more belligerent to them (i.e. PP). It was only when the Islamist origin was proved that PP was truly fucked, as the electorate associated Spain becoming a target to Aznar sending troops to Iraq, which had been a deeply unpopular move at the time.

Sánchez is interesting as he’s IMO the protagonist of most successful resurrection story in Western politics this side of Trudeau the Elder. Coming quite close to the post in 2016, he was deposed in a bloody coup mere months after that, only to return with a vengeful force in June 2017 (a Corbyn story if the NEC has successfully removed him from his position while the leadership election was underway). However, the events in Catalonia later in the year overshadowed his resurgence, to the point that he was polling below Rivera and Rajoy on the eve of his ascent to the premiership by defeating the Rajoy government in a confidence vote). That made me mistakenly assume that the same would happen in the U.K. in 2019 considering the parallelism shown before, but whatever.

As a side note, Rivera’s demise from PM in pectore to disgraced former who had seen his party fall from 60 to 10 seats in the space of 18 months was a treat to see.
The Tory succession has its own conundrums and questions of plausibility, both before and after voting for the candidates was introduced (1965). There's a question of at what point a 'surprise' PM/leader who suddenly emerged as a 'dark horse' candidate and beat the expected front-runners, such as John Major, emerged without really being noticed - and if they would ever have done so but for some unexpected events finishing off the expected winners. In Major's case, despite a reasonably good stint as Chief Secretary at the Treasury from 1987 he was reckoned as a short-term , unsuccessful Foreign Secretary in a brief period there in 1989 which could well have finished his prospects off. He was seen as only appointed as FS (to a job he had no experience for apart from a short period as a UK bank official in Nigeria, I think) as Mrs Thatcher's yes-man and as more malleable than Sir Geoffrey Howe, and after she reshuffled him to the Treasury he was just seen as a more malleable and less experienced candidate than the resigning Chancellor, Lawson. Yet within a year he was PM as the 'dark horse' winner as the 'stop Heseltine' candidate, though Home Sec Douglas Hurd was far better known and experienced (and was already an author and had been a 'backroom boy' aide to Ted Heath and a good N Ireland Sec). And if Heseltine had not stormed out of the Cabinet over Westland and thereafter been seen by party loyalists as a maverick , would he have been seen as too competent to be passed over in 1990 even if Mrs T distrusted him?

Was Major even so only 'plausible' in autumn 1990 as he happened to hold one of the top offices of state at the right moment, and as safer from Labour ridicule to floating voters as a self-made man from Brixton not an Old Etonian like Hurd? I seem to remember that earlier on the 'safe pair of hands' and 'rising young minister who can be trusted to do what the Men In Grey Suits tell him and not get out of hand' candidate to succeed Mrs T was seen as being (a) Cecil Parkinson - until the Sara Keays incident (b) John Moore (who he? - Health Secretary 1986) (c) Kenneth Baker - too easily sniped at by Spitting Image? And it is also noticeable who fulfilled the same role in terms of young, fairly competent, liked by Mrs T etc but wasn't seen as viable- ie Leon Brittan, Home and Trade Sec in mid-1980s . (Snobbery as he was Lithuanian by parentage?).

Earlier on, you can ask why someone who did succeed to the PM's office was not 'rumbled' earlier on, when there were doubts over him - eg Anthony Eden, a first-rated Foreign Sec and anti-appeaser (and seen as a victim of the appeasers esp Chamberlain) in 1935-8 and Churchill's wartime FS and deputy in 1940-5 and FS again in 1951-5 but fading by Churchill's resignation. Given his serious health crisis and subsequent dodgy health in 1953, which arguably affected his judgement over Suez, he was really a risk as PM as it was even then a straining job - and he had a reputation as being 'showy' but not solidly sensible. Churchill was said to have delayed retiring partly out of concern over his heir's potential as a disaster and to have said shortly before he did go 'I don't think Anthony can do it'. So if the next in line and most senior 'Mr Competence' , R A Butler, a capable party chairman and in 1951-5 Chancellor, had not been seen by the Churchillians as an appeaser (deputy For Sec to Lord Halifax and possible would-be negotiator with Hitler in 1940) would he have stood a chance of being chosen to succeed Churchill had Eden's health been better known or had it been leaked? Or was he too gentlemanly to stand in the 'rightful heir's way, as he was seen as doing in 1953 when both WSC and Eden were ill and he was acting PM, and as he did again in not standing up to Macmillan in 1957 or 1963?

When did Macmillan become plausible as Eden's replacement, and was this just as he was largely an unknown quantity and seen as a non-boat-rocker and a trustworthy former Churchill aide and minister (eg in N Africa 1943) and US ally who knew Eisenhower? And like Major because he was Chancellor when the PM went? Did his useful and publicity-minded stint as Housing Sec in 1951-4, building 'Homes for Heroes' in front of the TV, push him into the public consciousness - and if he had held a different, low-profile job (or Attlee had won the 1951 election and he had only just become a minister in 1955-6) would he have been seen as plausible at all? For that matter, even if Butler had botched the possibility of a 'Stop Home' movement by hesitation in 1963 as he did in OTL, if Macleod had not made so many enemies as Colonial Sec by quickly granting independence to African states (annoying the Tory right wing) and Hailsham had not been seen as too much of a showman could either of them have been able to stop Home, who was seemingly very implausible as a Wodehousian Scots aristocrat?

The 'surprise leader' question still hangs over the Tory party more recently - think of how William Hague, only Welsh Sec not of senior rank and aged ?36, managed to beat not only the distrusted Europhile 'front runner' Clarke (Chancellor and former Home Sec and Education Sec) but the more experienced Home Sec, Michael Howard, as leader in the 1997 party election. Was this again a vote for an 'unknown with majority views that back benchers will like' ' rather than a 'too clever and potential maverick outsider' , given Howard's immigrant parents and combative time in govt? And later on we have 'front runner' (but again of overseas origin) Michael Portillo not being chosen, and the obscure back bencher Iain Duncan Smith winning as the 'ordinary party members' grass-roots choice' despite not being the best supported man among MPs - the equivalent of Corbyn in the Labour Party?


Champagne Socialist
Published by SLP
Nicolas Sarkozy positioned himself as the President-in-waiting from May 2002, and by the end of the year, the media was agreeing with him. There never really was a time in the following five years when this wasn't the case, the only speedbump being that it seemed a bit unlikely the right would win the presidency three times in a row, but his charisma made it seem inevitable.

However, go back to 1998, and he's recovering from being the arch-traitor to Jacques Chirac and completely in the dog-house by... stepping in for the European elections three weeks before they happen, as there had a been a major defection, and proceeding to lose them in spectacular fashion.


The patronising flippancy of youth
Colwyn Bay/Manchester
On a lower level, for the future Father of the Nation Rhodri Morgan's original selection for Cardiff West was seen as something of a fluke - I can't recall the names but he was seen as the token challenger after the serious one decided he didn't have enough of a chance to be worth it, and then the frontrunner had to withdraw at the last minute due to some irregularities with his ward party's accounts.
In the reverse case though, he was a narrow runner up for the leadership not once but twice in quick succession - it's not at all hard for him to become leader earlier.


Racist name by the way,
Published by SLP
Canadian politics is full of meteoric rises, relative unknowns suddenly catapulted to the top.

The experience of Andrew Scheer and Joe Clark, decades apart, was of a young MP well-respected within the party but little-known outside of it emerging as everyone's second choice against a field of highly divisive and defective frontrunners, winning the leadership by a narrow margin after several rounds of voting. They go on to be unsuccessful leaders because of the nature of their election: they won not because of any specific qualities or accomplishments but a lack of them, and have little to no reliable constituency within the party.

Pierre Trudeau's ambition was to teach law but was blacklisted by Quebec government for his labour activism, and he was a member of the CCF during the fifties. He was a very prominent left-wing thinker and activist during the fifties and sixties and at the start of the 1960s most would've presumed that he'd end up joining the NDP. Instead, Lester Pearson recruited him as a star candidate in 1965 and quickly promoted him up the ranks; he was only seriously considered as potential Prime Ministerial material in 1967 after he was promoted to Minister of Justice. Even then, Jean Marchand was expected to be the frontrunner and the main Francophone cabinet, but he declined due to bad health and a belief that his English wasn't good enough.

John Turner ran against Trudeau in 1968, and though he was the youngest candidate, he instituted that he was "not here for some vague, future convention in say, 1984". But in spite of his youth, he was pretty much marked from there as a future Prime Minister.

Mulroney had for twenty years before he was leader been a prominent businessman and lawyer in Montreal and mover and shaker in the Progressive Conservatives, but he became a household name both in and outside of Quebec after he was appointed to run a commission in Montreal's highly-corrupt construction industry.

Michael Ignatieff and Trudeau the younger were both prominent civil society figures who had to be asked to run by a Liberal Party that was at the time running low on talent.


Yo también soy Mauricio
Nobody asked me, but 'modern' Colombian presidents have tended to have a long trajectory before becoming president and are therefore fairly 'plausible' (or at least well-known) for years before their eventual presidencies. In fact, it used to be the case that presidents had often run unsuccessfully once before - Andrés Pastrana (narrowly lost in 1994), Ernesto Samper (lost the 1990 Liberal primaries), Belisario Betancur (lost in 1978) and Alfonso López Michelsen (lost in 1962). Then there's the fact that Colombia is a country of political dynasties, and several presidents and prominent presidential candidates come from political dynasties - Juan Manuel Santos (grand-nephew of Eduardo Santos Montejo), Andrés Pastrana (son of Misael Pastrana), Alfonso López Michelsen (son of Alberto López Pumarejo) and so forth. Most presidents also tended to have held several high-profile offices previously - usually cabinet minister and/or senator - and the bulk of them had previously run for some sort of elected office (Juan Manuel Santos being a notable recent exception, having never run for elected office before 2010).

That is why somebody like Germán Vargas Lleras in 2018 seemed to have the perfect biography to become president - from a political dynasty, had made a good impression in a previous presidential run and had risen through the ranks (senator, cabinet minister, high-profile vice president). The fact that he got his ass handed to him and that the winner was somebody like Iván Duque, who nobody had heard of before 2014 and was only a one-term senator, shows how the 'rules' of Colombian politics. That being said, Duque wouldn't have gotten elected to anything if he hadn't been anointed by his mentor, Álvaro Uribe.

Juan Manuel Santos is a funny case of somebody who desperately tried to be a plausible president way before anyone else thought of him as a plausible president, even to the point of engaging in sketchy funny business trying to secretly concoct some strange peace agreement with the FARC and paramilitaries through the intermediary of Gabriel García Márquez in the mid-1990s. And even though Santos hadn't run for anything before 2010, it wasn't for lack of trying: he considered running as early as 1994 and 1998, but was smart enough to bow out before inevitable humiliation. And when Santos did become a plausible president, it was in good part due to Uribe reluctantly anointing him as his heir apparent for lack of better option.


Yo también soy Mauricio
Since I mentioned el innombrable Álvaro Uribe, I should say that while his election in 2002 was a realigning moment which completely upended Colombian politics in many ways and that his 2002 campaign is often popularly described in Colombian media as "he was polling at 2% in 2001!" -- he didn't come out of left-field either.

He has been in politics since the 1970s, and was most notably a two-term Liberal senator between 1986 and 1994 and governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997. Given his popularity as governor, he was already being talked about as a potential Liberal presidential candidate for 1998, but he preferred to finish his term and then briefly took a break from politics (doing the usual Colombian politician thing of going to study abroad for a bit).


Sandford, Gloucestershire
That election was mental.

Elephant in the room too - you go even to 2015 and say "would Jeremy Corbyn be Prime Minister?", after a bunch of people said "who?", you'd be told no, someone like him never get the MPs needed to back his run to start with. And if you wrote in a story "ah, but a whole load of people join the party just to vote for him", people would go "and does Jeremy then end up dating Stephanie Beatrice like we know you want to?"
BTW I wrote a TL in 2013 that had (for an inadquately explained reason) a left-labour splinter party (the theme was splintering parties) and Jeremy Corbyn was one of the MPs who left Labour and I literally pulled him randomly from a list on wikipedia (confusingly along with Ed Balls for some reason) and less than 2 years later he was leader of the sodding opposition.

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
BTW I wrote a TL in 2013 that had (for an inadquately explained reason) a left-labour splinter party (the theme was splintering parties) and Jeremy Corbyn was one of the MPs who left Labour and I literally pulled him randomly from a list on wikipedia (confusingly along with Ed Balls for some reason) and less than 2 years later he was leader of the sodding opposition.
But did he date Stephanie Beatrice?